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Audiences and communities are both valuable assets for brands. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same, and it can be detrimental for a brand to ignore the distinct differences between these groups. Audiences and communities should work together, much like well-groomed eyebrows: sisters, but not twins. But what exactly does this mean? And how can you be sure you’re building the best version of both?
First, let’s break down the main differences between the two.
Audiences can be large or small, while communities are typically smaller and more intimate. How many meaningful communities have you seen that effectively scale into tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions?
Audiences are typically less engaged than communities. They may be well aware of or even supportive of your brand, but without actively participating in your content or activities. Communities, on the other hand, are highly engaged, due to their smaller and more intimate nature.
They actively participate and engage both with your brand and with each other. Audiences are often a means to an end; they will consume your work and your message, but not much else. Communities are a source of connection and support, taking relationships to a deeper, more meaningful level.
An audience is a one-way relationship, whereas communities are two-way relationships with the brand, influencer, or celebrity broadcasting their message to a group of people who are interested in a particular topic or brand. Audiences can be a lot like email lists, and feel very transactional (the Web3 equivalent of this may be having a large doc of “allowlisted” wallet addresses, which aren’t very useful by themselves).
Audience members may engage with the brand, but their primary motivation is to consume content or make a purchase. While audiences can encompass a broad and diverse range of individuals, communities often arise by mistake, or at least unintentionally, bonding over a shared goal or set of values and ownership. To reiterate: audiences involve interaction with one person, brand, or group, while communities interact with each other.
With the word "Community" being a favorite buzzword of most traditional marketers and Web3 brands, it's easy to think we should forget about audiences altogether — but they're a very important and often necessary piece of the puzzle. Audiences aren't all bad, though. In fact, audiences and communities can work together to help brands achieve their marketing goals.
When Starbucks began its foray into Web3, it was hard to predict how the Starbucks Odyssey experiment would go. Starbucks already had a huge audience involved in their existing loyalty rewards program, but they weren’t ones to focus much on the community side of their business.
Who would have expected that blockchain-based company Forum3, armed with a small crew of Discord mods and community managers, could become the face of Starbucks and their online community, ushering in a new era of Web3-native customer loyalty?
During NFT.NYC in early 2023, a group of Starbucks Odyssey members organized a community meetup right at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, bringing their relationships formed on Discord to an IRL location, furthering their level of connection.
Reflecting on my own experience as it connects to ROI for brands, I have purchased a large number of Starbucks beverages since joining the Odyssey — more than ever before. But why? Probably because pre-Starbucks Odyssey, while I’ve been a part of the Starbucks loyalty rewards program, I’ve never been in a tight-knit community with a bunch of Starbucks fans that are also passionate about cutting-edge emerging technology, and that share so many other similarities with me. Considering the fact that online communities can help brands increase engagement by up to 21%, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve been handing over considerably more money to Starbucks in exchange for iced shaken espressos since joining the Odyssey community.
Recently, I attended VeeCon, a token-gated conference hosted by Gary Vaynerchuk, also known as Gary Vee. Gary Vee is the prime example of someone with an immensely large audience, as well as a large, dedicated community. Many have been in Gary Vee’s audience for years and only through VeeFriends have joined his community, gaining a new level of access to Gary along with a new, tight-knit network.
You could feel the positive sentiment from Day 1 holders of VeeFriends, seemingly unbothered by a dramatic sway in price, even laughing along to roasts by comedian Andrew Schulz about their NFTs being down 90%, embracing the benefit of being in the Vee Friends community above all else. If you want the full scoop on VeeCon 2023, I wrote a thread detailing my experience at the three-day conference, which you can read below!
My favorite take-away from VeeCon this year was that the power of community is stronger than ever. There’s something magical about gathering so many thoughtful, passionate community members together in one room. With an event more closely resembling a summer camp than a business conference, Gary Vee showed his expertise in breaking the ice and encouraging genuine connection in a fun and engaging way.
If we look at brands as entertainers, then you might look at audiences like the spectators in a stand-up comedy show. When someone is on stage, sure it's their show— but without an audience, there is no show. The audience will not write jokes for the comedian or help him or her develop new material, but they are happy to be on that journey, accepting that not everyone gets to be on stage.
Communities behave differently, though, more closely resembling improv comedy performers. They are a group of people actively engaged with each other, working to co-create a performance that is both entertaining and meaningful. Their decisions impact the direction of the performance, because they are equally committed to the success of the group, sharing their ideas and creativity, replying to each response with “Yes, and…” never making the show all about themselves. Improv groups, much like other communities, are also intentionally small and intimate, as it gets more and more difficult to stay connected as a group increases in size.
In this world of content overload, meaningless communication, AI-generated content, increasing automation, endless Snapchat streaks, and surface-level communication it's more important than ever to focus on building genuine connections. To top it off, the US Surgeon General has declared an epidemic of loneliness. These days, a human touch is crucial when it comes to cutting through the noise and forging a genuine connection. Communities will not survive without that touch.
Throughout history, brands have traditionally focused on building audiences through advertising and other forms of one-way communication, with an emphasis on quantity above quality. However, in the context of a more decentralized and self-sovereign Web3, we are shifting toward quality and community as the main factors in success. An audience is easy — but a community is a 24/7 commitment. You can’t pop in for a performance, or send out a mass email, then leave.
Brands must create engaging and relevant content, but it’s important to understand that communities need much more than just content. Building and nurturing a community takes time, effort, and a deep understanding of the needs and desires of those within your community. That's why the role of a community manager is so crucial.
In an online reality of countless ads from people trying to sell you things in every corner of the internet, a community manager is a true connector behind a screen — an empathetic voice of reason helping people form connections with each other. Yes, they need to be social and talk to others. And yes, they should share valuable content. But more importantly, community managers find themselves wearing many hats: acting as facilitators, connectors, social media managers, and even customer service agents.
With companies showing increasingly more personality online, these public-facing brand ambassadors walk a fine line when it comes to engaging with others online, balancing the task of acting as both the face of a brand and the face of themselves.
Brands often start out having an audience and, after a while, members get sick of just watching, and, communities form within audiences united around a common goal or set of values. People connect in a variety of ways, both online and offline, through organic and organized occurrences such as:
Take the SheFi community, for example, a cohort-based education community. The value of their educational content can’t be discounted, but gaining access to the tight-knit SheFi community is arguably the most valuable benefit. The SheFi community isn’t exclusively there to teach women about layer 2 blockchains and how to set up a wallet— SheFi is community-driven.
In their community, you can send a message to one of their several curated Telegram groups with a question or request and get an immediate helpful answer back without asking for anything in return. Did SheFi as an organization do that for me? Not directly. But, did they facilitate and curate a community that could allow for things like that to happen? Absolutely. Communities take hard work, vetting, and curation, but the benefit is immense.
Audiences and communities are not mutually exclusive; they can be complementary, and it’s important to build strong relationships with both. When it comes to the Web3 space, regardless of whether or not you have an existing audience, it is crucial to spend time building and nurturing a strong community surrounding your brand.
Communities are more loyal, more engaged, and more likely to spread the word about your brand. There’s research to back this up, too: a 2019 study by Reddit and GlobalWebIndex found that 98% of people who are part of an online group say they feel a sense of belonging to that group. If you’re ready to get a head start on community building for your brand, Myosin member Taylor Silveira published a recent piece introducing some of the top principles for building great communities, which you can read here.
Web3, with priorities of ownership and self-sovereignty, paves the way for even more communities to emerge rapidly, allowing for brands that have traditionally only had audiences to now have tight-knit, micro and macro communities forming around their brand in a way never seen before.