Up until now, we have thought about the consistency of a digital community, the role of media in its formation, the ways of participation, as well as the spatial (proximitydimension of in such communities.
Now we move into the specific, often explicitly planned purposes of communities.
The purpose of this post is highlight some aspects of the importance of digital communities to two major areas of our societies: political participation and commercial activities. In a way, we are taking macro (society) and meso (institutions = business) perspectives to some purposeful communities.
In the following weeks we will look at these domains more closely, including their intersections, variations, and other possible domains that we might detect. But for the time being, we are briefly mapping the plusses and minuses:
PLUS FOR POLITICS: The Ways of Digital Democracy
When the Internet came along, there were so many promises of democracy. One of them is the easy access to participation:
An open platform for community building. An accessible arena for deliberative discussion. A means to reach across space and disregard time to forge new relationships and rekindle old ones. An arena to deliberate and solve global issues and to form a multitude of new alliances across geographic, institutional and other sociocultural borders.
Over the last two decades now, cyberspace, known by its alter ego the virtual public sphere, has been overlaid with potential-filled promises to be the venue to engender democracy and build community (…)
Once a means merely to connect people to one another, the internet, with its dressing of Web 2.0 finery, is said to have evolved into a place for substantive social organizing.
[N]ot only have we now found an extensible environment to support our diverse and distributed public activities, but we are also spawning a culture of participation that enables us to showcase our individuated productions while simultaneously adding both nuance and weight to the composite portrait of public activity. (Erickson & Aslama)
To be sure, social media communities have brought conflicts and protests for the entire (wired) world to view. Most wold argue that from the Arab Spring to Hong Kong, we all monitor and, to some extent, participate as witnesses f major polirtcal events.
A key figure in theorizing media and democracy, Peter Dahlgren (Dropbox reading) has categorized ways of online activity and interaction that is relevant to political participation and democracy:
- advocacy/activist domain,
- civic forums (“where views are exchanged among citizens and deliberation can take place. This is generally understood as the paradigmatic version of the public sphere on the Net, but it would be quite erroneous to neglect the others”),
- the parapolitical domain (“airs social and cultural topics having to do with common interests and/or collective identities; political participation is always a possibility”), and
- the journalism domain (from major news organizations to bloggers).
Case in Point:
Democracy is changing.
A new force, rooted in new tools and practices built on and around the Internet, is rising alongside the old system of money intensive broadcast politics.
Today, for almost no money, anyone can be a reporter, a community organizer, an ad-maker, a publisher, a money-raiser, or a leader.
If what they have to say is compelling, it will spread.
The cost of finding like-minded souls, banding together, and speaking to the powerful has dropped to almost zero.
Networked voices are reviving the civic conversation.
More people, everyday, are discovering this new power.
After years of being treated like passive subjects of marketing and manipulation, citizens want to be heard.
Members expect a say in the decision-making process of the networked organizations they join. Readers want to talk back to the news-makers.
Citizens are insisting on more openness and transparency from government and from corporations too.
All the old institutions and players – big money, top-down parties, big-foot journalism, cloistered organizations – must adapt fast or face losing status and power, and some of them are. That evolution is happening as some governments, political organizations, businesses and nonprofits begin to embrace participation and transparency.
The realization of “Personal Democracy,” where everyone is a full participant, is coming.
This is a part of the Manifesto of the Personal Democracy Forum, a TED-like “hub for political practitioners and technologists”. The topics of their video lectures showcase the diversity of takes on digital democracy (please do explore for ideas and inspiration, here). And, according to Johnson’s high hopes about communities (Dropbox reading):
… [A] new model of political change is on the rise, transforming everything from local governments to classrooms, from protest movements to health care.
[T]his new political worldview [is] influenced by the success and interconnectedness of the Internet, by peer networks, but not dependent on high-tech solutions — that breaks with the conventional categories of liberal or conservative, public vs. private thinking.
PLUS FOR BUSINESS: Free Labour, Viral Marketing of the Long Tail, Brand Trust
Online communities have given businesses the advantage of The Long Tail (Anderson – Dropbox reading): Niche markets are interested in, and will get to know about, niche market products.
In addition, digital communities are free labour for businesses. They do a lot of the work of marketing research companies (everyone is at least somewhat aware of the fact that we reveal key data about us online), as well as advertising agencies and media outlets.
Hence: Viral marketing campaigns are working to a great extent because we are working. We share with our communities (and for a few other reasons: here is a fun analysis of successful recent campaigns). As our friend Seth Godin would note, the power of the sneezers — those who are central in spreading ideas — is multiplied because of digital communication, and communities.
At the same time, the distance between us and companies, brands, and products has never been more like “trusted friends” than today. This is how Forbes magazine summarizes the benefits in terms of trust to one’s brand:
Communicating Thought Leadership: One way for a brand to lose credibility with a social audience is to simply spam them with “opportunities” to purchase a product or service without providing any value. This value can come in many forms, but should be designed to teach, entertain, ignite discussions, and gain honest feedback. Social media is the perfect platform for a brand to communicate their expertise in a given industry, and do so by providing great content that people will share with others. This is how companies can become thought leaders in their space.
Transparency: This is an area that executives and decision makers have feared the most but a hurdle that must be overcome for a company to be successful using social media. In today’s digital world, transparency is an inherent reality, as people will be talking about issues associated with your brand online. Companies need to embrace this and get involved in guiding that conversation. In a report from eMarketer, 77% of buyers said they are more likely to buy from a company if the CEO uses social media, and 82% trust the company more. This is impressive, and telling of how consumers want to engage with brands and top-level executives.
Quick & Responsive Customer Communication – If consumers know they can reach out to your company via social media and are encouraged to do so, this is a good opportunity to provide great service in front of a large audience. Don’t be afraid of customer complaints. Address them head on. These opportunities can often turn into great testimonials when customers are handled with care.
Ensures Accountability: When companies are openly engaged in social media and encouraging their audience to interact with them, it ensures a certain level of accountability. In using social media aggressively, a brand can essentially hold itself accountable for providing great products, services, and customer service. They can’t afford not to! But isn’t that the goal anyway?
Fun & Simple Engagement: Another way to build and maintain trust is through entertainment. Don’t always make it about your company and its services or value. This goes back to thought leadership and content marketing. Provide value in a fun and creative way through daily content, apps, videos, contests, sweepstakes, and infographics. The opportunities are endless.
Social Responsibility: A great way to build trust with your customers is to let them know that you care about others more than just yourself. The same goes for building brand equity. Socially responsible brands often gain more momentum because their customers know they aren’t just about profits, but also giving back to their communities or the world around them. Social media channels are the perfect platform to communicate this message and let it spread organically. For example, Marriott is running a check-in campaign that encourages guests to check-in, and the hotel will donate $2 to charity. This promotion is intended to leverage a typical social interaction for the greater good.
Case in Point:
One of the classic cases is that of the DKNY PR Girl. Started as a spontaneous (and first anonymous) personal gossipy fashion-focused Twitter account the phenomenon went viral and became a model on how to build online communities around a brand. Behind it all is the the senior vice president of Global Communications for Donna Karan International, Aliza Licht who finally revealed her identity on YouTube.
Licht’s recent view on creating an online brand community:
On Social Media: Be yourself…
Licht credits her social media success to its authenticity. “It’s organic and I think that’s why it works,” she said. She said posts are always better when they’re a natural extension of yourself and aren’t overly planned — since 2009, Licht said she’s only planned one post (on Tumblr) and hated the results, which she said felt disjointed with the other conversations she was having in real time. Since then, authenticity has been her key to success.
“I find things I like and turn them into social moments,” she said. If you’re trying to build up your own social media following or your company’s, don’t force it. Oftentimes, the less pre-determined posts are, the better.
…But understand you’re your own brand
By now, most people know that you have to be careful about what you post, tweet or Instagram. But as Licht explained, it’s still easy for people to post something in the heat of the moment that they later regret. While authenticity in posts is certainly important, there’s a line between being candid and being inappropriate.
“You have to be cognizant of what you stand for,” the social media maven said. “Sometimes I want to mouth off about something in the news, and literally will write the tweet and then delete it to try to vent a little bit … While I tweet off-the-cuff, I think about every single tweet.”
Bottom line: Nothing online is private. Only post things you want people to associate with you, even from a “personal” account.
That is for you to map out.
Find out a bad, bad case of a digital community gone wrong, either in the realm of politics or business.
Share your cases here on VoiceThread: 3 sentences describing the case, 3 sentences about what we can learn from the case.
PS: How to Work With VoiceThread
Create a (free) profile for yourself.
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