Somatica Social ComunityIt’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.

Econsultancy is a great example of a social community. Loads and loads of people coming together as individuals and businesses with a central common interest of learning and discussing digital marketing (and all that it contains) so we can apply these learnings to our work and be successful.

What is our common enemy? This isn’t so obvious. Is it the perceived “ignorance” of those old school marketers and senior exec’s who just don’t get today’s online world? Maybe. Is it the need to justify the investment in using the right mix of digital/web techniques and the social web to prove that this stuff really does work? Probably. Is it the insatiable desire to stay ahead of the curve and be as innovative and trail blazing as possible? Could be.

Or quite simply that we don’t want our customers to have a bad engagement experience with our brand? Sounds cheesy…but probably also a yes. In fact, most likely a combination of all these and some others. We all like a bit of recognition for good contribution…why am I writing this?!!

It would be good to hear anyone’s thoughts on this post, whether you find it useful or you totally disagree, all comments and opinions are welcome. I personally feel that when we start to discuss “social media strategy” we can put our blinkers on and forget about the basics and the bigger picture as a whole….and I’ve also missed half of the Weller set!