The Definition of Community

This post was originally posted on Medium.

We overcomplicate the definition of community.

A community is just a group of people.

All groups have a shared identity, or they wouldn’t be a group. Some groups have a shared identity that is meaningful to its members, some less so.

There is always a shared identity if you get broad enough. Ultimately we’re all human and share that identity.

As the identity gets more specific, it will include less people and will probably be more meaningful to those who share it.

Consider these groups:

People who ride bikes.
People who ride racing bikes.
People who ride racing bikes and compete.
People who ride racing bikes and compete in Austin, Texas.
People who ride racing bikes and compete in Austin, Texas and have kids.

All of these are shared identities. All of these are communities. As the identity gets more specific, it becomes more relevant and potentially more meaningful to its members.

People often criticize companies for calling their customers a community. The question isn’t whether or not their customers are a community. They are. The question is whether or not the shared identity is meaningful to them.

For example, is there an Airbnb community? Yes. Is it meaningful? Depends how deep you go. Consider these identities:

A poorly drawn visualization of levels of identity within the Airbnb community.
  1. I cofounded Airbnb
  2. I work at Airbnb
  3. I’m a Super Host on Airbnb
  4. I’m a host on Airbnb
  5. I’m a guest on Airbnb
  6. I‘m registered on Airbnb
  7. I’m aware of Airbnb

All of them are part of the “Airbnb community”. Identities 1–3 are likely to feel a sense of belonging and commitment deep enough to make it a meaningful community in their lives. 4 and 5 probably feel it a little bit. 6 and 7, not so much.

It’s ok that identities 6 and 7 don’t find it meaningful. No community is meaningful to everyone.

So how do you know if a community is meaningful to someone?

Now you’re asking the right question.

Debate: Do All Community Managers Need Social Media?

Photo cred: Rishi Bandopadhay

Seems that a lot of people are under the impression that all community managers have to use social media.

Social media is one tool.  It’s one of the many tools available to marketers, community managers, PR professionals etc.  It is not a requirement for all roles that a community manager could possibly take on.

On twitter, I had a long debate with Alana Joy on this topic.  This discussion led to this post on the ever insightful social media explorer.  This is my response to the twitter debate and that blog post.

We’ve cast this term “community management” over an entire range of roles and responsibilities.  Honestly, most of this debate could probably be settled with better defined roles within the “community manager spectrum”.

There’s so much more to it just than social media outreach and engagement.  Today’s community manager might be responsible for anything ranging from customer service to marketing to event management and the list goes on.

Can social media help all of these potential roles? I don’t know…maybe it can.  Is it required in order to be successful in each of these roles? Nope…

Debate the semantics of social media all you want but for the purpose of this discussion, we’re talking about the twitter and facebook type sites…not email, forums etc…

To give you an example, I spoke with my friend Justin, who has several years of community manager experience and is currently the community manager for Change.org. Here’s Justin’s take:

“I focus primarily on internal communities. Turning “owned communities” (an ugly term for “on my site”) into rabid evangelists who love the people who are there as much as where “there” is, will defend it, contribute to it, and go out on a limb for it. Managing, engaging and leveraging “owned” communities vs. external communities are two distinct skill sets. Both are needed, just like you have “PR” and “Advertising” as two separate but related industries. Internal communities and external communities are two different beasts, meet different business needs and have different tool sets.

One of the communities I managed was a casual gaming site.  My goal was to take the community that we had (~400 people when I was hired) and turn it into an asset. The community produced content, moderated our forums, ran tournaments, produced plugins and dealt with cheating, abuse and customer support issues. My job was to manage the community we had and to leverage the shit out of it. It was someone else’s job to do user acquisition, but once they were on the site, they were mine.

Am I a social media expert? Far from it, and I’m ok with that. I don’t use it in my day to day job because it’s not my primary value driver at this point. Is it incredibly valuable to many many organizations – most definitely. Will I ever need it? Maybe. Will I definitely need it? Probably not.”

Justin’s full response can be found here.

Justin doesn’t use social media in his community management role because it doesn’t make sense for his objectives.

When looking for the community manager that I’d like to achieve these kinds of goals I’d look for someone who:

  • Understands the userbase and the content related to the userbase.
  • Can create a platform where members of the userbase can interact and connect effectively.
  • Can effectively engage with users.
  • Understands the advantage to the company of turning a userbase into a community.
  • Can organize events and projects to strengthen the community.

…none of which require the use of social media.

It’s easy to think that social media is ubiquitous to those of us who spend hours and hours on these platforms every day.  In reality though, even with their enormous stats, not everyone is using social media and those who do aren’t using it as religiously as one might assume.

It’s definitely popular and it’s definitely a growing trend, but to call it a ubiquitous form of communication is ridiculous.

So before you blindly slap on “social media expert” on your next community manager job description, take a serious look at what you’re really trying to build.

Have at it.

Social Media is for Fakers

Photo cred: Ben Fredericson

Sitting in the subway at 12:00am, reading the chapter titled “The Cost of Social Norms” in Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, I realized what it is that bothers me so much about businesses in social media.

Businesses cannot honestly exist in the “social” realm.

I’ve touched on issues I’ve had with the “I’m here to be your friend” mentality that professionals and businesses take in social media communities.  I just can’t agree with the idea that everyone is really that close with each other, and that everyone gets along so well based on sincere feelings…  not when there’s money involved.

While Dan wasn’t discussing the issues I bring up here, the concepts that he studied and shared in his book are highly relevant.  The subtitle of the chapter that I read was “Why we are happy to do things, but not when we are paid to do them“.

Ariely goes on to explain that people simultaneously live in two worlds:

The Social World

The interactions we have in the social world are founded in emotions and relationships.  It’s why we’ll cook a full feast for our family on Thanksgiving without expecting anything in return.  It’s why we hold the door open for others.  We do these things because it makes us feel good and there is no immediate reciprocation required.

The Market World

The interactions we have the market world are different.  In the market world, we do things based on the financial returns that we get.  The exchanges we make in the market world are based on a cost-benefit analysis.

So what does this have to do with social media?

Well as Ariely explains, “When social and market norms collide, trouble sets in.”

Many interactions that are considered “best practices” for businesses using social media, are made to look like “social” interactions, but they’re really not.

Look at the common advice you hear about joining the conversation, building trust, engaging in communities… it all sounds like it’s in the “social world” when in reality they are in the “market world”.

The very fact that businesses are concerned with the returns that they get from their time spent on social media, makes it a purely market based interaction.

Ariely uses the example of a guy who takes a girl out on several dates and pays for dinner each time. He grows impatient because he’s spent a lot of money and hasn’t gotten laid.  A situation that seemed to be purely social, was really founded in market values, and all came crashing down then the true motivations came to light.

Making exchanges in the “market world” isn’t a bad thing.  Making them out to be purely “social” interactions? That’s wrong and can cause trouble.

And so I ask…Is social media for fakers?

Is it for those who can pretend to be your friend?  Is it for those who can paint the image that they care when really their actions are motivated by market forces?

The very nature of business makes it impossible to have truly sincere social interactions…maybe we should start treating it that way.

The Stupidly Obvious Secret Ingredient to Social Media Success

Your success in social media is determined by this highly scientific equation:

Effort + How Funny You Are + (Luck/100000) = Social Media Success

You can’t control luck. You definitely can’t control how funny you are. So what do you need improve to find success with social media?

Effort.

Photo cred: Ferdinando del Drago

The more effort you put into blog posts, into helping customers, into building relationships with bloggers, into participating in conversations etc…the more you’ll start to see returns.

No one said it was going to be easy.  Setting up a twitter account, a facebook page and a blog doesn’t take much effort.  Keeping these things updated and getting returns will take a great deal of effort.

Get your hands dirty, go above and beyond for your community, struggle for the of benefit others, and rack your brain for new ways to help people.

And yes, as hard as you work, you’ll still have to be patient.  It will take time and you will make some mistakes… but if you’re willing to contribute a great deal of effort into social media, then you will see returns over time. I guarantee you will.

The tools, the tricks, the tips…that’s all easy to pick up with a little practice.

Effort won’t always work in other areas of business.  Certainly, you can put a great deal of effort into marketing, and still see no results.  Same with advertising and traditional PR.

The good part?  Once you start to see returns, it gets much easier.  It starts to flow.

Take a look at some of the most “successful” people and companies in social media.  Look at Chris Brogan, Amber Naslund, Gary V, Scott Stratten, Scott Monty and the list goes on.  They’re bringing success to themselves and their brands because they’re hustling their asses off day in and day out.

So, stop acting confused when your blog post that you threw together in 10 minutes didn’t go viral.

Stop questioning the value of social media when you can’t get any twitter followers in the first few months.

Stop dipping your toes in, and wondering why the rivers of cash haven’t started flowing.

It’s frustrating.  It takes time, it takes practice…it takes serious effort.

But trust me…it’s worth it.

11 iPhone Apps for the Expert Content Aggregator

Photo cred: Tony Eccles

Sharing news and interesting stories related to social media is a big part of how I use social media.

By making a commitment to aggregating content for my followers, it keeps me up to date with any new developments in the industry.  Every morning I pick up my phone and scroll through a bunch of different news apps.  I’ve never been a huge “news” reader, but something about having it right on my phone has made it into a habit that I’m glad to have.

So, I wanted to share with you the apps that I use to stay on top of everything going in in my industry.

Here are the news apps I check regularly:

1. Huffington Post:  This app is awesome.  Not only is it constantly updated with new articles, but it’s sharing function also works with some of the most popular twitter apps (except hootsuite for some reason).  So when you click “tweet”, it takes you to your iphone app to share…which could also be considered annoying.  I like it.

2. Mashable:  I check Mashable daily.  Sure, not all the articles are interesting to me, but it’s easy enough to scroll to the good stuff.  I can be sure that I’m on top of any notable developments in the social media space.

3. New York Times:  I use the New York Times to start up to date with news in general, as well as tech news.  I can almost always find a good read to get my brain warmed up in the morning here.

4. Fluent News: Basically, a big mix of all the most mainstream news resource from CNN to ESPN to BBC.

5. ReadWriteWeb:  I don’t check this app too often to be honest. When I do, I’m usually looking through the ReadWriteStart section for startup tips.

6. Marketing Profs:  Sometimes I have to get my fix of marketing articles.

7. The Onion App:  Because what’s fun about only reading real news?

8. Regator: The best app to find high quality blog posts on different popular topics.

9. NetNewsWire:  My google reader…on my iphone.  I don’t use this as much as I’d like to these days but I’ll check up once in a while.

10. Techcrunch:  Much like the Mashable app, I don’t find every story interesting.  I love to read about the new startups that are sprouting up and how they’re developing.  Unfortunately, the share on twitter function on this app gives you a link and says “Check out this post” instead of inputting the title of the post.

11. Hootsuite: After I read an article, I can click ‘share’, copy the tweet into hootsuite and schedule them throughout the day.  By scheduling some of the tweets, I’m not overloading people with links in the morning.  If it’s a really great article, I may even schedule it to be shared again later in the day. It allows me to send it out from any of my twitter or facebook accounts.  Beyond that, hootsuite is my go to iphone app to follow twitter, where I always find loads of new articles to read and share.

That’s what I use.  What apps are you using to stay on top of the news in your industry?