Social media are an increasingly important tool for business to engage with followers, users, and customers. We used this definition in our SSCRC reports. In other words, social media are more than simply Web 2.0 technology – the community is the crucial ingredient.
Without community, Web 2.0 spaces are simply virtual ghost towns – and sadly there are plenty of those. Which means: to do social media right, you need to understand how communities work – and what makes them work. This is what our social media reports have addressed.
Communities aren’t simply some amorphous mass – they have their own, sometimes complex, internal structures. They are usually arranged in a concentric fashion – for one, in terms of their values. At the centre are a set of core values and beliefs: you can’t be a football fan without liking football; you can’t be religious without believing in a god of some form. Derived from these are a range of key principles, which you should adhere to but may be able to ignore from time to time. Yet further out is a larger collection of shared, communal knowledge – the better versed in it you are, the better a community member will you be seen to be, but you don’t have to know all of this to be accepted.
So, here’s a clear statement of core values and attitudes – you won’t be able to join the community unless you accept it.
What follows from this is that there are more central and more marginal community members, too: Community leaders will embody the values and principles of the community almost perfectly, and will be well versed in its shared knowledge. More general members will subscribe to the core values, but may not always follow all the rules, and may have a more limited understanding of community knowledge. Marginal members are marginal because they have limited knowledge (or dispute agreed facts), break the rules more often, and may not even subscribe to the community’s core beliefs.
See if you can spot the marginal member here. If you were confronted with an absent-looking guy wearing a backpack in the middle of an excited crowd, you might want to step away from him.
So, the community leaders – who have the most social status in the community, and are often also the most active members – fulfil an important role: they embody the community spirit, and in doing so encourage others to participate in constructive ways. They are a key group to work with, then: they model what should be seen as desirable behaviour for the more marginal members, and in doing so they encourage marginal members to show more commitment to the community by participating more constructively.
In other words, the community leaders are the bright stars at the centre of the galaxy, who through their activities pull in others from the margins, and encourage them to shine as well.
We can call this participation pull, and in social media it may also help bringing people to a closer engagement with the brand: From generic third-party spaces – like external discussion groups – where a brand may be discussed, to branded spaces on social networks like Facebook where more loyal fans gather, to in-house spaces operated by the brand itself where the most committed users communicate directly with brand staff.
That’s just a very quick introduction to social media communities, of course. We provide more information – and strategies for how to engage with communities through social media – in our two reports for the CRC. More information, and contact details, are here…
Social Media: Understanding Online Communities Dr Axel Bruns Associate Professor Smart Services CRC / ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation Queensland University of Technology Brisbane, Australia snurb.info – produsage.org @snurb_dot_info 21 April 2010