The Difference Between an Audience and a Community

Photo cred: jens johnsson

I was recently invited into the Digital Marketer community to do an AMA, or a “hot seat” as they’re known in the group. Someone asked me about the difference between an audience and a community. Here was my answer…

There’s a huge difference. The simple way to look at it is:

Audience: one to many relationships

Community: many to many relationships

An audience is all focused on one central person or brand. It lives and dies with that central focus. They’re all *listening* to you, but they don’t necessarily feel a common sense of belonging and shared identity with others who are also listening to you

A community is focused on the group as a whole. Members of a community are developing a network of relationships with each other. They form a shared identity (see “social identity theory”) and a shared sense of belonging.

A key difference is that in a community, people are contributing, not just listening. And therein lies the biggest value of community — you can empower people to contribute their ideas, support, promotion and content.

Keep in mind, communities also have an audience. The 90–9–1 rule tells us that in communities, 1% will create content, 9% will respond and 90% will passively consume. So an audience is an important part of a community.

Examples:

Rosetta Stone built language courses for an audience of people. Duolingo empowered a community of contributors to create language courses for each other.

Lululemon has a great audience, but instead of just marketing to them, they empower their members to curate events, classes and experiences in their local communities to reach more people in a highly intimate way.

Our belief at CMX is that this is the future of all business and marketing. It’s going to be more decentralized, distributed and collaborative, because you can scale product, marketing, growth, support, innovation and virtually every part of a business by empowering an audience to contribute rather than just consume.


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