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It's still happening! Brands are doing their best to manufacture social communities using the social web with varying degrees of success. The majority of 'forced' online communities would appear to be made up of family, friends and those willing to give support...but not really going anywhere.
How many such company-originated Facebook groups have you seen that are genuinely thriving and active? Most don't really go anywhere, but on the rare occasion some really do take off.
I've tried to analyse why and I think there may be a need to go back to basics; your feedback is most welcome on these thoughts.
It struck me, when sitting with my family in the middle of Thetford Forest, waiting for Mr Paul Weller to come on stage and do his thing, that we were part of a mini community. 5,000 plus people had descended on a remote part of East Anglia (All parts of East Anglia are remote aren't they?) and were sat in a forest, chatting and sharing.
In fact, several groups of people near us were readily offering food and drink to my daughters; even offering them blankets because of the evening turning a little chilly. (Make a mental note to feed and clothe my children properly.) This then led to conversation and laughter; there was a genuine and wholesome community vibe happening. So why was this? Could there be something to learn here that brands could use for making online communities a success? I think there is...
There is a whole load of theoretical research on social communities; the wisdom of crowds; herds etc. and there is a chap, Bernard Cova who part wrote "Consumer Tribes", who analysed macro and micro communities in the real world as opposed to virtual. A lot of this community spirit does come down to geography and being local.
Of course, the Web, being World Wide, throws that out of the window. But there are other elements which play a part online and I believe these should be at the forefront of mind when any business, brand or organisations wishes to create or become a member of a virtual social community. Essentially, I believe there are three basic ingredients which need to be in place and continually focused upon in order for a community to really be a community. Here they are:
Common Interest. Sounds obvious right? A common element that everyone in the community is passionate about. Passionate enough to spend time talking and writing about it and reading and listening to others talk about it. Reality Check: Your brand may not have reached such dizzy heights and may not have the pull required to form a community.
Does this mean then that your brand cannot be the central common element of a community? Most probably yes. But don't worry. Your brand will be/can become part of a wider community. You will be operating in a market or area where there is genuine passion around something; maybe a specific technology; gadget; eco friendly product; specific fashion type or genre etc.
There will be something your brand can be associated with. Therefore, become part of this community, listen, be active and contribute...don't just take. Communities can give you the cold shoulder if you do.
- Common Enemy. Sounds harsh doesn't it. However, being part of something is one thing, but standing against something else does tend to stir the emotions and passion a little more. Something that directly opposes the beliefs and values of the community (for whatever reason) can build a stronger cohesive unit. You only have to look at local opposing football teams to see a strong example of tribalism, which easily transfers itself online. A more relevant example is probably Apple and Microsoft, or Linux v Microsoft...extreme passion is demonstrated in both examples.
Status & Recognition. As well as being part of a community and "fighting" for a cause, there is always a pecking order in such groups. These communities, whether in the real world or virtual, need organising and leading so that they can stay focused on a common cause and be updated with the latest news and developments.
Community members are motivated by being recognised for contribution they (Maslow stuff) make and are energised by seeing their contribution recognised and acknowledged by others. If their contribution isn't recognised it won't be long until individuals become disenchanted, so it is important to ensure community leaders are continually aware of this. Ever been followed or DM'd on Twitter and not responded?
Those people who wanted to initially interact can't be seen for dust and are probably telling others how disenchanted they are. This also applies to you as a brand as part of a wider community; going back to the first point; you want to be noti ced and recognised so good contribution will help you improve your pecking order and achieve this. Your status will improve.