Why ‘Community’ is NOT the Holy Grail of Blogging and Online Success

by Marcus Sheridan

Many of you read an article I wrote a few months back entitled 10,862 Comments Later, I Realize Blog Comments Are NOT a Business Model. At the time, the article certainly got a lot of comments and interaction.

Some understood it.

Others completely missed the mark.

But today’s post is a harder and deeper look at a subject that affects each and every one of us—the misunderstood concept that is ‘Online Community.’

Yep, Let’s Talk Money

As you can tell from the title of this post, today we’re going to talk about money.

The reason for this is simple: Businesses don’t exist without money.

I think this statement is one of the most forgotten truths when discussing the subject of online business success.

Again, nothing happens in business without money.

If your business makes enough of it, you smile and turn a profit.

If your business doesn’t have enough to pay your bills, and the creditors are after you, and you can’t make payroll…well then life stinks.

I should know—been there, done that.

Blogger’s Denial

Let me give you an example and then to my point.

A few months ago , while I was attending blog world and grabbing a bite to eat, I happened to see a lady sitting alone at a small table and being that I was looking to meet someone new, plus the fact that all the tables were taken,  I asked her if I could join her and she happily obliged.

We proceeded to have a very pleasant conversation about her blog, her large community, the high level of engagement, etc.

Upon hearing all this, I told her that I thought community was great, but blog comments, in and of themselves, were not a business model nor a strong success indicator.

The lady disagreed with me but as we continued our discussion, it came out that her blog was clearly not making enough money .

In other words, she couldn’t pay her bills and was very, very concerned.

Although her blog appeared successful, there was a reality check happening beyond what was showing in ‘the community.’

In many ways, this very kind lady was wrapped up in a belief that is killing the success of many, many bloggers and businesses today—that ‘community’ means ‘profits.’

Nope.

Not even close.

Make the Choice

Now for those of you who legitimately don’t care for one second if your blog ever makes a dime, please understand this article doesn’t apply to you, and you’re welcome to hit the ‘delete’ button now.

But for the large majority that are doing their best through blogging, content marketing, and inbound marketing to make a living, I’d ask you to consider this question:

Would you rather have a thriving online community or a thriving bank account?

And no, you’re not allowed to say ‘both.’

Yes, of course the ideal answer is ‘both,’ but in this case, let’s just pretend you’ve got to make a choice.

What’s the answer going to be?

I submit that too many bloggers are worried more about ‘offending’ their community than actually leveraging said community to turn a profit.

Again, we can love our communities to death and have the greatest intentions in the world, but if we can’t pay the bills, it’s all for naught.

Focusing on What Matters

Someone recently told me they didn’t like my opt-in box on the homepage of this site because it was too ‘pushy,’ and that others in the community probably didn’t like it either. But considering the incredible amount of eBook downloads that form generates everyday, plus the fact so many of those same readers turn into actual consulting and HubSpot customers of mine, I really don’t care if a few people are offended with the box.

Again, it’s about priorities, and paying customers are #1. Because you can’t always please every  reader you have with every decision you make, sometimes you’ve simply got to choose the one that leads to the greater good.

You see, I don’t think many folks online would ever make such statements, as ‘community’ is viewed by most as the ‘Holy Grail’ of the blogosphere.

And although community is very, very important, it is not the Holy Grail.

What is?

  • Happy Customers
  • Profits
  • Business success

Now that is the Holy Grail.

And if it happens by way of an amazing blogging community, then great…wonderful. In fact, when a blog/business finds a way to better monetize their community and give great value in the process, then believe it or not the community itself grows stronger. (As noted by the 100+ emails I got last week alone from people that read my newsletter yet don’t actively comment on my blog.)

But if a blogger or business owner loses track of this extreme priority, then we have a serious problem.

This Ain’t the Field of Dreams

Blogging for business is not like the movie ‘Field of Dreams.’ Sure, ‘If you build it, they will come‘ is a start, but there needs to be a few more words attached to the end of this statement to make it applicable to our industry: “And once they come, know how to make enough of them happy and paying customers.”

So before your business starts focusing too much on the number of Facebook likes, tweets, silly Alexa rankings, massive amounts of blog comments, or even frivolous Klout scores….please remember the one thing that we all must have first and foremost on our minds—Financial Peace.

Your Turn

I must admit, I’m very curious as to what the reactions will be to this post. If you had to choose just one, would you say ‘community’ is your blog’s #1 goal, or is it ‘profits’?(Remember, just because you list profits as #1, doesn’t mean your not extremely pro-community, as that’s certainly the case with me.) Also, what has been your experience in balancing these two all-important aspects of effective online marketing?

Your thoughts matter, so jump in in folks…

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