Aristotle once said “Man is by nature a social animal.” And this is so true to life, even now almost 2,5 thousand years later. We all are born being part of some groups – we have family, nationality, gender, race, city of residence, etc. Throughout our lifetime we constantly join and leave groups. We get married and divorce, we quit smoking or eating meat, we buy pets and develop allergies, we become rich or become keen hikers. We are divided between many different social groups according to our characteristics, preferences, skills, interests or even simply circumstances. Sometimes we can not even say for sure to how many groups we belong.
We may have certain characteristics that make it possible to relate us to this or that social group, but we can take active or passive role in this group. When we talk about online communities as social units we assume certain organisation and active role. For example I like yoga, but I practice it at home, I do not attend any classes, do not communicate with other yogis. But if I decide to join a local yoga club I will become a member of the community. Communities differ by size, geography, duration; they may include subcommunities and overlap.
Let’s take Mike. Mike is a student at the University of Leicester where he studies Advanced Microscopy at the college of Science and Engineering. Mike also plays cello in the university orchestra. In his free time Mike takes care of his 200 liter aquarium with African Cichlids and supports Tottenham Hotspur. These are just some of his characteristics but we can already draw a curious map of Mike’s communities.
Mike’s best friend is Bill, he studies Medicine at the same university. Bill also likes football but he is a keen Chelsea fan. Every spring Bill turns on the waterworks because of his pollen allergy. However Bill is a certain vegetarian.
Skills, eating habits, health conditions and interests of these two guys make them members of many different social groups and communities. Both guys belong to the incredibly large group of people who love football. This group involves people from all over the world, of all ages and walks of life. However Bill and Mike belong to different subgroups – Tottenham Spurs and Chelsea. We didn’t mention that they both are members of local fan clubs of these football clubs, what makes them active members of communities. Bill’s health refers him to allergic people, but he is not a member of any community. Both Bill and Mike will graduate from the University in three years. The example of these two guys makes vivid the correlation between groups and communities, their structure and characteristics.
With advent of Internet and web 2.0 numerous communities started actively using the web and the new tools helped considerably enhance achievement of the goals for the community members. Now you can easily get valuable advice on what is most suitable for feeding your caiman, where to buy best Persian carpets or when the summer sale in your favourite fashion boutique starts. Marketers all over the world, in profit and non-profit organisation drive benefits for their companies from online communities: corporate portals, topical forums, promotional websites, etc. They gather people around their products, ideas, organisations and movements. They provide the people with what they need (information, communication, discounts, other benefits) and in response they get new leads, innovative ideas, supporters, increased sales or whatever they seek.
Both Bill and Mike regularly visit fan websites of their favourite football clubs. The websites provide them with an opportunity to learn about upcoming events, buy tickets online, buy T-shirts with the names of their beloved players. Bill sometimes writes reviews of medications and treatment techniques he tries out to conquer his allergy on online community of people sensitive to pollen. On the website he sees a lot of ads of medications, reviews of other people and he can easily contact doctors to get a piece of advice. Everyday the guys enter the website of University of Leicester, login their college communities and learn the latest news, take part in college competitions, donate money for charity events, buy books by University publishing house and so on.
Online communities is a powerful promotional instrument that can help quickly spread the word, attract new audience, inform about new product, involve your target audience into marketing research and develop most innovative ideas. The number of people who daily browse websites in search for information, shop online and share their thought with friends on social networks makes internet marketing and online communities in particular most prospective and beneficial solution, whatever your goals are.