It seems that not so long ago, the word community didn't used to be so ... complicated. People lived in a geographic community with neighbours, family, and friends. Many found a sense of community through their collective work, pastimes, school, faith, and/or shared history. And people fostered community spirit through local volunteering, project collaboration, celebratory events, civic participation, supporting local merchants, and so forth.
The proliferation of the internet and social networking has changed how marketers use the word community. While these traditional meanings of community remain, today, a group of strangers who all happen to use the same dishwashing liquid or telephone app are often referred to as a community. Why do brands refer to their passive Facebook page 'likers' as their online community? Where's the true community in a web-based customer panel that gets activated sporadically for a few days or weeks of facilitator-guided discussions and multiple-choice questions? Where's the sense of community in drive-by idea hunting forums that offer so little reciprocity for contributors? The concept of open-innovation communities is gaining popularity as a highly-desirable method to tap the ingenuity of customers, citizens, suppliers and employees – but which organizations have invested in true community building? And why are user group feedback sessions on brand-conceived product prototypes mislabelled as 'co-creation communities' when very little collaboration or co-creativity is evident?