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.