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People Don’t Buy Things, They Join Things

Humans are creatures of habit. Often times our behaviors are predictable. Old habits are hard to break, good or bad. Why would we expect social media to be any different? Why should we expect that just because marketers can now connect with anyone across they world in a simple 140 character tweet that they will by default do it any different than the days of email spam, direct mail and traditional broadcast marketing advertising.


Traditional media and marketing use to be focused primarily on a broadcast message. A one to many message focused on delivering the message the brand wanted the recipients to hear. Most marketers didn’t care if you understood or even liked the message, as they had the expected percentages of return based on the number of eyeballs or ears who heard and read their message down to a science.

I was one of them and can remember being able to predict almost to the penny the return I would get on email blasts, direct mail and other marketing mediums. I could predict how recipients  would respond. I knew that they were creatures of habit and were taught to behave in a particular way. They had no other option if they wanted to learn about brands, technology and how to grow their business. We knew if they had a need that eventually they would purchase the product and the more that we were in their face, the better and deeper brand impression we could make, the higher our chances were that we would be the chosen brand for purchase.

Guess what folks… times have changed.

People no longer buy things, they join things.

People no longer are amazed by the latest commercial, billboard or radio segment. People aren’t running to their mail boxes excited for the next spam letter or coupon. They’re not looking on their iPhone for the next email spam message with a deceptive title only to find the first three paragraph bragging about you, your company and your revenues!

They also aren’t waking up early in the morning thinking “what Facebook pages will I go LIKE today” or “what business Facebook pages will I go visit and see what they want to sell me.”

Nope, people are waking up overwhelemed. They want to connect with real people who will help them make it thru the day. People who they can share their ups and downs. People who will support them, inspire them, educate them and help them grow. They want to connect with real people and make real friends. They want to interact with brands who treat them as human beings not robot Facebook likers.

They aren’t thinking first of what they are going to buy. Instead they are looking for things to join.  It is human nature to want to connect, be accepted, be part of a group that will make you feel better.

They will buy products from communities who make them feel good. People buy from people. They will buy from you when you make them feel like a person, not a number.

It’s why people run to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. It’s not just about sharing pictures, status updates or spying on the neighbors. It’s about being accepted. It’s about fitting in both online and in real life.

Think of when you purchased your first iPod or iPhone. Did you purchase it because you wanted the product? Of course you did. But you also purchased it because you instantly became a member of the white earbud community. You were part of something. The white headphones and iPhone connect you with people you don’t know. Even if you don’t want to admit it’s true, you know deep down it is.

iStock 000010177461XSmall 300x173 People Dont Buy Things, They Join Things

People want value.

Business leaders must learn it is about much more than a Facebook like. It is not about community control and selling to robots who like your Facebook page.  Change your mindset to “how can I create a community that provides value?”

The focus should be on building communities that people want to join. Communities that are organic and dynamic. Communities that inspire, educate, make people laugh, support them,  pull them up when they fall down and forgive them when they make a mistake.

Build Social Sticky Fabric

The businesses who will win in the game of social media will be the ones who are the community. Sorry folks, your only goal of a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, or a website isn’t to increase rankings or your influence score. The social networks are also not just another medium for you to blast more noise to an already noisy world! Instead think of it as one big social fabric you can leverage to create the most sticky community possible.

Connect with people in real ways so that they do think of you when rolling out of bed. However, only difference is they’re not thinking of what you tried to sell them. Instead they’re thinking of how you made them laugh. How you helped them grow by teaching them something new. Or how you helped them win, become the hero at their workplace by feeling empowered to impact needed change.

Invest in people first, business second. 

I have said it a million times and I’ll say it again. Social media is about the people. You must first get in the head of your communities and understand what makes them tick. What will make them sticky? How can you help them, inspire them, make them laugh? Only by investing in people will you ever see return on your investment.

Go ahead ignore me. I challenge you to come back in 12 months time doing it your way and share with me your results.

It’s not about you.  It’s about what you can do for the people. It’s what you can do to build a community of people who support one another.

Be the fabric, not just the loud noise screaming for attention.

Your role as a business leader, brand, company and community leader is to be the fabric. Facebook is not the fabric. Facebook is the platform, the materials of which the meidum depends on. You my friends are the fabric. Your heart, your voice and your time. That’s the fabric.

Brands that learn this early in the adoption cycle of social media will be far ahead of their competition. Facebook is not going to solve your business problems. You are going to solve your business problems just as you have been doing since the day you opened your business doors or you accepted your position at your organization.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the million other platforms are the vessel, the tools and technology for which you can build the fabric that connects you and your brand with the people. It’s the conversation, knowledge, time taken to invest in people that will make your fabric sticky. It’s not asking for likes or begging me to take a non-existent Twitter conversation to Facebook when we haven’t spoke to begin with.

15 Tips To Build Communities

1.  Focus on the people. Know who they are, what they want, and how you can help them.

2. Invest in people first, business second. 

3. Quit measuring your success by only Facebook likes. 

4. Your influence and ability to build community is more important than your Klout score.

5. Focus on value to the community. Know what you have to offer. Know what your members have to offer.

6. Empower leaders. Leaders should rise to the top organically. Empower them, not stifle them. They will be your most powerful evangelists.

7. Don’t depend on Klout and other influence scores to determine who should be in your community. You may miss out on your greatest community leaders, clients, partners and even investors if you make decisions on who you should interact with based on a metric that is not related to human connection.

8. Don’t follow your competition. Just because it’s the way your competition is doing something does not mean it’s the right way. Learn from them but do not copy them. Do your own research.

9. Come out from behind the logo and avatar. Show your smiling face. Let us know there is a real person behind the Facebook wall.

10. Treat me as a human being. Talk to me like I have ears, a mouth and a heart. Don’t treat me like a robot and deliver the same message repeatedly. I have good days and bad days just like you. Sometimes I want to be inspired. Other days I want challenged. Vary your message and you may get to know me.

11. Learn more about me than teaching me about you. Don’t send me an email after I have opted into your email newsletter that is filled with 3/4 of information of all the awards you have won, or your fabulous growth when I am waiting on you to return my phone call. I am amazed at the number of these I receive from supposed successful social media and marketing agencies. #fail in my humble opinion.

12. Provide structure but let the community organically grow. Let the people norm, storm, form and perform. If you try to force them from norming to performing you’re pushing against human nature and it human nature will win. Lead them but don’t control them.

13. Be innovative. Don’t just depend on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Leverage the tools to build community on and offline. Host a tweet chat or an offline meetup. I host the #GetRealChat Tuesday nights at 9pm et. We usually have between 12-18 million impressions within an hour timeframe all via Twitter. I’d say tweet chats are living proof of people wanting to connect in real ways.

14. Quit asking me to like you. Instead of begging me to visit or like your Facebook page, provide me a reason to. Spend the time you normally spend spamming me on developing something that provides me value.

15. Share yourself and your brand with me. Share your innards. Don’t be afraid to show your real self. But do so in a way that enables me to connect with you as a human being not as a cash register.

Your Turn

Are you building communities or are you guilty of viewing your communities as an audience of likers? What are some of the great communities you have seen?

 35 Social Media Truths

This is the second in a series on social business I am working on “35 Social Media Truths“. It is part of a keynote presentation I gave at Rochester Institute of  Technology. If you want to hear more, sign up for the 35 Social Media Truths Newsletter and you will receive all 35 of them over a period of time. Included will be different mediums such as video, blog posts and more.



Join The Conversation

  • Nov 19 Posted 5 years ago missionwahm

    I just came across this very well written article and wanted to thank you for sharing it.  I have noticed how difficult it is for those entering the Social Media world to find honest & trustworthy information.  This is one of the articles I've read that is exactly what those still learning (and many more experienced ;) should be using as an example.

  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 23 Posted 5 years ago PamMoore

    Jeff - I think you may have taken this post and the discussion of community far too literal. I am not a social media purist disregarding the need to sell product, provide a compelling reason to buy etc.  Business leaders who believe social media is a band-aid for a broken business are in for trouble. However, I am a believer in community, the art of engagement etc. particularly when integrated in support of business objectives and goals. 

    Of course people buy products.  Without sales businesses wouldn't survive, to me that is common sense. Community, engagement, tweets, retweets, likes, klout scores don't replace sales and the need to sell.

    However, can you argue the fact that people buy from people? Yet, not all products need people to sell them. I obviously don't need to talk to someone nor like a Facebook page to make a decision to buy my toothbrush, tooothpaste, laundry detergent and a million other things I consume in my life. 

    We meet with more customers than not when after researching their business and market often encourage them NOT to do social media for various reasons. Without doing the proper analysis and understanding where exactly social media can impact sales it's as good as throwing social noodles on the wall and hoping they stick. 

    You're preaching to the choir... ;) 


  • EricMiltsch's picture
    Oct 23 Posted 5 years ago EricMiltsch

    Nicely said Pam.

    Once the emotional connection is made, people "join."

    They join to be a leader, to feel smarter, to save money, to show-off how much money they spent - whatever the reason they join becuse you connected with them.

    Keep up the great stuff!



  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 23 Posted 5 years ago PamMoore

    Thanks for the comment Dwayne. Glad you liked it! 



  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 22 Posted 5 years ago PamMoore

    Thanks Ralph.  Glad you liked it. I'll check out your article as well. 



  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 22 Posted 5 years ago PamMoore

    Robbin - your questions are exactly what businesses should be asking themselves. Social media is not something that can be applied across the board in your business. It should support business goals and objectives. Plus not every objective can be postitively impacted by social media. Businesses should select objectives and goals where social media can have an impact. This is difficult for many business leaders and marketing teams who don't have experience doing such. It's not the same as traditional marketing. The same tactics don't work. Yes, some of the rules are the same but many of them have changed. 

    Also, data shows the salaries for community managers are on the rise because of the skills it takes to be successful. I very much see the community manager taking way from what use to be traditional outbound marketing positions. The smart marketers in my opinion will be the ones who enhance their skills are able to take a lead within their company, industry and markets with such knowledge to help businesses learn social media. 

    We just hired several new community managers and had to interview numerous candidates to find the right ones. Communication, understanding of business, ability to navigate the tools are all important. I can teach someone the tools more quickly than I can teach them how to understand business, how people engage with brands etc.  

    I agree with you on Charmin. Must be some funny offline conversations. Not sure I would want to know ;)  One of our clients is ServiceMaster in Tampa. They do everything from disaster recovery, flood & hurricane damage remediation to cat poop clean-up. We have had some crazy conversations regarding ideas for videos and social media content as you can imagine. 

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to comment and share your honest opinion. I always believe in being real & love a good debate. 

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend! 


  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 22 Posted 5 years ago PamMoore

    John - I like your watch guy / raincoat analogy. Makes perfect sense. 


    So glad you liked the article. 




  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 22 Posted 5 years ago PamMoore

    So true lgelb.  The biz's who are destined for a road of zero return are those who only measure success by likes and follows. 


    I also agree on the importance of adding value. 


    I agree with you on getting past the simple questions such as Charmin did w/the TP. However, I also disagree. Why not? Why does every discussion have to be so serious. When I went to Facebook to search for a toilet paper brand the first brand I thought of was Charmin. It wasn't because of them being green or any heritage. It was because of their cuddly, little soft guy on their commercials (oh and probably the fact I've watched thousands of the commercials they've spent millions on).  

    My point though is that I think some biz's miss out on connecting with their community by not being real. How serious does one really want to get when it comes to talking about toilet paper. I know I don't. I'd respond to a post on who doesn't load the toilet paper right versus a green post. Also I personally would remember it and tell others about it because I thought it was funny. I also know many who are my friends on Facebook that would probably respond to if they saw my comment show up in their timeline. However, that is me, not you.  We are all different which is why brands need to know their audience and provide value, information and connect with them in a way that brings their audience, community and clients closer to them. 

  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 22 Posted 5 years ago PamMoore


     The company who provides the technology we were using for the FREE reports had some issues and has since been missing in action. I personally responded that weekend to your request with an alternative option but never heard back.  

    Please check your email including spam folder. I sent you another email yesterday as well. 


  • Oct 20 Posted 5 years ago ralph dopping (not verified)

    Pam, Brilliant commentary. Sharing and building community is something that is a strong emerging initiative that we all need to recognize. Here's an article that supports your thoughts from a bit of a different perspective.

     Hope you like it and I would love to hear your thoughts.

  • Oct 19 Posted 5 years ago Alan Mentser (not verified)


    I cannot believe that it has been about a month since I reminded you on FB, after submitting the information to your firm, about the "free evaluation" you promised for our non profit and should get it in a couple of days.  You said you would get to the bottom of it.

    AND?  I am sure that you do not treat all potential customers this way, or you would not have any.

    Good articles.  Not good customer service follow up.....


  • RobbinBlock's picture
    Oct 19 Posted 5 years ago RobbinBlock

    I responded the way I did, because your tone in the article sounded a bit absolute -- like it applied across the board.

    I agree, there are probably tons of people out there who have "marketing" jobs but know nothing about it. Part of the problem is that there's no special certification for it, and another part is that many of those execs came out of the sales department, not marcomm. And again, you're right, time-in isn't the true measure of a good marketer. Perhaps understanding the value of the new tools is.

    As for community building being important, yes, but it's a matter of allocating resources for the best return. Some things just give you a bigger bang for the buck. With community managers being so cheap, I guess it's worth it. Maybe not so true for a small business, particularly when it is comprised of fewer than 5 people. Their time may be used more effectively and efficiently on other communication tools.

    And finally, I am surprised that people "like" a toilet paper manufacturer's Facebook page. What is this world coming to? Do people have nothing better to do? That rant over, I imagine many are simply interested in getting coupons. At least that's what the data shows when it comes to big brands.

    And being a community manager for Charmin must be a hoot. I can only imagine what they talk about offline.

  • Oct 19 Posted 5 years ago Kristen Burgess (not verified)

    This is a very interesting and true article. Thanks Pam.

  • Oct 18 Posted 5 years ago lgelb

    Many good points. I could add to the title, "People Don't Buy Things, They Need or Join Things." The focus of this post was the need to connect, but there is also the need to be helped, informed, supported through life's personal and professional choices.

    So whether you are selling Charmin or business services, if your platform and messaging are not adding value for your target audiences, you're not a strong ecosystem player.

    Every brand/cause should aspire to get past "'Fess up about who doesn't replace the tp" (not exactly an evergreen value prop) and on to differences among products/options, how to select, how to acquire/access, how to use, how to leverage, how to evaluate results, etc.--all peer-driven as well as top-down.

    When you can legitimately showcase heritage, expertise and empathy as well as products, you needn't break your fingers waving the product in front of everyone (as in the raincoat example).

    Another way to think about content: if the "Like" and "Follow" buttons disappeared tomorrow, how would you justify your SM budget?


  • Oct 17 Posted 5 years ago NapaWineGuy

    Outstanding Article!!

    Don't: "Show & Sell"
    Time to: "Share & Tell" 

    Cheers, to you Pam!!! 

  • Oct 17 Posted 5 years ago Jeff Molander (not verified)

    Do we really need research to confirm that people don't buy things, Lee?

    Traditional media and marketing use to be focused primarily on a broadcast message.

    Today of course, that's not the case. ???

    A one to many message focused on delivering the message the brand wanted the recipients to hear.

    Market research. Marketers never heard of it and certainly never used itto base their messaging.

    Most marketers didn’t care if you understood or even liked the message, as they had the expected percentages of return based on the number of eyeballs or ears who heard and read their message down to a science.

    Oh, wait... they were scientific after all. Hence, the idea of "branding" is one that everyone agrees upon.

    At some point, Lee you have to just laugh out loud and quote Bob offman


  • John A. Fallone's picture
    Oct 17 Posted 5 years ago John A. Fallone

    Pam--a very interesting article.

    Traditional Media was a one way street

    Social Media should engage the community--individuals and organizations idealy should be interacting with each other, instead of merely pushing out messages.

    Picture going to a live networking event and some guy is wearing a raincoat, Columbo style, prowling the premises.

    He navigates his way to a group of about five people who are engaged in a discussion, when suddenly he opens the raincoat wide----exposing---an array of 30 watches, fastened to the inside of the coat and he exclaims, in robotic fashion:

    "Check out my watches...I've got all kinds of watches...who needs a watch? I'm offering special pricing for you folks in honor of this networking event"

    Those who spam others in the realm of Social Media are similar to the guy in the raincoat...he throws his message out there without concern about any conversations that are taking place.

    Even if his watches are valuable, he fails to offer genuine value to those participating in the discussion.

    Pam, you raise many excellent points. Thanks for sharing the article.

    John A. Fallone
    President, Biz Dev Consultant & CEO



  • Oct 17 Posted 5 years ago Lee Williams (not verified)

    WHat research is this based on?

  • Oct 17 Posted 5 years ago DwayneMorris

    EXCELLENT material. I enjoy your writing style. Very easy to follow. I'm  a  list guy, so the "Top 15" list is great! Just found your page...looking forward to more great material!

  • Oct 17 Posted 5 years ago Paul Baxter (not verified)

    Fantastic post and absolutely bang-on-the-nail! 

    Why do so many business Facebook, and especially Twitter, posts consist of the latest update on how many followers they now have? Or the fact that they only need another 27 followers to hit the 'magic' 1000? Why are you telling me this? Why do I care? Who cares?... Sometimes I itch to post back and tell them to "stop prattling on about how wonderful you are! It's not about you!"

    Far too many businesses treat social media as just another advertising platform to shout from.


    Wow! I think I just had a bit of a rant!! Sorry.

    Great post.


  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 16 Posted 5 years ago PamMoore

    Thanks for the kind words Ben.  Sounds like a good presentation from Simon.  I will definitely check out. 

    Appreciate you taking time to comment! 


  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 16 Posted 5 years ago PamMoore

    Robbin - I was not stating that all marketers do not know how to communicate with audiences.  However, I am stating that many don't.  We work with many businesses, large and small. Some with marketing leaders who have been in the business for years. From CEOs, Marketing VPs to PR & communication leaders we still find many who do not  "get it." They want to, but they don't. They just can't seem to get their head out of the tactical, random act of marketing world even though their current methods are showing little return. 

    We are also seeing many organizations that were hit hard by the bad economy and are scaled down to very little knowledgeable resource who 1)understands biz 2)understands marketing 3)has a clue about how to integrate anything online into the biz.  We are working with several execs of successful companies who are pounding their heads against their desk because of this issue. They get it but their organization doesn't.  They often ask us to help educate their board, top execs and stakeholders. 

    I do not agree that just because someone has been doing marketing for 15 years they understand how to integrate social or build a community.  It's a foreign concept to far too many businesses right now. 

    I agree with you in that people buy products too. Of course we do. The smart ones build community around a smart product just as Apple did. There are also different types of value. There is value in regard to monetary value and there is also value such as creating memorable experiences, being able to connect with others, driving efficiencies in time savings etc. 

    What products would you think would not benefit from community? What brand can't benefit from having a community of partners, evangelists etc.?  I agree some are better than others in regard to being able to benefit from community but I think the number that would see no benefit are few.

    Take your toilet paper mention as an example. Check out the Charmin Facebook page:


    102k fans

    981 people are talking about them on Facebook

    A recent post on their Facebook page asking the below question had 119 comments and 61 likes. I'd call this a community! 

    Charmin Question on Facebook page:  It's time to fess up! Have you ever finished a roll of Charmin but didn't replace it? Who's the worst offender in your house?


  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 16 Posted 5 years ago PamMoore

    You are asking the right questions. Isn't it funny that the more questions you ask yourself the more you have!? Don't be afraid to engage your community in the process as well as you build your online strategy.  Engage them in all aspects such as research, development, branding and rebrand.  

    Best of luck to you! Keep up the good work. 

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and for the kind words. 


  • Oct 16 Posted 5 years ago Anonymous (not verified)

    The Q's your article poses are the very Qs I'm asking myself right now for my organization.  We are a community offline, but how can we be an online community?  What do our members want from us?  We are already the expert in our field, but WHY are we the expert and how can we expand our reach to a diverse audience?  So many Qs to answer.  This article proved that people want to be a part of something NOT sold something.  I'm am certain when we tap into the minds of the community it will be obvious as to how we can create value for them.  Keep sharing your expertise in social media.  Thanks LMB.

  • Oct 16 Posted 5 years ago Ben Teoh (not verified)

    Thanks for sharing. It's great to see more people switching on to this and spreading the word. 

    There was a great TED talk by Simon Sinek who also challenged the notion that people don't buy products, they buy beliefs and explained how Apple does this quite well.

    Top post, thanks again.


  • Oct 16 Posted 5 years ago Robbin Block (not verified)

    At this stage in the evolution of social media, I'm a little perturbed by an article that assumes that marketers have no idea how to communicate with an audience. Sure, there are those that are new marketers, but those of us who have been in it for a while "get it" -- it's not about blasting messages out, but being part of and helping to grow a community. Particulary, if there's a community to be had.

    Yes, people want value, especially in today's economy (that's probably why discounts and coupons work so well on Facebook). But sometimes, people just want to buy stuff, so community-building makes sense for certain types of products and services. And certain types of customers. Not for others, nor everybody.

    So yes, Apple has developed a very strong brand and built a community of people based on their products. Social media helps to keep those relationships going, among many other marketing activities, including the creation of innovative, fun and easy to use products. But can we truly say there's a community for say, toilet paper? Probably not. For social media to truly work in a marketing sense, business owners need to consider how it will impact their particular businesses and what allocation of marketing resources to social media makes sense for them. Then they can worry about what and how they will make it work.

  • Oct 16 Posted 5 years ago pauline gardens...


    What you said is so true. If I may...our little story.

    My younger sister Ann, wanted me to start a face book group. I dithered, so she did it for me (and bought the domain name). The 'group' is just that, a group. It works exactly as you say. It is a pleasure to hear people support and chat to each other.

    My sister and I add people..and crucially I do a bit of research on them before letting them in. We still have occasional 'tumble weed' moments. It is always because of crass marketing. Anyone that lands and says hi and then simply posts links to their 'blog' or their product gets deposited into 'Room 101' (ie; dumped).

    I have only been a fb user for 2yrs and twitter for 6 months, but have dealt with the public for my entire career. 

    A nursery man joined our group recently and posted a You Tube link to his nursery. Here is what I said in response to his link;

    "Fred, just so you know...(I should - add it to our mission statement of the group). We chat about gardening (mostly) anyone marketing or similar tends to get placed swiftly in Room 101...(I tend to do a bit of research on folk before I add them) any are very welcome to join in our chats and let us know how you get on with your garden particularly now you are not so physically able..I hope you stay :D"

    He replied: "Sorry relatively new to all this, was just trying to introduce myself"

    He has stayed and I have my eye on him. (Everything I have read bears out the fact that he is elderly, arthritic and his brother now runs the nursery)

    I can hear you saying, 'Yes, Pauline that's not rocket science'

    Ah, but, also, and possibly more interesting is that social media folk...also see it as an opportunity to join our group. (Again I have an eye on them, strategies are easy to spot in groups) It's not a problem if they can and do chat about gardening.

    I understand that a bit of 'in house' active group research by an individual would be of benefit to a social media/ marketing/PR company.

    If there was a comment I would make it would be....'Don't take people for fools'. 

    Happy Gardening X

    (I have only ever written on two of these types of on line media documents)

    Best wishes


    Gardens Weekly

    (PS: I thought I was writing to Brett..need to change that strategy? Your work - your post X)

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