The increasing success of online communities stems from the fact that they harness the way that people naturally use the Internet. It is the innate human nature to communicate and build relationships.
Online communities have existed ever since the dawn of the internet. Back in the old days, since AOL was the premier internet service of the 90s, a good chunk of online population could be found roaming its virtual spaces. AOL chat rooms were the most hip ways of communicating. However, these communities were easily self-contained since social media was not quite the same factor as it is today. Forums could be dedicated to anything from the latest news trends, to video games, and even dating; and it was not as easy to bring internal conversations to other communities in such a short amount of time. Fast forward to today and many of the most popular networks are either optimized to be shared on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, or specifically include buttons to post the content to them.
Typically, when we talk about community, we talk about places and spaces. We live in a geographic community, work within a professional community, may go to a place of worship which is a religious community and our friends would represent a social community. There is a community wherever people share common interests.
However, we may never feel as being a part of these communities. One reason may be geography- given everyone's time constraints today, it is not easy for the members of community to get together in a single place. Secondly, there may not be an easy way for to communicate and get to know the other community members. Conversations can be dominated by the confident few and less assertive or less experienced people may find it difficult to participate. Lastly, it may be that no one else realizes the community exists.
- Let's think of the possibilities if there were ways to overcome these obstacles:
- What if you could have the discussions with other community members more easily?
- What if you could compare notes with other members?
- What if you could learn from and compare notes with other members?
- What if you were able to be an active member of these communities?
- What if there was an easy way to find and get to know the other members?
- What it you could easily expand your network of friends and associates?
Online Communities provides a solution to all these questions by providing real-world communities a place to come together using the Internet. Online communities transcend geography. By being a member of an online community, you benefit in many of the same ways you would a real world community- it's just that you use the Internet.
- Rather than travelling to a coffee shop or hotel, you meet at a web site. Instead of picking a time and place to meet, online forums are accessible 24×7 and from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection.
- Instead of having face-to-face discussion, you post messages to one another. This democratises community voices bringing new opinions and options to the light of day.
- Instead of depending on a physical location or resource to keep track of community events and activities, a web site does it for you
- Online discussion allows each participant to make a choice about the quality and quantity of their participation
- Relevant content from the real world grounds online discussion. Online communities provide a place for real life examples and experience to be exchanged
- Flexible boundaries around online discussions allow lateral opportunities to arise. One can never predict where the discussion will go; the unexpected often results in increased incidental learning.
Having said that, it is important to note that online communities are different from third-party social networks such as Facebook. Online communities bring people from any location and all walks of life together in one centralized place, most often based on a shared interest, background, or other commonality. Third-party social networks, on the other hand, tend to be less inclusive and less focused on thoughtful interaction between followers. People can claim to have hundreds of friends on their social network, yet they may not have real connection with more than half a dozen.
Online communities are also growing in popularity as they are becoming higher priority for companies for a variety of reasons, such as social customer support and service, marketing, sales, and product development. Companies are embracing new ways of connecting and communicating with their customers. They are starting to realize that engaging with their customers through an online customer community can be a great way to build customer trust, loyalty and advocacy
Some of the reasons why online communities have become so important:
Companies can instantly connect with their customers
Online communities allow a branded Company to tap into one of its most important resources: the customer. Customers who join the community are interested and invested in the brand and provide a range of feedback. Some members may be extreme brand loyalists, while others may be less willing to champion the brand. In either case, feedback from these customers is extremely valuable.
Companies can rise above the competition
It’s likely that your business has a range of competitors who offer similar products and/or services. Testimonials from other people are often trusted more than the messages a given brand delivers via promotional materials, so be sure to emphasize the submission of user-generated content on your site. People want to hear about the real-life experiences of others, and vocal community members can become incredible advocates for your brand with their unique backgrounds and wisdom.
Results can be gathered quickly, richer data can be obtained and at a lower cost
Ad hoc research projects can have a lengthy timeframe from project kick-off to delivery of the final report, and projects may take several months. With online communities, depending on the size and level of member engagement, a research question can be answered in days rather than weeks or months.
Online communities allow costs to be lower. After the initial costs of the community tool and recruitment, numerous projects can be run within a community in place of several ad hoc projects.
Organic feedback can be gathered
Communities that have engaged members may contain discussions regarding the community brand or topic. Without implementing any specific research questions, unique insights can be obtained by listening to and observing the community.
Demographic profiles can be explored.
Online communities allow researchers to compile and track community members’ demographic variables. Given a community where both customers and non-customers are recruited, profiles of each group can be created and explored to understand target demographics more fully.
An online community is no longer a shiny; nice-to-have tech tool proving you are an early adopter. These interactive forums have become a business imperative!
All-in-all, online communities are about people needing an easier and more accessible way to get together. In business or socially, online communities have the power to create lasting and productive relationships where none existed before. In the future, in many different forms, online communities will become a greater part of our lives.
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