Are you really building a community?

I think modern startups hide behind the messaging of “building a community” in their marketing. Because why not?

Bailey Richardson, early hire at Instagram and founder of People & Company talked about the confusion between community and audience:

“Around five years ago, the word ‘community’ started to show up as a euphemism for users or audience. I started seeing more and more people use that term indiscriminately, without grounding it in a more appropriate definition…

Other than products that actually revolves around their community as the core such as Product Hunt and Indie Hackers, most companies use “community” in a customer acquisition context.

Here’s a Community Manager job description I found on It’s from a digital insurance solution company.

If you don’t know better, you’d think this is an inside sales or account management job. Notice that the word community only shows up on the 10th bullet point.

Here’s another job description from a mentorship platform startup on AngelList.

This Community Manager slash superhuman has to do everything: outreach, content creation, demo, onboarding, customer support, social media management, event management.

Isn’t this just sales and marketing?

David Spinks, founder and CEO of CMX, had this to say about defining a community:

People often criticize companies for calling their customers a community. The question isn’t whether or not their customers are a community. They are. The question is whether or not the shared identity is meaningful to them.

There will be overlap between your audience and your community, but if you’re measuring community engagement success against hard dollar numbers, you are thinking about building an audience.

There’s nothing wrong at all with that. In fact, being honest with yourself and your team will give a better clarity and context in measuring success.

When you’re committed to work with your community, the context of metrics changed. 100+ comments in your private FB group in a revenue context? Vanity metrics.

Same number in a community context? Gold.


Revenue goals should not be the primary goals of community building.

It’s never been easier to create a way for people to interact with each others. You can use Slack, Discourse, Spectrum, Circle, create your own subreddit, build your own discussion forum, the possibilities are limitless. But tools are just, well, tools.

On the human side, it’s as hard as it’s ever been.

Are you ready to be helpful? Are you prepared to show up to help community members achieve what they need, even when the ROI is not quantifiable? If you say yes, you’re onto something.

So answer honestly: are you building an audience or building a community?