In one of my previous posts I have touched upon the question of connection between social networks and communities. This topic can be viewed from different angles and prospective. What is interesting for me, and for you I hope as well, is the marketing potential of social networks and online communities.
There will be no mistake if we suppose that in order to grow and develop a social network needs communities in its structure, because without interest subgroups a social network will gradually turn into a functionally-rich but passive contact list.
Social networks are more personal, more long-lasting societies. However life of communities is more dynamic and active: communication is on-going, members come and go. Throughout our life time we constantly change the set of communities we belong to. When we get close enough with members of certain communities, they are likely to become our friends and ‘upgrade’ to our social networks, but the mode of communication often changes: it becomes less topical, the rate slows down. To get a more vivid idea of this phenomenon let’s get back to Mike from one of the previous posts.
Since our last meeting Mike has graduated from the Leicester University. He moved to Hamburg and now works at a microscopy and microanalysis laboratory. He still supports Tottenham Spurs and visits the football club website almost every day. However, having moved from Leicester Mike no longer belongs to the local Tottenham Spurs fan club. Now watching matches in his free time Mike discusses them with his online friends using his iPhone.
Internet removes geographical boundaries and facilitates communication with like-minded people all over the world. Therefore social networks and online communities offer much more freedom and flexibility.
Recently Mike decided to buy a new car. He fixed upon the new Volvo S60 but wanted to learn more about the car, its advantages and disadvantages, that is why Mike joined Hamburg Volvo club where Volvo owners and fans were actively discussing performance, design, interior and other aspects of the autos. Among Volvo buyers and owners there were many representatives of auto salons who helped people with consultations, offered them discounts and did their best to attract new clients to their company. Consequently Mike bought his Volvo from one of such auto salons and got a good discount for maintenance. On the portal Mike met Wolfgang who was also going to buy an S60. They used to spend a lot of time discussing their future purchases and soon became friends. Mike added Wolfgang to his Facebook friend list but after they two bought their Volvos they do not communicate that often, just give each other a call once in a while. However, each time Mike faces some problem with his car, he goes to the online club to get help from other users or consultants: where to buy M+S tires, what washing liquid is better, how to change a light bulb without visiting a service centre, etc.
This story illustrates a curious tendency: we actively communicate with new people who share our interests, but as soon as our interests become inert the communication intensity also subsides. This is why social networks definitely need communities in their structure in order not to fade away. So next time when Mike will be going to some international forum, he will visit the forum group page on LinkedIn to find out, who of his connections attends the forum as well or to ask some questions to the administrative people. However, social networks offer limited functionality and Mike is more likely to go the forum website and join the community of other attendees where he will be able to download brochures and discount flyers, communicate directly with other users of the portal, register for the forum, etc.
People spend a lot of time and even money to get what they are interested in and they are ready for more if in addition to the subject of interest there will be some added value. Witty marketers know this weakness of their customers and that’s why they attract audience to their portals and communities with pleasant communication, membership benefits, fascinating events, etc. Therefore a community customized to your needs and goals offers much more marketing potential to both profit and non-profit organisations. If preceded by deliberate audience analysis, development of a dedicated online community may result in a powerful promotion instrument that may surpass your expectations and help quickly win new markets.