Social media communities are online properties in which members relate common experiences and interests. From micro-stock photo offerings like SnapVillage to colossal social networks like FaceBook to the ever-expanding blogosphere, communities online are as diverse as those found offline.
Just think of metropolitan areas where most neighborhoods are known for offering a different experience. When in New York you visit the theatre district to catch a show. For a deal on electronics in Tokyo, you visit Akihabara. For the emerging art crowd in Berlin, set your sights on Brunnenstrasse. Each of these neighborhoods can fill a specific need, so communities of like-minded individuals tend to form around them. Online communities work in the same way.
To understand these communities, look to understand the reason one would join. There are 3 main purposes contributing to the sprawl of social media:
#1 Communities of Interest.
As the name suggests, "Communities of Interest" tend to involve subjects that people find interesting. Take an automobile forum discussing all things "Ford Focus" or a blog like World Changing, which seeks solutions to the world's problems. Since these topics are typically created, maintained and populated by everyday people, they tend to be the most commonly visited with the time most spent. This "stickiness" is a goal for corporations who are trying to create and house a conversation around their product or message.
#2 Communities of Task
The structures found in "Communities of Task" focus on peer-to-peer reviews, classified ads or other quick-fix points of action or research. People who seek to fulfill a specific goal often visit these communities to connect with credible advocates or find tidbits of information. The information sought is as diverse as the people seeking it: from wedding planners to microwave ovens to pick-up trucks to bed and breakfasts. People in research mode tend to visit once or contribute to short burst of activity, however the more credible/useful the content, the more likely the user will visit again.
Communities of task should be of interest to the company wanting to sway purchase intention during the research phase of the consumer funnel. Housing these kinds of conversations can prove very influential but to remain credible, the delicate dose of brand messaging must not overtake unbiased consumer insight.
Some great examples of communities of task
autobytel.com, urbandictionary.com, wikipedia.com
#3 Communities of Vocation
"Communities of Vocation" focus on professional connections with specific vocational needs. Perhaps the most famous community of this type is LinkedIn.com, an online social network of more than 13 million professionals representing 150 industries. These professional communities tend to be very "templated" in nature, offering clear boundaries of communication and focused discussion.
FaceBook could be counted as a community of vocation in it's earlier student-only days. It became a community of interest when the network opened to the general public and the backend became available to user-contributed application development.
New examples of communities of vocation are emerging everyday
FireFighterNation.com for Fire Fighters, TrueAviation.com for pilots, vdm.com for veterinarians. NatureNetwork for scientists of all varieties.
The hardest part in the development of an online community is earning credibility. Credibility is the currency of social media and the most successful platforms employed a humble-beginnings approach, maturing slowly to its "tipping point". Some communities out there don't make it into the popular eye, but still foster fierce loyalty within niche groups. No matter what the purpose of your social media platform, your strategy must focus on credibility for any level success to be achieved.
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