The power and appeal of community
14 February 2011
Everyone’s talking community. No, not the hilarious comedy set in a community college; the concept of community as a facilitator of opinions, a mobiliser of action, a collaboration of experience, a junction of advocates and interest seekers alike. The community manager has become the job role du jour for organisations that have embraced social media, particularly those with online customer service functions. There’s a Facebook community managers group of 85 Sydney based member (and growing) where client-side and agency staff discuss the challenges, opportunities, technicalities and nuances of developing and maintaining communities of interest for brands and products. So why all the fuss? How did community become the must-have social media accessory of the season?
I want to look at three examples, rather serious examples in fact, of how community thrives in society. To avoid diluting the importance of these events I won’t go into too much detail about the link between these examples and what this means for your business – hopefully you’ll get there yourself.
A community can inspire action
When a revolution comes with its own hashtag, we’re starting to look at the world in a slightly different way than our history books have recorded thus far.
Much has been written about the digital revolution that has unravelled the Egyptian government. We reflect on the tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube which were used to spread news of protests, arrests, corruption, every presidentail address and reaction however the strength of the dissenting voice could only be fuelled by a community. The network of friends, family and strangers in distant lands use these tools on a daily basis yet it was only when they were united in anger, hurt, frustration and even death towards a common goal that these tools began to inspire change. In a note posted on Facebook titled “Achievements of the revolution” the writer posts under the name Khalid Saeed all (we are all Khalid Saeed) invoking the voice of Khaled Mohamed Saeed who died at the hands of the Egyptian police [translated]: “The case of love and the unit we all lived in the field of liberalization among all Egyptians regardless of religion, age, gender or culture or education or jobs or their social .. We are all Egyptians”.
While your community of interest may be a far cry from the gravity of the Egyptian revolution it is a perfect reminder that tools don’t inspire action within a community, they enable it (albeit perhaps to an unprecedented extent). If a community could inspire “an achievement of historic Mahsalc days of the Pharaohs” then imagine what it could do for you.
A community can share the load
As a Queenslander, I have spent much of the beginning of 2011 glued to my television screen watching in horror as the state struggles to withstand the fury of one ticked off Mother Nature. The devastation was only equalled by the outpouring of support – financial, emotional and physical. While the Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal was organised by the government, much of the efforts to organise relief and rebuilding are coming from the community itself. Contractors are registering their details and volunteers are being mobilised through community sites designed to aggregate information, emotional support and manpower. Using the community to rebuild is not only a great way of getting things done, in this instance it’s imperative for those who rely on their skills and services to put food on the table – while the efforts of those outside of Queensland are welcomed the best solution is to rebuild from within.
The framework of any community not only relies on the distribution of roles (too many chefs etc etc) but the proactive manner of members to fulfil these roles. Once collaborative enough to grow organically and benefit its members, it becomes the ultimate success. A natural disaster shouldn’t be the only catalyst to achieving this goal.
A community can offer a different opinion
Sometimes shit happens. And when shit hit the fan for Tony Abbott it fired up online communities to have their say, for and against. From the moment the teaser tweets went out that Channel 7 were to show the “shocking footage Tony Abbott doesn’t want you to see” to the murmors that Abbott had uttered the words “shit happens” in reference to the death of an Aussie digger to the video footage of Abbott frozen in fury while staring at reporter Mark Riley – the Australian online community took (and often swapped) sides in a battle of opinions. News articles inspired hundreds of comments while Twitter debated the context, intended purpose and aftermath of the footage. The reaction from the community ensured the edited news item was shared in its entirety to give the audience a new perspective on the incident and even a week later the community is ready to see how Media Watch dissects the incident.
No matter what you intend on presenting to your audience, the collective can turn your message on its head. Communities thrive on a difference of opinion and expecting anything to be accepted wholly with nods and smiles is naive and ultimately dangerous. And with the resources available online it won’t take long til the entire truth comes out – whatever that may be.
At the end of the day, we’re in the business of people. And if you are effective at forming, influencing or motivating communities for any given reason you have a powerful asset at your command. Be careful how you use it.