Social media is a relatively new space that’s continuously evolving. It’s already proved itself a force that won’t be dismissed. Social media is a huge driver of traffic and it’s become a powerful way to effect change. So far we’ve seen social media allow the “masses” to organize and be heard. Notably, Twitter played a huge part in the fruition of the Arab Spring movement by giving the world a window into what was going on at Tahrir Square. Social Media also played a pivotal role in fighting 2012’s SOPA/PIPA legislation.
Social Media communities like Facebook and Twitter are essentially iterations and improvements upon niche forum communities, where surfers who shared similar interests gathered to chat about their hobbies, learn from each other and establish relationships based on their niche. This could be done anonymously if the user so chose. Forums are still around and very, very vibrant. Facebook and Twitter are similar, except instead of discovering an already existing and active online community, they have brought physical communities online.
Popular social networks have built themselves around already established pre-existing relationships and grown outward from there. It’s now possible to directly communicate with companies, celebrities, politicians and other titans of industry (don’t forget friends and family members!). Twitter especially has been very good at this, making all who are part of the network very accessible to each other, and to be honest it’s resulted in some great relationships and products that would have otherwise not existed.
Social media users now acquainted with each other have begun to gather under banners of their own creation. These banners can be hashtag chats on Twitter or Invite-Only Facebook groups, the thing of note is that the people that these “banners” attract are like-minded individuals with similar interests and passions that don’t necessarily know each other offline. Thanks to social media activity, each individual has a presence or reputation that is credibly interpreted as “social-proof”. This makes sense, too, forums weren’t exactly the best organized or the easiest to navigate, all the anonymous users further lent to the confusion. The Twitter and Facebook platforms aren’t necessarily easy to organize or navigate either, but they do give you access to a plethora of potential members with established social-proof, which is key to quickly establishing and growing a quality community.
A network that is paying special attention to this is Google+, and they’ve done a great job with their community offering. Anyone can create a public or private community right on Google+ which also provides the ability to categorize and sort community posts as Questions, Discussions, Guides, Tips, Introductions etc. While probably not the solution to organizing a community, categorization of posts is definitely a huge step in the right direction. Google+ provides an organized, clean take on forum communities.
What’s more is that there are a LOT of active communities on Google+. Take a look at the Google Analytics community, or the Social Media Professionals community, or the HTML5 community. All sporting members that share a common interest that can come together to educate each other, learn from each other and bounce ideas off of each other. Some are invite-only, some are communities where you can request an invitation, and some are open to everyone. If you have a slight interest in something, chances are someone else does too and that community already exists. By the off chance that it doesn’t, you can create that community and invite those you think would be interested in joining. Google+ has created a powerful system here; a community that is home to a multitude of smaller, niche communities. If only we had more individuals that participated regularly!
A great use case for Google+ communities occurs to me. Companies, big or small can create private, non-indexed community forums using the G+ platform for their employees or customers that extend to the entire company or can be limited to a single department. Use the community page as a way to keep your department, company or customer base updated about new developments, who is doing what, and also share media like tutorial videos and pictures from the company picnic. This can be a great tool to bring your offline communities, online and retain the intimacy of the offline community.
Social media is far from coming full-circle, but it is definitely expanding. As it is expanding, new networks are emerging and communities are further defining their niches. As services increasingly become more and more integrated into the social world (social media is definitely not going away) it will be interesting to see how it breaks out. Will we still have Facebook serving as the catch-all network? Will Twitter still be the place to go for breaking news? Will email be replaced? Will file sharing earn a place on social networks? As we continue our move to the cloud (voluntarily or involuntarily, that’s a whole different can of worms) that latter could actually become a viable option.
We’ve seen the social space blow up in the last few years, and we’re going to see it grow even further, but into smaller, less general niches. We’re already seeing it now. Facebook was once the home of images, video, and text. Now we have networks like Instagram and Pinterest becoming the home of images on the interest. Similarly, YouTube, DailyMotion and Vimeo are doing the same for video. Github and Dribbble are catering to developers and design-professionals respectively. The success of these networks demonstrates the need for more concentrated communities, they are outlets for communication in differing mediums. It will be interesting to see where social media stands in 5 years.
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