One debate you'll hear among marketers and community builders is the one of volume vs. value, of quantity vs. quality. There's no absolute answer and because different products or communities have different needs and outcomes, it's always subjectively determined.
The dilemma isn't a simple one: is it better to sell more of something to lots of people, or less of something that is more expensive to fewer people? In a business context, this is driven by the bottom line of profit, but even then one has to consider the short term benefit of a spike of sales against a long term benefit of growing sales. So value and volume.
In community and in social media, we have the same dilemma, and I am of the opinion that we must cease trying to adopt either volume or value and come to understand how they work together. No one would deny that better than just value or just volume would be value and volume, and I consider that understand both approaches and the link between them will benefit us greatly.
Push and Pull
For instance, consider the push or pull speak of Web 2.0. The "push" mentality of broadcast media was rejected in the face of the new sociable "pull" mentality of social media. Rather than pushing your message out, now you would pull people to your message. Ironically, the ones who were preaching the gospel of pull were pushing it to us. And therein lies the reality - we need to do more than just pull or just push - we need both, like a pulley system that knows when to perform either action. It's the same with "speaking" or "listening" - any good conversation has both elements, not just one or the other!
A way to understand volume and value is by thinking about width and depth. Volume is how wide your message can spread. The problem with width though is that your message might not penetrate very deeply (think about all the magazines you know of but don't buy, for instance), and thus we value is about depth and how deeply your message penetrates someone. Of course a deep message is great but unless we have width, then it doesn't spread.
Volume, then Value
In my mind, we always begin by pushing our message out to a volume of people. This volume begins as small (the people who follow us on Twitter and Facebook and have subscribed to our feed) but it is the essential first place that our message directly goes to. Big organizations for years have had larger volumes through television, print and radio, and perhaps now enjoy large volumes online too, but whether it's big or small, it's a volume.
Getting the message out to a volume of people is great, but we can't stop there like so many do. Consider all the charitable causes that contend for our attention. Sure, their message might be on the television in front of us and so it's getting spread before many eyeballs and generating awareness, but unless we respond to the advert there's not much benefit to that awareness.
What I always tell people is to not just raise awareness, but to raise action. We have to now provide a way for us to extract value from out out of all of that volume.
Inevitably, not everyone that our message has spread to will respond. Only a percentage ever will, even if you have the finest follow-up program in the world. But what we can do is increase the percentage from what it is!
The way we do this is quite literally by thinking about width and depth. If our message has been spread and has got width, then we need to give people ways to go deeper into the message. Calls to action must attach our message. Ways to increase participation and get more involved must be provided. And the trick here is not to ask people to jump from a basic level of awareness up to a height of involvement, but just a little bit more than what they currently are.
For instance, if you have a blog post that people read, invite them to subscribe - a deeper level of participation. If you have a mailing letter, ask people to become a fan on Facebook. If you have fans on Facebook, ask them to sign a petition or watch a video. I know this isn't rocket science and in fact excessively simple, but you wouldn't believe how many people don't do provide these simple calls to action. However once you get into the mindset, you begin to perform this simple trick of "scattering and gathering" on a larger and more influential level.
For instance, at my blog, I ask a set of "leading questions" at the end of every blog post as a way to turn people from readers into contributors - from volume into value. Another person who understand this is Robin Dickinson, who has managed to turn the volume of his network into a very high powered group of connected individuals called the Centurions.
The lesson is basic, but the mindset is invaluable!