Why online communities benefit from our desire to be heard

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Over the last couple of days we’ve been posting about how people behave in social networks, whether Facebook is a digital antidepressant and if we tell the truth in social networks. As human beings we want to be heard, we want our opinions to have an audience; we want people to respect us.

Online it is easy for us to do this, and even more in social networks we can portray the opinions we want people to know we have – we might not admit to liking all the music we do, or we may exaggerate just how much sport we play. It’s easier to do this online, being temporarily and geographically remote from most of the people who will read our profiles allows us to be more selective with the truth than we could be offline.

Of course, it’s not that we want to deceive or be selective with the truth. It’s just that we want to have our voices heard and care about what people think about us. Social networks are so focused on the individual profile and networks that it encourages you to portray yourself in the way you want others to see you. You want to earn the respect of others and your only way of doing this is in the way you portray yourself.

In online communities, things are different. These are not spaces focused on the profile and connections, rather on a shared and group effort, aim or ambition. In this space the desire to be heard doesn’t lead to ‘exaggeration’ on personal profiles, rather online communities provide a multitude of opportunities for our voices to be heard. Social networks are ‘me’ spaces where you can only earn respect through how you portray yourself. In online communities, an ‘us’ space, you earn respect for your ideas and contributions to that shared goal.

This means that our social nature is aligned with the aim of online communities – unsurprisingly considering these are in fact natural communities that are online.

So what does this mean for those of us who are involved in building and managing communities? Firstly we need to make sure we have thought about the aim or challenge that the community is there to solve – are we trying to create the best hotel review site in the world, provide a way for peers to support each other with health and beauty advice, or let consumers tell help a brand improve its product. What is the aim that we want people to contribute to, and then how do we make sure that people will take part in the discussions. How can we help them to promote their own ideas and thoughts in the way they naturally want to.

This is not easy to do and is why good online communities need careful and dedicated planning and strategy before launch and then good management to build and grow. We’ll be coming back to this throughout January, looking at the ways of promoting community management.

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4 Responses
  • [...] Required reading « Why online communities benefit from our desire to be heard [...]

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  • Dana Theus
    Jan 11, 2009

    Great distinction between communities and networks. I have long thought that the networks don’t “get” the power of community and when they do we might have true promise in this sector. Yes, I’m being a little glib, but maybe you can appreciate that:)

    Dana Theus Jan 11, 2009
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  • Jan 13, 2009

    I totally agree that there is a distinction between social networks and communities – networks being about “me” and communities being about “we”.
    It is the “we” focus, the desire to share your knowledge and passion with others that drives commmunity. The quality of contribution that should be the measurement of a person’s reputation.

    In communities this focus on the “we” in fact can play against some of the very features that make a network attractive. For instance in a network, I create my space – its all about me – first then I link to friends and others. The conversation is secondary. In a community, a person is coming to learn from the “we”, and while a person might build out their profile, the most important part is sharing, giving to others in the community. The “me” part builds out later (in most cases).

    In the past year, I have seen a lot of people responsible for social media strategy thinking that they should focus on the desire for a user to come to their website and connect with other people that have bought or are thinking of buying their product and leading with the networking/”me” features. That is exactly the opposite that is true. People come first to see if they can find an answer or share their knowledge then they promote themselves.
    Thanks for highlighting this important distinction.

    Karen Orton Jan 13, 2009
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