People are wired for relationship. Our most meaningful moments and deepest memories are rarely created when we are alone. It is this desire that has created a huge “meeting place” need on the web.
Facebook and Twitter are currently the prominent players in this area. Previously, America Online (AOL) and MySpace dominated. Today’s high-speed internet and mobile devices have changed the landscape though. Sharing moments as they happen, thoughts as they occur, pictures and video are products of these changes.
The relationships have changed also. No longer are friends and family connecting but co-workers (i.e. LinkedIn), consumers (i.e. epinions), and complete strangers (i.e. Twitter and other “common interest” sites). There are people who wish to share (sometimes painfully) every detail of their life and others who stay anonymous yet share all the same. There is software that looks to aggregate restaurant reviews, weather, photos, item prices, you name it… all through people who freely contribute and consume these things. Volunteers who both add and benefit from these online communities.
While there are many angles I could take in discussing all this I want to bring out two things in particular: “focused groups” and trends.
Most of these online communities are volunteer-based. Every person who participates by “logging in” does so because they want to. This is big since everyone knows that it is easier to steer a moving object than a stationary one. Do you have something to sell or promote? Find a group that already cares and let them know! Make sure you aren’t just a “taker” though. No one wants to help those who only look to help themselves. Participate in the group by adding. Give away stuff, disseminate knowledge, talk about “real life”. Volunteer yourself and your business. There are communities that care about exactly what you do or provide. A billboard on the side of a highway cannot compete with this kind of targeted marketing. But again, don’t “market” but rather “provide”.
Once you are participating in a community, you’ll see changes in your society before they reach the general public. If your community is becoming more “environmentally-conscious”, you’ll see it coming and hopefully be prepared. You won’t be caught selling something nobody wants. If your community in love with the iPhone? Do you have an app in iTunes?
In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about “social location” services but in the meantime I hope that I’ve given you something to consider. If you are not making use of free services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, you should. If you aren’t keeping a close eye on your community/customers, they’ll be out of sight before you know it.