members-only-1Social media advocates will tell you it’s no longer enough for a business to just have customers or even fans. They have to have an active community of “influencers,” “brand advocates,” and a designated community manager to keep them all warm and happy.

As usual, the smankers have it wrong. They think your community is who likes you on Facebook or who attends your launch party. Such people have no commitment to you and are basically just using you for whatever they can get for free. Stop worrying about managing this false community. The only group you need to worry about are the people who buy your stuff.

Unless someone is an actual customer, they haven’t experienced your product or service, which means whatever they have to say about your brand is coming from a place of limited knowledge. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that someone who is not a customer can legitimately identify with, or has any emotional attachment to, your product or service. There’s really no way for them to be a credible advocate for what you offer.

Forgive me for using my business as the case study for today’s column. If you’re a regular reader, you know I rarely ever mention it. But in this case, it provides some good examples and lessons.

When I explain the model and philosophy of 50Kings, almost everyone says they understand, and it sounds great. In reality, very few people really do. Recently, someone who had never attended suggested I invite a “law of attraction” speaker. Any 50Kings member knows this is beyond ridiculous.

a) We never have speakers because our philosophy is to screen attendees to the point where everyone is worth talking to. b) Another big part of our philosophy is that all who attend are treated with equal respect so I would never put anyone on a platform in front of the rest. c) I, and by extension the people who come to 50Kings, prefer logic over New Age mysticism and therefore think the law of attraction and that kind of touchy-feely crap is total bullshit.

I had previously explained all of this to the person who made the suggestion, and he was just trying to be helpful. But since he had never been to one of our events, he didn’t understand how integral this was and therefore there was no way for him to be a legitimate advocate.

Even people who had previously understood enough to pay the money and come on our annual trip have told me after the fact, “I figured it would be cool, but I wasn’t expecting this.” Only people who have attended can properly understand what we do. Someone who lacks this understanding can’t possibly represent the brand or product.

When it comes to defending a brand, only someone with a vested interest in maintaining the integrity of the brand will make an effort to do so. People often ask me how I deal with the potentially uncomfortable situation of a member referring someone who isn’t a fit. In actuality, this almost never happens, and many 50Kings members are even more protective of the group than I am.

For example, a few days before our 2013 trip, which took place earlier this year, one of the members had a work emergency. Since the resort and activities had already been paid for, we discussed sending someone in his place, and I suggested an unquestionably legitimate person with whom he had previously worked. He replied, “Between you and me, I wouldn’t want him being part of the group.” Having attended the previous two years he understood the culture and acted to protect it. Only someone who had experienced the event before, as a customer/attendee, would care that much about maintaining the integrity of the product and the community.

In the effort to become social media-savvy, too many companies have become confused about who makes up their community. A low quality community can actually damage your brand and degenerate into an albatross that works counter to its original purpose. If you have a luxury or prestige brand, kowtowing to smankers not only dilutes your brand, but you end up spending your time trying to appease complainers and brand bashers who aren’t even actual customers.

The next time some social media guru starts telling you how important it is to listen to your community, remember, the only community you need to worry about are the people who buy what you’re selling. They’re the only ones who truly appreciate your value, and, assuming they plan on doing business with you again, they’re the only ones who have any interest in seeing you succeed.

Last year, one of our members told me, “Make sure you charge enough so you can keep this going.” That sentiment of suggesting I charge whatever I need to in order to be successful is the exact opposite of smankers looking for handouts and free “influencer” upgrades. Take care of your community of customers. They’re the only ones who are going to take care of you.

[Image via Hankblog]