Communities drive the web: Are you talking at them or with them?

Communities Drive the Web

Are you speaking with or at the communities you wish to market to? In order to be successful in either social or email marketing, one needs to understand what drives the web and devote the time and passion to be a part of it.

During one episode of the classic sci-fi series Babylon 5, an alien ambassador is attempting to express the unique qualities of humanity. She speaks of our seemingly inherent need to create communities. Wherever we go, she says, we build and nurture them. While considering the stunning implications of Drake equation I might have to disagree about the uniqueness of the trait. I surely can’t argue that for us, forming communities is bred in the bone.

Since the earliest days of human kind we have come together out of necessity and our instinct for survival. We have a need to share ourselves — an imperative driven by desperation to exceed the smothering limitations of our bodies. Temples they may be, but these shrines float as islands in a frustratingly isolated sea of humanity.  This species imperative drives us to congregate, build and often prove that indeed the sum is greater than its parts.

With the need to form communities being hard coded into us, it’s no surprise that the first thing people did online was start building them. Even before the internet we had communities on the old dial-in BBS or Bulletin Board Systems (ARPANET too was community driven). The name is fitting; BBS was essentially the digital equivalent of those bulletin boards you see outside of grocery stores or perhaps in your local church lobby. However, the boards themselves were not the community. They were simply the conduit or tool used by people with common interests to form communities. The internet is no different.

The software and hardware of the web only provides the functionality for communities to operate on. It has absolutely no depth or substance whatsoever without people coming together with common interests and goals. Take this away and you have an internet which is as dynamic as a blinking C: prompt.

It is in fact our desire to commune which has driven the communication revolution that is the web. In only a decade we’ve seen fundamental changes to things as basic as how we perceive time and how we interact even on a daily basis. “Did you get that email I sent you?” is quickly becoming a standard greeting in most offices. The water cooler is now relegated to a dark nook of the staff kitchen because with IM. Twitter, Facebook and SMS, no one requires the prop anymore.

Sure you can attempt to contradict me by stating that the web is actually eroding community bonds, turning us into a society of high tech hermits, but this trend didn’t start with the internet. We started building backyard decks rather than large front porches long before the net revolution. The 6 foot high wooden walls replaced the 4 foot high chain link fence a while back. No, I would say blaming the web for this is far too convenient and far too simplistic a view when trying to explain the foibles of humans.

We are drawn to them like a tongue to a fractured molar. These communities of friends and foes, heroes and villains, profits and madmen – they reflect our best dreams and our worst nightmares. They shock and outrage us. They lift and inspire by reminding us that even in our weakest moments, we are not alone.

If you don’t have someone in your organization focused on representing your brand online and interacting with these communities via social media and email, you could be in for rough times ahead.

Takeaway: The internet is driven by communities and without them it’s basically one big strip mall with infinite parking.

Meet the author:

Jeff Ginsberg

Jeff Ginsberg

20+ year email marketing veteran who wants to help NewBees BEEcome eMail Marketing Ninjas. Want to contribute to our blog? We are always looking for eMail Marketing Ninjas to come share their knowledge and help NewBees create and send better eMail messages.

Connect with: Jeff Ginsberg

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  • Scott Cohen
    August 18, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Jim: I think you’re absolutely right about the need to build communities. But there is an interesting juxtaposition that the Internet is making more and more obvious each day between community building and increasing isolation, and I think that comes from the human need to assign labels to everything and everyone. And perhaps, as communities (think strength in numbers) were and are necessary for survival, so are labels as well.

    Humans crave identity not only for themselves (and the validation that comes with said identification), but for everything around them. If you can identify friend v. foe, survival becomes much easier. I can’t speak to the sociological effects of the Internet and how identification has changed (I’m no expert, after all), but I think it’s fair to say our methods of identification are changing with technology.

  • Scott Cohen
    August 18, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Jim: I think you’re absolutely right about the need to build communities. But there is an interesting juxtaposition that the Internet is making more and more obvious each day between community building and increasing isolation, and I think that comes from the human need to assign labels to everything and everyone. And perhaps, as communities (think strength in numbers) were and are necessary for survival, so are labels as well.

    Humans crave identity not only for themselves (and the validation that comes with said identification), but for everything around them. If you can identify friend v. foe, survival becomes much easier. I can’t speak to the sociological effects of the Internet and how identification has changed (I’m no expert, after all), but I think it’s fair to say our methods of identification are changing with technology.

  • Jim Ducharme
    August 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Very perceptive Scott. In fact, studies with children as young a a few months old show they are hard coded to be herd animals. They want to belong to groups and they want to belong with those who share their idea/perceptions. In other words, a baby is going to be more likely to hang out with the nice fuzzy puppet who likes to eat yummy crackers and not the one digging into the pickle mush.

    We are herd animals and as much as we try to deny it…labeling things is just one more way we identify which herd is the safe one for us to run with — the one which shares are perceptions.

    This might be a tangent but…I know I was rather stunned last night when I saw a PBS special which mentioned that Killer Whales of different pods/regions feed on different prey. Some eat fish and some eat mammals and apparently never the train shall meet — they don’t switch diets/preferences. I’d think that’s something you’d want to be sure of before you got into a tank with one in a black wet suit;).

    Regards,
    jim

  • Jim Ducharme
    August 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Very perceptive Scott. In fact, studies with children as young a a few months old show they are hard coded to be herd animals. They want to belong to groups and they want to belong with those who share their idea/perceptions. In other words, a baby is going to be more likely to hang out with the nice fuzzy puppet who likes to eat yummy crackers and not the one digging into the pickle mush.

    We are herd animals and as much as we try to deny it…labeling things is just one more way we identify which herd is the safe one for us to run with — the one which shares are perceptions.

    This might be a tangent but…I know I was rather stunned last night when I saw a PBS special which mentioned that Killer Whales of different pods/regions feed on different prey. Some eat fish and some eat mammals and apparently never the train shall meet — they don’t switch diets/preferences. I’d think that’s something you’d want to be sure of before you got into a tank with one in a black wet suit;).

    Regards,
    jim

  • Chris Donald
    August 18, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Bravo Jim! I have met some of my favorite email marketing people through online communities as well as others. Without these communities I most likely would never have found these people.

    Cheers, Chris

  • Chris Donald
    August 18, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Bravo Jim! I have met some of my favorite email marketing people through online communities as well as others. Without these communities I most likely would never have found these people.

    Cheers, Chris

  • Mark Brownlow
    August 19, 2010 at 5:01 am

    Very interesting Jim!

    Just a couple of points to add from a marketing/industry perspective…

    1. Communities can get very insular, develop their own language, start preaching to the converted and come down hard on those not following the community line. The result is that those who need the community’s guidance most can often feel excluded and rejected or simply don’t want to join in.

    That’s a danger with the email marketing industry, where newcomers or “outsiders” can get treated like fools just because they use the wrong word to describe a send.

    2. Participation in communities for marketing purposes demands authenticity and the willingness to give at least as much as you get. The traditional corporate top-down mentality doesn’t work long-term – you get found out eventually. It’s not enough to act authentic, you have to be authentic.

    Which also means some people just aren’t cut out for the social web if they’re not naturally social. Fortunately, AdWords still works 😉

    • Jim Ducharme
      August 19, 2010 at 7:14 am

      Hi Mark,

      I completely agree and that was my point. Like it or not, corporations wanting to effectively market online need to have talent on staff who really are passionate and committed to interacting with communities. A lack of knowledge of the more subtle tribe signs can be overcome by sincerity and transparency. Don’t try to shoe horn yourself in. Listen, relate and seek acceptance.

      Let me offer an example:
      I once had to take over management of a very large online football community. In my country we call football soccer. I made the mistake of using that terminology in one of my first posts and almost blew it. How did I overcome that? Sincerity mixed with a good spoonful of self-effacing humour.

      If you screw up, take your lumps then respond by focusing on what you can offer the community and asking them to help you learn the subtleties of the tribe.

      And you make a great point about some not being cut out for it. You have to have a reasonably thick skin, you must take the tribe as seriously as the members do and you have to be willing to make a contribution to that tribe beyond just being a corporate shill.

      Make no mistake…as with sharks and a drop of blood in the ocean, online community members can smell insincerity from miles away. The result is a feeding frenzy of flaming and loss of any credibility.

      Regards,
      jim

  • Mark Brownlow
    August 19, 2010 at 5:01 am

    Very interesting Jim!

    Just a couple of points to add from a marketing/industry perspective…

    1. Communities can get very insular, develop their own language, start preaching to the converted and come down hard on those not following the community line. The result is that those who need the community’s guidance most can often feel excluded and rejected or simply don’t want to join in.

    That’s a danger with the email marketing industry, where newcomers or “outsiders” can get treated like fools just because they use the wrong word to describe a send.

    2. Participation in communities for marketing purposes demands authenticity and the willingness to give at least as much as you get. The traditional corporate top-down mentality doesn’t work long-term – you get found out eventually. It’s not enough to act authentic, you have to be authentic.

    Which also means some people just aren’t cut out for the social web if they’re not naturally social. Fortunately, AdWords still works 😉

    • Jim Ducharme
      August 19, 2010 at 7:14 am

      Hi Mark,

      I completely agree and that was my point. Like it or not, corporations wanting to effectively market online need to have talent on staff who really are passionate and committed to interacting with communities. A lack of knowledge of the more subtle tribe signs can be overcome by sincerity and transparency. Don’t try to shoe horn yourself in. Listen, relate and seek acceptance.

      Let me offer an example:
      I once had to take over management of a very large online football community. In my country we call football soccer. I made the mistake of using that terminology in one of my first posts and almost blew it. How did I overcome that? Sincerity mixed with a good spoonful of self-effacing humour.

      If you screw up, take your lumps then respond by focusing on what you can offer the community and asking them to help you learn the subtleties of the tribe.

      And you make a great point about some not being cut out for it. You have to have a reasonably thick skin, you must take the tribe as seriously as the members do and you have to be willing to make a contribution to that tribe beyond just being a corporate shill.

      Make no mistake…as with sharks and a drop of blood in the ocean, online community members can smell insincerity from miles away. The result is a feeding frenzy of flaming and loss of any credibility.

      Regards,
      jim

  • Mark Brownlow
    August 19, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Your last point Jim is critical and I think where many companies fail. Eventually, a shill gets found out. And on top of that, the best way to sell yourself is often not to sell yourself. It’s your actions and contributions that drive community custom. Parallels to the traditional content newsletter for (e.g.) service professionals there, where providing valuable info eventually transfers into loyalty and sales.

    • Jim Ducharme
      August 19, 2010 at 7:45 am

      People this man speaks truth!

      Wow Mark! I want to sign up for your university course! Do you have online learning? Oh wait, I’m already getting that! Doesn’t matter, I still want to sign up prof!

      Now would be a good time for a partial Twain quote: “…love is the slowest of all growths…”

      Regards,
      jim

      • Mark Brownlow
        August 19, 2010 at 3:44 pm

        You’re already a power wordsmith Jim. You have style. May your pen never run dry…

        • Jim Ducharme
          August 19, 2010 at 4:07 pm

          WOW! OK I won’t need to wear shoes for the next week – walking on air after that comp!

          Thanks Mark!

          jim

  • Mark Brownlow
    August 19, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Your last point Jim is critical and I think where many companies fail. Eventually, a shill gets found out. And on top of that, the best way to sell yourself is often not to sell yourself. It’s your actions and contributions that drive community custom. Parallels to the traditional content newsletter for (e.g.) service professionals there, where providing valuable info eventually transfers into loyalty and sales.

    • Jim Ducharme
      August 19, 2010 at 7:45 am

      People this man speaks truth!

      Wow Mark! I want to sign up for your university course! Do you have online learning? Oh wait, I’m already getting that! Doesn’t matter, I still want to sign up prof!

      Now would be a good time for a partial Twain quote: “…love is the slowest of all growths…”

      Regards,
      jim

      • Mark Brownlow
        August 19, 2010 at 3:44 pm

        You’re already a power wordsmith Jim. You have style. May your pen never run dry…

        • Jim Ducharme
          August 19, 2010 at 4:07 pm

          WOW! OK I won’t need to wear shoes for the next week – walking on air after that comp!

          Thanks Mark!

          jim

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