When you build a business, what you’re really doing is building a community. A community around a brand, a product, a person – whatever – a hodgepodge of people who ordinarily may not have much in common have this one unifying thing. It’s beautiful.

And you tend to focus only on the positive elements of that community. You never really think about the consequences of building that community – who you’ve left out, who you’ve left behind, who found out they weren’t as unique or important as they thought they were.

One of my clients liked to say, “It may be just business, but business is personal”. No kidding.

Current customers, ignored in favor of the new customers. Innocent bystanders put out by your business practices. People in your target market who are actively offended by your marketing attempts.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When you become popular (which thanks to blogging, YouTube and Twitter is a relatively low bar to hit), some people who have no clue who you are (as a person) are going to hate your guts. Are you ready for that? Were you expecting it?

I talk a lot about building communities, and from a business perspective it’s the only marketing goal you should really have. The flip-side of that coin – from the individual’s perspective – is self-identity. Whose self identity is so adamantly tied to opposing your very existence that they not only refuse to be a part of your community, but seek to tear it down?

Remember that art exhibit in Loveland – featuring a certain religious figure in a certain compromising position? That’s what I’m talking about. Loveland is a city built on fostering the arts – all kinds of arts, not just the safe stuff, but things that make you stop and think.

And so a group of people did. They stopped, they thought – and then they decided that it wasn’t the kind of art they liked. In fact, it was the kind of art they wanted to take a hammer to. And subsequently, one of their community members did.

I thought that act of vandalism was deplorable, and it’s so damned easy to write them off as crazy religious fanatics, but as a marketer, as a small business owner, I owe them more than just writing them off. We all need to think about what it was like to be in their shoes. It’s not that the anti-community didn’t value outside perspectives or ideas, or rousing conversations for that matter. It’s that they belong to a community that has accepted that figure as a very personal, very important part of their lives.

If you want a less God-y equivalent, try putting a Captain Kirk fan in the same room as a Captain Picard fan. Then, just for fun, bring in someone who marked “Jedi” as their religion on the census. Three, seemingly sane people, will quickly become a riotous herd of angry geeks in the absence of reason.

Consumer likes and dislikes are illogical, irrational, and completely and utterly human. As business owners, each and every choice we make – who to call right now, what to blog about, what product to discontinue, whose art to hang in the lobby – they all have serious consequences to our community and the shape it takes. It’s our responsibility to own up to those consequences.

(Header photo: Breakup by Nadir Cruise)

This post is part of the Blog Carnival series. On the last Wednesday of each month, Word Chef invites 10-12 top notch small business bloggers to contribute posts on a similar topic. Then, links to those posts appear in the space below…can you handle that much fun? Let’s find out!