The Future of Community

Rob and Ish Share a Laugh aboard the Disney Dream

Online community is a tricky thing, and it’s getting even trickier. We used to worry about building “a place” for people to come and communicate and share with us. But that led to “place” being all over the web. Think about how community has changed. We used to want people to come to our website, to our forum, to our blog. Now, even if they do go to those places, they also talk about you on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Twitter, and elsewhere. Conversation and community is disparate and distant, and that’s just the “locationless” web. Think about when we add location-based products like Foursquare and Facebook Places. Suddenly, community is a tricky beast indeed. That said, let’s talk about what should come from the future of community.

Community Will Be Distributed

At this point, if you’re serious about listening to your community and big enough to care about that, you must use a professional listening tool like something from Radian6 or Sysomos or Trackur or similar (There are hundreds of these.) Why? Because people refuse to talk about you all in one place. And the communication elements of community are probably the hardest thing to manage in the future. You have to be where they are. Companies are doing this. They have their communities spread out over Facebook, YouTube, and their own site. There will be more and more of this.

Community Will Be Mobile

We are so close. You remember those old Reese’s peanut butter cup commercials? “You put peanut butter in my chocolate!” “You put chocolate in my peanut butter!” That’s how I feel about location-based applications like FourSquare. It needs something more. And one thing it needs are the tools to make mobile community of like-mindedness happen. Interestingly, it’s been around in some protoforms for a while. I wrote about Trent Reznor’s social network back in 2009. We need these kinds of tools. I want to be able to identify with other members of Third Tribe Marketing out and about.

Community Will Require REAL Loyalty

Oddly, loyalty programs of today push the reverse of loyalty: sign up and we’ll beat you with even more mail than people who casually swing by. Sign up and we’ll bother you until you buy. Sign up and we’ll share your data with other people. This has to shift. This has to be more of a shared value experience. Loyalty in community has to be the new “feeling like you’re on the inside” and the new “because we’ve got deals with you, we now have deals with you and you, too” from the individual’s side.

Community Will Be Action-Minded

Putting a bunch of people together to love Snickers bars isn’t all that interesting. Putting people who love Snickers together to work at a soup kitchen to feed the homeless would be a lot more interesting. If companies and marketers are going to hope to make communities happen, they’re going to have to build some action and value into their efforts. Causes matter.

Community Will Be Require Identity-Crossover

We are being asked to join so many social networks and so many groups. We’re being asked to recreate our social graphs all over the net. Most of us who’ve been at it for years are sick of “refriending” all over the place. Instead, more people will seek to use Facebook Connect and similar identity-sharing tools to allow us to port who we are between sites. There are some pluses and minuses to this, but I am starting to feel that there will be more positives than negatives. Especially, and this is what I hope happens, if we can have certain elements of our identity exposed or hidden per the kind of site we’re using it with. For instance, if I’m on the bourbon lovers’ community, I don’t think people need to know my LinkedIn profile, unless they want me to help them drink, er, market their product. Make sense?

Community Will (MUST!) be Even More Two-Way

Lots of community sites exist to say “You there, peasants: talk amongst yourselves in our little platform.” Others exist to say, “Hey, the big guys don’t seem to want to talk with us, so we’ll make our own.” Companies must invest resources in having conversations at communities. Without this opportunity, things will go poorly for other efforts to build relationships and sell. To me, this is probably the most difficult part of how bigger companies (well, even smaller companies have their issues) will use social tools to build business relationships. Why? Because there’s a lot of time and effort involved, and it’s not directly tied back to obvious or instant revenue. (This, to me, however, is the best part of social tools, and gives companies the best possible chance of success.)

What’s Your Take?

How do you see community evolving? What matters to you in these regards? What are you doing to make any of this future come true?

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