5 Truths About Communities

by Ken Mueller on December 13, 2012 · 19 comments

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It’s another one of those online, social media buzzwords: community.

We talk about online communities as if they’re the holy grail of social media marketing. We are told to join communities and create communities, but it isn’t always that easy.

By definition, a community is a unified body of individuals, often with one or more common interests or characteristics, living in a particular area. That area, of course, can be online, and transcend geographical boundaries. Communities also imply doing things for the common good.

But there are a few truths about communities that I think we need to remember:

1) Communities generally just happen – Sure there are stories of “planned communities” but I see those as more like planned housing developments or neighborhoods. Community and neighborhood aren’t always synonymous. Communities are rarely built intentionally. You can start them, you can spur them on, but the best communities just…happen. They grow organically. You can’t force them.

2) Communities start small – Communities often start with just two or three people bonding together, and then others coming along and joining them. A community generally doesn’t start with large numbers, at least not in the truest sense of community.

3) Communities often stay small – It seems as though a community ceases to be a community when it reaches a certain size. I’m not sure there is a set number for that, but for different types of communities, being too large can diminish their effectiveness.

4) Communities grow slowly – There is no quick fix for building communities. Buying fans and followers online does not a community make. Refer back to point one about communities just happening. Think of a baseball stadium. If you don’t sell out, sure you could go out on the street and just start grabbing people and offering them free tickets or even paying them to fill the seats. But if they don’t like baseball, or your particular team, are they really part of the community?

5) Communities are built on individual & joint relationships – People gather and bond, often with just one other person, then a third appears, and so on. Word of mouth. People join because they know someone who is already a member.

Now having said all of that, I have to admit that I have made some great friends online, and have become a member of some pretty cool communities. I know some of the members better than others. Sometimes these communities are built on Facebook around a certain individual, group, or product. Some of my communities were built in the comment sections of a few blogs (which is why I love Livefyre as a commenting system: it facilitates community building).

It’s also a reason I love Google Hangouts. That’s right, while I’m not particularly a fan of Google +, I do love the Hangout feature, where a small group can gather on video and chat, communicate, and build community. One particular community that has been happening lately is the Heckler’s Hangout, an online chat hosted by Brian Vickery and Margie Clayman.

The reason I tell you this is that I’ll be the guest on Heckler’s Hangout tonight (Thursday, December 13) starting at 7 p.m. (ET). I have no idea what will happen there. Presumably we will talk about social media, small business, nonprofits, and marketing. But from what I gather, things could veer off of that road quickly and could turn to topics like bacon, the Spice Girls, and some of my past lives (no, not in the reincarnational sense).

But what I do know is that despite any twist or turn the conversation takes, there will be a sense of community. I know a few of the folks involved to some degree, and others I only know a little bit. But I’m betting by the end of the hour, we will have made some great connections and built some community.

So why not join us?  Stop by and hang out and do a little heckling. You’ll perhaps get the chance to make fun of me, which I do believe might become an Olympic Sport the next time around. You might even learn something! But I guarantee you’ll come away with a greater sense of community.

 

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19 comments
barrettrossie
barrettrossie

Aaaaaaaaaargh, I missed it. Dang. Oh well, hope to catch the Hecklers next time. Was it fun?

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin like.author.displayName 1 Like

6) If you are a miserable git and hate people, you will be a horrible CM Mgr.

Shonali
Shonali like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

I don't think the best communities just "happen." I DO agree that you can't force them, but people aren't just going to end up somewhere if they don't even know it's there. So I think there has to be a smart "creation of space," as it were, and then you invite people in respectfully. There is a HUGE art to community management and I don't think most people understand how time-consuming and delicate it is. The best community managers don't force things, but they do "gently" suggest and keep the crowd going, as it were.

Are Hangouts still limited to 10 participants? (Shows you how long ago I took part in one!)

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Shonali AND, good CMs know how to steer the conversation so that people stay engaged.  Not everyone can be one.. that's for sure.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@AmyMccTobin @Shonali I guess my point is that it's a blend, and the driving force is really the membership of the community. You can build and guide and suggest, but you have to really follow the direction of the community itself.  FOr many businesses, the community already exists. They just have to find them and join them.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Shonali @KenMueller @AmyMccTobin well, if you notice, I said "generally" not always.    And I think that community is a little different, in that we were brought on board as bloggers, etc, not just "consumers" and general public. I'm talking about more public online communities. You can guide and decide direction, but you can't make people do anything, or they might decide to walk. The personality of most communities is dictated by the members, not usually by those who are at the top

Shonali
Shonali

@KenMueller If it's a blend, then why say it's one or the other options? :)  I don't think you *always* have to follow the direction of the community. For example, think back to when we were doing Blue Key. Of course I (as your main community manager) listened to all you guys - you were awesome! - but someone had to point the direction and... and I say this in a very humble way... that's what I did. With the client's approval and general group consensus (those who participated regularly, at least) - but like @AmyMccTobin says, it is an art to steer the conversation. Not everyone can do that well.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR like.author.displayName 1 Like

I was waiting for you to plug Google+ Communities where everyone has flocked. It's pretty cool seeing the different tones and pulses of each one and seeing who's more serious and very business. G+ has done itself a good thing by creating those; the stream is more lively (much to the chagrin of those who prefer it boring), and there's a ton of give and take without all the clutter of FB. 

Anyone want a place to join, please join me at Bloggers Unite! Ken, hope you don't mind, and I also hope that everyone here has already received an invite. I'm going to go check right now on that! 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I'm not sold on G+ communities. So far I'm seeing the same thing I've seen on G+: the same people, and not the general public. I don't see flocking, per se. And I've been invited to quite a few communities, and most of them are related to various aspects of my industry, and include mostly the same people. Do I really need 5 groups with the same people?  The other thing is, I don't think it hurts FB. It's more akin to the groups on LinkedIn, so it will hurt them more. 

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

@KenMueller @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I am gonna disagree a little bit, Ken. In the community I launched, there are bloggers who are becoming more confident with their material. I'm seeing them speak out and share. In addition, based on my encouragement, people are posting their work and people are coming over to read. 

You get what you give; when every medium is filled with popular leaders, many don't feel confident to share and comment. I'm hoping that what I'm doing is going to promote something different.

That said, jury is still out...the busy energy of the start of the week was fun and we all flocked (yes, we did); yet now, things are more quiet again. I think we all need to wait until January after the season, too. 

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

#3 fits nicely into my latest thought process: that niche networks and small groups may be the best way to market small business. And don't worry, I'm sharpening my Heckler's tongue all day :)

Adi Gaskell
Adi Gaskell like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I agree with all but the first point Ken.  To me it's a bit like the evolution/intelligent design debate.  I don't think communities can be designed, but equally I think the best communities have a clear purpose in mind, and then evolve a way of achieving that purpose.  You can't just hope and pray that your community achieves something worthwhile.  You need a clear ROI in mind to know that what you're doing is worthwhile.

schmooz_me
schmooz_me

@Adi Gaskell - I'm with Adi on this. If your community is well conceptualized / positioned it will have a deep enough value for your target market. These are exactly the type of online communities that need planning! Everything else on your list I agree with! 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Adi Gaskell I think you can start that way, and if you do it properly, you might get your desired outcome, but we need to remember that a big part of social media is being willing to turn over your brand to your customers. You have to let the community take its own shape. I'm not saying it can't be done, but generally, a community works best when it happens on its own. As for ROI, that's a whole different debate for another time!

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