Most companies fail at community. And instead of taking a good long look in the mirror at what they’re doing wrong, they just declare that community doesn't work as a strategy. 

They’re wrong.

You can make sure that you get it right.

It’s time for you to look in the mirror. If your community efforts are failing, it’s probably because you haven’t grasped the definition of community or how community building actually functions within a business context.

You’re claiming that everyone who buys something from you or likes your content is part of your community. They’re not. Once you focus on who really belongs in your organization’s community, you can begin to manage it successfully, as brands like eBay, Foursquare and Lululemon have done.

So What is Community?

Until the “digital age,” a community meant a group of people bound by a shared geographic location (because meeting people in other locations was nearly impossible). Proximity no longer binds communities. We are free to connect across geographical barriers. In the digital age, a community is:

A group of people aligned across common values, goals, or interests. Communities have “members” who self-identify. Members can influence one another. They share experiences. The community meets some need that they all have. Above all else, communities require that members are able to contribute, not just consume.

If all of those conditions are not met, you do not have a community.

How Community Functions within a Business

There is a framework for making this work in your business. Here is a simplified version:

  1. Define business goals
  2. Define community goals
  3. Find the intersection between #1 and #2 and create a space for those two goals to intersect

In a business context, communities still exist to serve their members, but those communities must also serve some clear-cut business goals, whether they’re around spreading awareness (like the Lululemon example below), improving the product (like the Foursquare example below), helping you localize and internationalize your business, helping support other users of the product, or strengthening your internal company community.

Not all of your social media followers or customers are part of your business community. Only those who meet the above conditions. Those tend to be your most loyal fans, who go on to be both formal or informal ambassadors for your brand. In fact, according to a Gartner Study, 80 percent of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20 percent of your existing customers. Those 20 percent? They’re your community.

Three Key Examples of How Communities Work


Foursquare has had a superuser community almost since its inception. If you’re not a superuser of Foursquare, you’ve probably never heard of this program. 

That’s kind of the point. Not everyone is a member of this exclusive community, just the most loyal and active contributors. It has 40,000 members who work together to make Foursquare (and its new app, Swarm) better for the millions who use the apps each day.


Lululemon is a classic example of how you build a community of loyal followers within your customer base who then spread awareness to others on the ground. Lululemon’s ambassador community members get special perks, give back to the company through hosting in-store yoga and exercises classes, represent the brand by wearing its clothes, and go to annual events together.

The rest of Lululemon’s customers are often falsely called “the Lululemon community.” They’re valued customers, they're loyal, but they aren't community members. They don't "belong" to anything. Loyalty, in this case, is not about how many dollars you spend with Lululemon, but by how much you live the brand’s vision while doing what you already love doing.

Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson is a classic example of a community-centric organization that creates dedicated spaces, both offline and online, for its true community members to deepen their engagement with the brand. Harley Owner’s Groups (H.O.G.) are membership-only clubs that customers join in order to get to know one another and make Harley their way of life.

According to the Harvard Business Review, this dedication to community-building is actually the key that saved them from extinction back in 1983. Today, it's a top-50 global brand, worth nearly $8 billion.

Don't Leave Your Community Out in the Cold

Defining community is important, but all the more important is defining how it will specifically work for your business. The cost of getting this wrong? A weak community foundation that crumbles when you try to “manage” it, a failure to receive any measurable return on your community investment, and leaving your most loyal customers out in the cold. And when you leave your most loyal customers out in the cold, you’d better believe they are looking for a warm community elsewhere.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  campdarby