Social Media is more Like a City than a Concert Hall
While Marketing and Communications tend to think of audiences, social media revolves around communities. What they have in common is the notion of what interests them. An audience might be interested in cars, so might a community. A content strategy for both would involve many of the same insights and lead to a similar point of view.
What distinguishes audiences from communities is the idea of connectedness. Audiences don’t care nearly as much if they are connected to one another. Consider an audience attending a movie or a concert – yes they may gain passive enjoyment from being in the crowd – but 90+% of the focus is on the stage. The difference between seeing the movie in the theater or renting the DVD is marginal. Not so in a community. Communities are based around the idea of connecting with each other. Thus when thinking metaphorically about social media (as we all tend to do!) it is best to compare social media to a city rather than a concert hall. Let me explain:
Concert halls hold an audience, cities hold many communities. Concert halls are clean and well-lit for the occasion, the program is set in advance and the boundaries are clear; where it is to occur, what is to take place and when it will start and end. Cities are always-on, unpredictable, messy affairs; a mix of centralized urban planning and the decentralized decisions of the thousands of inhabitants. The communities within a city ebb and flow – their boundaries are porous and defined by the inhabitants themselves, not the program director of the concert hall.
The emergent properties of cities are what make them beautiful, unique and self-healing.
The art of organizations getting engaged in social media is to understand how to foster connectedness, diversity and individual choice within the communities that they host or participate in. Thus social media is more like a city than a concert hall. The best we can hope for are uneasy alliances, blurred boundaries and just a margin of guidance to input into the process. But in the end, that isn’t that quite enough?