I'm finding that there is a lot of confusion between the concept of social media and the concept of community. They are often used interchangeably and they are not the same thing. Social media can help foster communities but social media can be limited to allowing a conversation around content...which is *not* community. For example, ABC allowing people to comment on specific news stories with comments and ratings is not a community. Rating and ranking books on Amazon does not create a community. I am not suggesting that these things do not have value - they do and it is immense and important - but it is not the same as enabling communities.
Communities have the following characteristics:
- They are continuous, not temporal - this is not to say that people don't drop in and out but there is a core membership that interacts together over a long period of time.
- Communities gather around a concept or common goal not around a collection of content (although content does plays a major role, it is not the impetus for the community).
- Communities take on various conversations and activities, led by different members over time - it is not one conversation but many.
- People within communities get to know each other and interact regularly without centralized facilitation and not necessarily in the context of what the community is discussing as a whole.
- Community leaders emerge over time as they continue to take proactive roles in the community and rally other members to their causes. These leaders are community members and they self-select because of their interests - not because they are told to do so...although they can be encouraged to do so.
There are two opportunities for enterprises then. 1 - to use social media to enable conversations and get a better idea of how constituents respond to specific content, initiatives, goals. This is much easier both to understand and implement. 2 - to create communities that extend their capabilities and engage their constituents in richer ways that results in higher retention, lower risk, increased ROI, and faster operational capacity. Communities have enormous strategic benefits to companies but require considerable investment (in resources, time, and tools) and are difficult to implement because they have a significant impact on business processes.
Right now the market seems to get social media but we still have a long way to go in helping companies understand the value, requirements, and needs of communities.