What Constitutes a Unique Community?
The proliferation of the social media mystery house is fracturing people with potential like interest into dozens of smaller social properties. In order to bring your social media footprint under some semblance of control an organization must share a common definition of what constitutes a community – and more specifically what defines a “unique” community. It is only through acknowledging what is unique that an organization can come to terms with the limits of how many true communities with which they should engage.
At the risk of stating the obvious, a community is not unique by virtue of the fact that you wish to market to them. They are unique through sharing common interests and a desire for connection. This last part, the desire for connection, is crucial because it is what distinguishes an “audience” from a community. Communities form, stick together and generate value based on this desire for connectedness. They often develop shared cultural norms regarding behavior and vernacular that allows them to cohere and identify fellow community members or exclude those that do not belong.
Gaining shared agreement on what constitutes a unique community is crucial because communities benefit from network effects; that is, the larger a community is, the more value that the community provides to its own members.
Finally, getting liftoff for new communities takes more energy than maintaining (or tapping into) an already existing, healthy community. If you can reduce the number of communities you serve to a few, larger entities, the more effective you will be.
It is best to define uniqueness in a workshop setting. This builds agreements within the group and the will to move forward in consolidating like-communities. However, in my experience there are only four possible criteria that can define uniqueness within a community:
1. A common passion: describes a practice that brings out personal devotion – stamp collectors, watch enthusiasts, pre-code cinema buffs and on and on. Common passion can also revolve around the veneration of a product – most often luxury goods. Rolex, BMW, Gucci, and Apple are examples of this category where the product serves as a proxy for our identity. This, however, is the exception. Many companies make the mistake of assuming a natural community revolves around a passion for their product. There may indeed be an audience for your product but not necessarily a community.
2. A shared goal: A shared goal is a powerful stimulus for community. “I am a mother responsible for the well-being of my family.” “I am a bargain shopper and the deals I find are a badge of honor.” The connections between these groups is what creates energy and value.
3. Language: obviously human beings use language to communicate. Our community for bargain hunters in English can’t likely extend to speakers of Urdu. For this, you would need to create a separate community.
4. Locality or culture: Some communities are predicated upon being local. It is interesting to see The Quantified Self, a community for people interested in self-tracking and monitoring of personal behavior [link: http://thequantifiedself.com] gathering in multiple cities across the world. While there is one meta-community online (and in English) there are local chapters that are being self-organized to bring the experience offline and gather a local community of people passionate about self-tracking. Additionally there are times when cultural norms might warrant creating a unique community despite users speaking the same language. One thinks of India where English is nearly universally understood but the sensibilities are quite different. Or of the differences between British cultural norms and Irish or American. The defining factor here of course is what the community needs, not your corporate structure. You don’t necessarily need separate English Facebook profiles, just because you have a presence in the US and in Europe.
The first two (passion and shared goals) govern whether or not a community is justified in being created. The second two (language, locality and culture) describe whether or not the community warrants being duplicated (with tweaks) to serve people with unique attributes that would restrict them from belonging to the original community.
If you take a look at your social media footprint, how many social accounts are truly communities? Which of them deserve to continue? Which should be consolidated?