The New Community: Marketers Take Note!

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We all remember where we grew up in our formative years.  It was a big city or a small farm town or something in between, but we usually remember it as home.

As we mature in life and we move from place to place and sometimes put down new roots, we are still creatures of reference.  We still think of home as a place, as evidenced by the statement “we are a long way from home”.  But in reality, home is a collection of experiences that has shaped our lives. And although these experiences are usually linked to a place we call home, it is the experiences themselves that make it home.

A Citizen Of The World

Prior to the Internet (I know it is hard to conceive, but there was a B.I. – Before Internet), I recall a business associate of mine who did a lot of travel around the world for projects that would typically last less than a few weeks.  She had a beautiful home in the idyllic ocean side community of Hilton Head, South Carolina.  Whenever she was away on a project, she would always rush to finish, so she could get back home and enjoy its comforts.  The only problem was that all this travel began to instill a feeling of fatigue, largely due to the constant thought of the “rush to get home”.  After several years of enduring this fatigue, she came to a crossroads and decided something had to change.

I thought her solution was quite novel and inspired, yet very simple.  She decided that wherever she was, she was home.  She took the time to stay at the location of the project for an extra week or weekend and sampled the culture, cuisine and sights as though she were at home.  Gone was the “rush to get home”, and the stress that came with it.  She did the things she enjoyed and created a set of experiences that always “brought her home”, they just weren’t tied to a single place like Hilton Head.  She became a “citizen of the world” rather than a “citizen of Hilton Head, South Carolina”.  She was part of a new community.

This new found freedom of being at home wherever you are, released a huge stress buildup and she was enjoying life more than ever.  She still kept her house in Hilton Head, but it was now a part of a bigger “home” … a virtual home.

A Virtual Community

What does this story have to do with community?  Well our typical paradigm is to think of home as a single place: a “Community of Locale”.  To me, her transition was one of the first examples of the notion of a virtual community.  The word virtual is defined as “having the essence or effect, but not the appearance or form”.  This “New Community” was not tied to a specific locale, but still gives the feeling of comfort afforded by our historical definition of home as a single place.  I call this a “Community of Interest”.

The term virtual also has a more modern and technological definition: “temporarily simulated or extended by computer software; of or relating to a computer technique by which a person has the experience of being in an environment created by the computer and of interacting with and causing changes in it”.  This “virtual computer based environment” is now known as the Internet.  The Internet has given us the ability to go online to research, answer questions, and find and purchase products and services.

But it is Social Media that enables content like debates, opinions, and recommendations via “Communities of Interest” that stretch across the globe with a very broad array of themes.

So like the Vitruvian Man image at the beginning of this blog (drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490 … that was also B.I.) is often used to illustrate the coming together of art and science, “The New Community” defines us a combination of the locale in which we physically live and the interest groups in which we interact or virtually live.  And Social Media is the enabler of these Communities of Interest across wide populations, without the restriction of a confining geography.

What Is A Community?

The word community is historically defined ( as follows:

  1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage
  2. a locality inhabited by such a group
  3. a social, religious, occupational or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (and usually preceded by the word the):   the business community, the community of scholars
  4. a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage:  the community of the British Empire
  5. a group of people leading a common life according to a rule or set of rules or guiding principles

It is interesting to note that in this historical definition, 1. and 2. are part of the “Community of Locale”, while definitions 3., 4., and 5. are “Communities of Interest”.

Thanks to the Internet and Social Media, Communities of Interest are everywhere and are very easy to access and join.  For instance I am a member of the Sales Performance Management Group and the Linked Harley Owners Group, both on LinkedIn, and I also follow a number of Twitter accounts, and so on.

Why Should Business Care About Communities Of Interest?

Historically, businesses have focused on Communities of Locale, but these Communities of Interest are also becoming more crucial to businesses. That’s because they contain stakeholders, influencers, suppliers and customers who are in real-time communication with the marketplace.   ArCompany  believes this Social Media Universe (and its Communities of Interest) is the untapped conduit for raw, customer-volunteered information and that this information is of a high quality and often unseen by many companies.

Marketers should note that Communities of Interest carry some new attributes or expectations that are somewhat different from Communities of Locale.  Beyond a reasonable set of netiquette rules  (as defined in the book Netiquette by Virgina Shea) of courtesy, language, and respect, and of course also adhering to appropriate laws, such as Cyberbullying, protecting children, and even maintaining an Open Internet, what are some of the important attributes of these Communities of Interest?

An exhaustive look at these attributes or expectations are the subject of more detailed future ArCompany Whitepapers and Blogs, but here are three attribute examples for consideration:

  • Communities of interest should strive to provide uncensored information and opinion (subject to the above rules), and this information should be as up to date and as real-time as possible
  • Communities of Interest should focus on generating interaction between the members, providing compelling content and not on directly selling or overtly pushing a self serving or hidden agenda
  • Communities of Interest should not focus on the number of members, or metrics such as “likes”, but rather on the quality and participation of the members

These three attributes are of great importance to businesses that interact with these communities.  If businesses do not follow these attribute guidelines, then they run the risk of alienation, PR disasters or simply becoming irrelevant to the community members.

There are more attributes and related guidelines that define Communities of Interest, but again this is a broader topic that ArCompany will address in later blogs, whitepapers and case studies.

So to conclude, we need to recognize that we live and operate in both the “Community of Locale” and the “Community of Interest”.  Both are important and it is the combination of these two that make us who we are.

I hope you enjoyed this blog and it has stimulated some questions and conversation, or maybe even caused some action!

Let me know what you think and please share your experiences.

Lead Illustration is “Vitruvian Man” by Leonardo da Vinci (1490)


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