My Stand Against False Communities: I Want Real Change, Not a Marketing Assist

Don’t call it a community and don’t plan to build one unless it will offer real value to the people who participate. Not just to you or  your brand or the top-dogs within the community.  That’s called marketing or complicit back-scratching, but not community in a sense of deep give and take and shared value, sustained over time.

Can we agree that we have enough places to connect and talk online? Can we concur that ‘community’ isn’t synonymous with social media or a nom de plume for site traffic?

I’m not an expert on creating communities (Cause Capitalism lacks one), but I have been duped as a user, lulled into the promise of a ‘community’ that I can contribute to and take from. And I’ve seen hot springs of action and innovation spring up only to dry up when the ‘community’ is no longer needed.

Here’s what I would find useful: a resource hub that’s an exchange of information, support, knowledge, contacts, data, tools and funds.  I’d call it the Change Exchange.

Hub entails participation from many sectors and resources, an informal transaction of assets. Cause-inclined communities built by Pepsi or General Mills typically source and compile a plethora of ideas, organizations and (temporarily) engaged individuals, but what happens when the project is over and the marketing team turns to something new? What happens to the ideas and the members who were inspired enough to create a password?  Nothing. They languish and become jaded by the concept of ‘community’ and feel they’ve taken part in someone else’s image-shaping or dollar-making.

But most critically, it’s a constant leak in the bucket of true social change or innovation.

Can Pepsi share with Timberland’s Earthkeepers, share with Myoo Create, share with Changemakers to create a sustaining, snowballing hub that sparks real change?

Image credit: Canicuss

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  1. Andrea Learned September 21, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    This is that old “walk your talk” rearing its head. The part that gets lost about an exciting(!), innovative(!), gathering place for people committed to real social and environmental change(!!) is the sustainable part. Having to sign in/register before even seeing if you’d want to be involved is a big barrier/not conducive to an enduring community. A sustainable community would be one where people can make a decision, based on their own experience, whether they want to commit. As it is – these communities may get the “numbers” they desire to show they’ve got real “ROI”.. but then even the remotely active participants will see it for the ruse it is. I so agree with you, Olivia! Save the changemaking community member’s time and partner up to ensure a sustainable hub!

  2. Olivia Khalili September 21, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    Andrea, thanks. I realized that I had several gripes in this post, which I strung together. The first is stop pretending that what you’re doing (addressing companies) is for us (the community); the second and more critical is that we’re leaking impact. There’s not one place or networking capturing it all and allowing people to give and take.

    Really appreciate your comment.

  3. kare anderson September 21, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    What if you kicked of your Change Exchange real-community-as-resource-hub with free membership (self-tagged so members could find each other) and invite members to submit resources, tips etc. that are also tagged so people could find the specific topics they most needed + have a monthly contest where members could vote on top 10 favorites – with the top 10 winners each month getting prizes from those companies (e-coupon based to be a sustainable community) + had a forum where people could ask and answer questions etc.

    Then invite companies to underwrite the cost of the site in exchange for visibility on it – thus a fire wall (as newspapers ostensibly still have between content & advertisers this former reporter says) between content and “advertisers”….
    Yet if any company’s tip is voted among the most valuable it wins recognition based on “merit” – quality of content not on size of marketing budget.
    In Nov., a partner and I are going to use a version of this model to launch a hub/portal on ways to collaborate to accomplish something greater with others than one can alone. You’d be a perfect member with the kind of ideas I’ve enjoyed on this site.

  4. Kris Schaeffer September 21, 2010 at 6:26 pm #

    Olivia, you lay out quite a few issues. At a corporate social responsibility (CSR) conference, one of the speakers said it succinctly — if CSR is being run by marketing, then it’s not in the fabric of the corporate culture. Companies need to read Meeting of the Minds: The Business Case of Corporate Responsbility and Saving the Corporate Soul.
    But these folks aren’t on your site, reading about your passion to share their lessons learned. So make it in their best interest to work with you. I love Kare’s ideas. (Disclosure: I am her partner.) Make Change Exchange the community hub.

  5. Olivia Khalili September 22, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

    Kare and Kris, thanks for the comments. I love what you’re planning!

    I’d be honored to contribute and would love to hear more about your work developing it. What can I do to support you?

    Thanks for participating and furthering this discussion (which was primarily my grumpiness about the situation!).


  6. Bailey Ing October 1, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    Hey Olivia,

    You bring up a very good point and something that has been on the back of my mind for a while too.

    I think the beauty of “social media” is that the real communities that encourage deep giving and sharing will stand, whilst the “fake” ones, or rather ones created for the sake of marketing a product will fade. This is because the community can only grow and be supported by the members themselves.

    Communities created just for the sake of commercial marketing will be seen as being fake and having an agenda, so the members will soon realize that and soon the community will fade. We are in an era of people power where the voice has shifted from institutions to the masses. We are voting with our feet and voices!

    I’m interested in your “change exchange” idea as I can definitely see the potential and genuine enrichment it can bring to the members. You really should expand that idea and get it off the ground! I’ll be one of the first to join, so keep me posted :)


  7. Olivia Khalili October 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm #


    Great thoughts and thanks for the interest in the Change Exchange. I absolutely agree that people are hip to false communities and won’t stick around, but what really bugs me is that companies (and organizations) put so much money and effort into creating communities (air-quotes on that) and drawing people in around issues of social change when that energy could be spent more effectively. Any innovation that comes up through these short-lived communities is often lost after the event/competition, etc. It’s like bailing a boat with a leaky bucket.

  8. Lezah September 4, 2011 at 2:04 am #

    Olivia, I found you at AdCouncil. We live in a complex society, infected with evil. Some people know what they are doing with these false communities, and others are sucked in because of real disappointment in their real local communities. That is why FB and Twitter are so popular. Please continue to get angry but do not sin. Continue to write and warn the weak, snatch others from the fire, hating the clothes stained by the flesh.

  9. Lezah September 4, 2011 at 2:08 am #

    Sorry, my website is listed wrong: this is the correct listing: — Thanks Olivia for warning newbies like me.