Creating value from the overlap between networks and communities

What does the difference between social networks and communities mean to
business when looked at from both a marketing and an individual participant (customer) perspective?

It’s often said that the single most important feature that distinguishes a social network
from a community is how people are held together on these sites:

  • Why people join networks vs communities: old/new relationships vs sharing common interest with strangers.
  • What grows networks vs communities: social activity (offline = drink with mates) vs cmty: relationships/recognition/reward around common interest.

But what isn’t always explored is how the power of social networks vs communities varies from a participant point of view. So here I go in just two paragraphs:

1. To put it simply the power of community is that of influence with strangers, especially of top contributors/superfans for branded communities.

2. In social networks the impact is viral, that is the so-called network effect, where like
online dating its power is the ability online to connect with networks of networks – also known as ‘degrees of separation’ – that makes online networks especially powerful. Likewise a participant in a social network can have a disproportionate effect when an idea or call to action ‘goes viral’ when it gets picked up and acted on by complete strangers.

So business strategists therefore have to approach them differently. What makes it confusing is that your market may contain both a community and a network, for example at Lego there is a community of enthusiasts which create a lot of content but contribute little relative to the business bottom line. And then there is a large consumer mass market for the Lego product which can be found online through social networks like Facebook. Of course this is an artificial distinction too, as in a real sense which takes time to value for both businesses and participants: “Everyone in the community is a customer.”

At KLM they are harnessing power of social networks to allow people to join up with other travellers and book a seat next to someone with a shared interest – creating a mini-community for the duration of the flight?

So the real objective to create value may not simply be to understand the difference between networks and communities, but in knowing how and when they complement each other when approached from an individual participant viewpoint, and how individuals can create value through their actions in your online community or social network, and how they overlap based on a participant perspective. Make sense?

I’ve jotted down the differences faced with the same challenge to better show what I mean, using the example of a new gaming device, as outlined below:

Mass market: social network  Niche: online community
Business goal: <where fits business goals> <where fits business goals>
Measure: <enter network measurement> <enter community measurement>
acqusition/activation/purchase engagement/purchase
Target activity: Example: launch of a new gaming device Example: launch of a new gaming device
Internal resources: Social media manager together with /design/marketing: reporting to Head of Marketing Community manager together with design/marketing: reporting to Head of Marketing
Market focus: New customers Existing customers
Social tools: Facebook page/top blogs Branded community
Social monitoring: Use tool such as Radian6 to monitor network virality -> conversions Community analytics -> conversions
Key participants: Bloggers/influencers Superfans
Cross-over between network and community: Blogger access to talk with superfans Superfan response to new gaming device
Comfort-zone killer: Allow influential bloggers to talk with superfans Allow superfans to feedback on early stage product design ideas via private community

Background notes

Branded community builders Lithium comes to online community via games which are a natural community where people did not know each other, but have acquired a shared interest!

For definition source see the Lithium post from Dr Michael Wu, who goes into greater detail on the difference between networks and community (wide but shallow vs narrow but deep) in his post ‘Still Fishing Where the Fish Are?’:

Social networks
i. Everyone has their own social network (whether online or offline). Everyone has friends, families, and people they are acquainted with.
ii. In a social network, people are held together by pre-established interpersonal relationships, such as kinship, friendship, classmates, colleagues, business partners, etc.
iii. The primary reason that people join a social networking site is to maintain old relationships and establish new ones to expand their network.
iv. Primary ‘enabler’ are a [common activity] in a social network.

Communities
i. Communities are held together by common interest or specific objective in a business setting. It maybe a hobby, something the community members are passionate about, a common goal, a common project, or merely the preference for a similar lifestyle, geographical location, or profession.
ii. Clearly people join the community because they care about this common interest that glues the community members together.
iii. Some stay because they felt the urge to contribute to the cause; others come because they can benefit from being part of the community.
iv. Primary enabler in community is [relationships], as these develop as a result of shared interests.

Yes, I was in the audience wearing an orange hoodie. No, that's not me!

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