I owe my career to the Internet.

I found my job at Sprout Social because I follow @Sprout_Sarah, my former manager, on Twitter. My story isn’t unique. From salaried employees to CEOs, more and more people are finding their jobs on social. And with 84% of employers using social to find new candidates, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

I should know, I’ve been connecting with strangers via internet since the 90’s. From chat rooms to message boards, there was something thrilling about engaging with people all across the world who wanted to talk about similar topics. Conversation was encouraged and the ability to speak freely and passionately left me feeling valued.

The scope of the internet was different then. Smartphones didn’t exist and the guy who invented SnapChat was barely in elementary school. Forums, message boards and chat rooms ruled the domain and the sense of community they fostered was at the forefront.

You know who wasn’t online in my formative years? Brands.

Most just hadn’t caught on yet and the space was mostly made up of like-minded people looking to be heard. Today community is still mostly made up of like-minded people looking to be heard and brands are still surprisingly clueless about why that matters.

Stop confusing advocacy for community

Part of the problem is that many marketers confuse ‘advocacy’ for ‘community.’ And I completely understand why. Your community depends on your advocates.

But conflating the two terms underestimates the breadth of what community encompasses by confusing its value with something that is easily quantifiable.

Fostering a culture of advocacy is table stakes. Building community is hard. First, let’s establish how they’re different.

Advocacy is the response you get when you reach out on your personal Facebook and ask your friends for a face wash recommendation. It’s the Yelp review you give your favorite restaurant. It’s the retweet you give your favorite comedy.

Community is an extension of advocacy that creates the space for your champions to build relationships and take action. Community takes the of cacophony of conversations that are happening around your brand and molds them into a concentrated, powerful change agent.

Community is an “always on” campaign that never sleeps. A 24/7 powerhouse of individuals who’ve opted in and are willing to welcome your brand’s consumers, products and values into their lives.

Your advocates want to be affiliated with your business. Community empowers these individuals by creating a mutually beneficial space for them to engage with each other and your brand.

Community is how your brand elevates itself from a product and becomes a routine.

Don’t pass up community for advocacy.

Your social team shouldn’t manage your community

The power that community holds goes beyond any marketing journey. And if you’re not incorporating these champions into your social strategy, then you’re missing out on a whole segment that can lead to more brand exposure.

That being said, your community may exist on social but there’s a difference between your social manager and a community manager.

A social manager is responsible for your brand perception, social customer care, maintaining brand voice and ultimately are responsible for a publishing calendar. They aren’t fostering relationships, doing outreach or speaking on behalf of the brand.

The real difference between these two roles is the purpose.

Much like social, community touches every aspect of a business. But community is a longer play that’s harder to accurately measure.

Your community is your best focus group.

They will give you the most brutal, honest feedback. You might not want to hear it. You might think that they’re being whiny. But these are the people who–not only consistently use your product, but practice and believe in what your brand values.

The relationships your community managers foster can help prevent churn, lessen the amount of support tickets your customer service team experiences, boost engagement and create the foundation for influencer relationships.

Often unseen and unaccounted for, these are all actions that ultimately drive the bottom line.

As a marketing leader, don’t you want to be investing in a team that’s responsible for this?

The forefront of marketing is community

I spend a lot of my time talking to others who work in community. We share ideas and talk through designing the best user experience for a customer.

In the large landscape of marketing, we understand that advocacy is relatively young. Ten years ago, the same could be said about social.

Sure, community isn’t easy to quantify. And the amount of effort you put in is the amount of value you’ll be able to extract. But as long as your team:

  • Creates a space for advocates to engage
  • Spends time listening to your advocates
  • Reports back learnings to the broader business

Your community will thrive. And your business will stay ahead of the curve.