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Community versus Scene

Any business use of social media ultimately has to form a Community to be successful.  That may seem like an overly strong absolute but it is easily justified.

The main difference between social media and traditional media is the interaction between people who use the service – users writing their own content on their own terms.  Without interaction the entire medium is nothing more than a traditional outlet where information is pushed.  That’s why it is important to separate the difference between a real social media Community and a “Scene”, or a place where the hip gather to show their fashion power and prowess.

The difference between a Community and a Scene can be used to predict the staying power of just about any social situation, including social media.  That’s one strong way of measuring success.

As an evolving concept, social media is subject to a lot of new approaches and many fads.  There are many rating sties, for example, where people can share their opinion about content on the web – such as digg, technorati, and reddit.  Each of these has had its success at some point but they seem to come and go in popularity.  None of them, except reddit, has a strong component of interaction outside of a voting system – and voting does not appear to be enough interaction to keep people engaged for a long time.  They’ve all faded slowly after some initial splash.

Other social media sites have gone through the process of being red-hot fads and may have enough to keep them around.  Twitter appears to still be growing, as does facebook, but there is a developing sense that both have lost their innocence and are moving towards places where people plug their stuff in more traditional one-way ads.  They both are likely to be around for some time, but they have suffered because of their own success – they both became a Scene.  Their use as a tool that was important to people’s lives has often been less important than the need to be seen using them and accumulating big numbers of “followers”.

This difference may seem academic if you’re not trying to develop a social media site of your own.  But this distinction important for any small business that wants to use social media to their maximum advantage.

Many businesses come onto social media sties because they think that they have to in order to be at the top of the latest trends, which is exactly the wrong reason to be there.  Every small business, from a bar to a grocery store to a jewelry store, needs to be a part of the lives of at least a small group of customers they can depend on during slow times.  Call them “regulars”.  They are what pay the bills.

A Scene that follows of even develops fashion may make some money for a while but it almost always has a limited life.  The allure of being part of a Scene will pull the people who are most attracted to this kind of environment off to the next “in thing” and away from what was fashionable yesterday.  What keeps people around is the sense of ownership, belonging and dependability that can only come from strong interaction – a two way street.

Designing a social media campaign strategy that will work over the long haul has to start from an understanding of Community – what it means in general but especially what it means to your customers.  There is always a temptation to instead develop a Scene with a well controlled image and message along the lines of traditional media.  That may work for a while, but it can’t hold everyone’s attention forever.  Community has far more staying power than a Scene.

That’s why Community has to be the goal of any use of social media.  It’s a matter of developing staying power by letting go and letting the customers take ownership just enough that it becomes more than a message but a part of their lives.

9 thoughts on “Community versus Scene

  1. A great post much to think on – it maybe that Twitter and FB are changing but might it be that the communities that are formed within those platforms will remain and grow stronger? That establishing meaningful online social communities is as much about knowing how to utilse the platform and work within the structure. I would agree that many people misunderstand the use of social media especially I think the smaller buiness (that’s been my personal experience)

  2. Thanks. It’s a distinction that I don’t think is made very often. Success is more than just a lot of people – it’s a lot of engaged people. This is one of the things that PostRank is trying to quantify, for example. It’s an interesting attempt.

  3. When social media first became popular the real estate industry seemed to think that they could build a community around real estate. I don’t remember the names of all of the sites that did the real estate portal and talk to your neighbors thing but they failed one right after another. We can engage people and we need to and I think that is all we have to do to reach them.

  4. T, I think the main point in community building is that people are never going to stay “on topic” enough to focus on something as narrow as just real estate. There’s simply far more to the community than that.

    The way I describe “Community” is to take a bar that has a wide variety of people in it. Why do they come there? Each has their own reasons, but generally they know other people they hope to meet. And the conversations go off in all kinds of different directions.

    And, incidentally, if the biz you’re plugging online is a bar or restaurant, the center of community for the purpose of social media *is* the bar itself, not anything online. It’s all a matter of crossing from the virtual world to the real world easily, which people do in a lot of ways. I’m still learning by watching on that score. 🙂

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