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 health education 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.

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!

Influential people + influential friends = spread products

Identifying social influence in networks is critical to understanding how behaviors spread. We present a method for identifying influence and susceptibility in networks that avoids biases in traditional estimates of social contagion by leveraging in vivo randomized experimentation. Estimation in a representative sample of 1.3 million Facebook users showed that younger users are more susceptible than older users, men are more influential than women, women influence men more than they influence other women, and married individuals are the least susceptible to influence in the decision to adopt the product we studied. Analysis of influence and susceptibility together with network structure reveals that influential individuals are less susceptible to influence than non-influential individuals and that they cluster in the network, which suggests that influential people with influential friends help spread this product [red text highlighting added].

Identifying Influential and Susceptible Members of Social Networks
Sinan Aral, Dylan Walker


Social media have provided plentiful evidence of their capacity for information diffusion. Fads and rumors but also social unrest and riots travel fast and affect large fractions of the population participating in online social networks (OSNs). This has spurred much research regarding the mechanisms that underlie social contagion, and also who (if any) can unleash system-wide information dissemination. Access to real data, both regarding topology—the network of friendships—and dynamics—the actual way in which OSNs users interact, is crucial to decipher how the former facilitates the latter’s success, understood as efficiency in information spreading. With the quantitative analysis that stems from complex network theory, we discuss who (and why) has privileged spreading capabilities when it comes to information diffusion. This is done considering the evolution of an episode of political protest which took place in Spain, spanning one month in 2011

Locating privileged spreaders on an online social network

Javier Borge-Holthoefer, Alejandro Rivero, and Yamir Moreno

Phys. Rev. E 85, 066123 (2012)