Today the buzzwords in the social media space are around community. Everyone is interested in creating community and for good reason. Community is at the heart of human social interaction whether it is online or in the place you live. People do not thrive alone in most cases. There is a need to be connected to someone or something that is more basic than most of us ever admit. It’s an emotional thing which also makes it an elusive thing.
Internet marketers look at community as the holy grail of their efforts. How many thousands or millions of times is it said around a conference table full of marketing people that “If we could only create a sense of community we will gat more business”. I think that the theory of that is good. It makes sense. It is rational. It’s a common sense thing.
The reality of it, however, is something much different. Why? Well, it’s hard to do. I think many people, including myself, are coming to grips with the fact that common interests are not enough to create any community of real benefit. It’s not enough to put together a Ning site and expect that people will flock to it. Why is this?
I think the reason that real online community is so elusive is due to several factors:
- You can only know people so well online – All this means is that no matter how much you share with someone in the online space there is always the chance that the other party is ‘embellishing’. Heck, you may be embellishing. Either way people are able to best size up another person for real when they look in their eye in the same room at the same time.
- People SAY they want community but few participate – In order to have a community that appears to be very active you need a lot of people because the reality is that activity in an online community sticks pretty close to the 10/80/10 rule that spells out a normal bell curve. 10% of the people will be active participants and advocate the community. 80% will sign up and be almost ambivalent in their commitment to it. The final 10% think the community is dumb and wonder what attracted them in the first place.
- It takes a real leader to pull the community together – Ever really wonder why we have leaders? Couldn’t everyone just be themselves and do things out of their own desire to get the job done? The answer is a resounding no. Most people don’t know where to go next and need guidance. They may not admit it but it’s the truth. In an online community which is an area where the rules of engagement change regularly it is critical to have someone leading the flock and helping people to get the most from any communal vibe the online group has. It’s not an easy task.
- It takes patience and money to do this – People often say that the low cost of social media is enticing and the reason that many companies are turning to it for reaching their existing customers and coming up with new ones. The ones who think it is cheap and easy are ignorant of the reality. They have read some things and have a cocktail party level knowledge of social media. The reality is much more mundane and sounds like just about everything else in business. You need to be patient and you need to invest in the community with all resources available. It’s neither quick nor easy.
- Once you’re in, you’re in – If you start a community then decide to take your ball and go home you will tick off those who are rooted in the group. At that point your strongest advocates could turn into your biggest nightmare. Why is that? They are more savvy in the social media space thus they can now go out and complain like no one else that you left them high and dry.
So community is always important because we are human. Just don’t expect that a community online and offline will look anything alike. They can’t. As a result, learn just what the business requirements and applications of social media are so there aren’t so many people wondering what in the world they got themselves into.