How you interact with your customers and prospects can show you (and them…) how you think of them. Without resorting to standard definitions, I visualize the difference this way:
AUDIENCE: I am in front of a group of people who are facing me. I’m speaking and they’re listening (or at least I HOPE they are….). I look into their faces and watch their body language, but it is difficult to get a real assessment of whether I’m connecting with them or not. Having been in audiences before I know how easy it is to “look engaged”. I also notice how many are working their smart phones, tablets and laptops….I hope they’re taking notes, but probably not. At the end of the talk, there are a few questions that I answer, but many more of the audience arise and leave. There is a little bit of chatter between a few of them as they head out the door, but I have no idea what it could be about. Unless I’ve given them some sort of meaningful survey or method of valid feedback to learn what their experience was, I really don’t know.
COMMUNITY: I am moving amongst several groups of people that are part of a larger group of people meeting here. There are discussions going on in each of them, some about the bigger group, some about the smaller groups, some about processes and business, and some about their lives outside of the groups. People move easily between the smaller groups as they become interested in them. I get to move through each of the groups, listen and take part in the discussions. There is a much stronger sense of “belonging” and being invested in what’s going on. Fewer people have their phones out, except to check their calendars in order to set up personal meetings with other members of the community outside of this larger meeting. Some members stay in one small group the whole time, but they seem very engrossed in the conversation while not taking it over. Each member of the community can build a more authentic relationship with another (according to what they are comfortable with…), resulting in trust and, when the time comes, that crucial recommendation, referral, or sale. While the relevance of the overall community experience may be still somewhat hidden from me, I can learn a lot by listening, observing and asking appropriate questions.
Community is harder…is it worth it?
How do you communicate and reach out to your customers and visitors?
What’s the difference to your business?
Do you care enough about your business to figure out how this might work for you and your customers?
What are your answers?