Social Trend Watching: October

Michael Oelschig Submitted by on the 25th of October 2016

Welcome to October’s edition of social media trends to watch out for. This month, I look at two somewhat contradictory ideas about social communities.

  1. Is ‘community’ dead?

We in social media use the word ‘community’ a lot. One of the most critical functions of social media teams is even named after it. But what is community really? defines community as:

“A social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists”

I would venture to suggest that the idea of community in the social media landscape is mostly a misnomer and hasn’t really ever existed to begin with. How many brands can really claim their social media “communities” are actually communities as defined above and not, in fact, just an audience? As the definition states, a community implies shared beliefs and a common purpose. Other than all clicking ‘like’ and potentially being a customer, what shared beliefs or common purpose does a bank or telecom or restaurant chain’s Facebook following have? Not much, I would argue.

Now, I am not saying communities don’t exist on social at all – they certainly do. There are many car communities, fishing communities, fashion communities, etc. The difference is that they revolve around a hobby or an idea or a passion point, not a brand or a product. (Are there some brands that have real communities? Of course – Harley Davidson fans come to mind – but trend watching is an analysis of the rule, not the exception).

So, back to the question: is ‘community’ dead? With Facebook being much more “media” than “social” these days, having five fans versus 5 000 followers doesn’t actually matter. You need to pay to reach them either way. With paid media or advertising still being the only viable way to monetise a social media platform, you can bet your lunch money that most other social networks are going the same way. Add to this the explosion of instant messaging platforms where you can be much more deliberate and selective about who gets into your groups (communities) and we start to see why this is happening.

So, if, as I doubt, communities around brands ever did exist, they won’t for much longer.

What does this mean for us as social marketers? Brands need to stop drinking their own KoolAid and believing that their social media following really cares about their new product or that industry award no one has ever heard of simply because they are a part of their community and therefore love everything they do and say. As soon as we think of them as an audience we shift the goal posts to understanding the need to produce content that they choose to engage with not because they are a part of a community, but because it is great content.

  1. YouTube moving into communities

Google recently launched the testing phase of its YouTube community tab. YouTubers are now able to share videos, text updates, photos and GIFs with their subscribers without having to leave the platform. The idea is to create more of a sense of community with creators and their audience.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘If YouTube sees the value in communities, how can this guy argue that community is dead? They surely know more about this stuff than him.’ I agree, they definitely do. But I still think I’m right.

I believe that this move has much more to do with individual YouTube celebrity types than brands. The fact that the beta phase is being tested with 12 individuals and not brands proves the point.

But, could this feature work for brands? No, I don’t think so. At least not to any significant degree. The new feature doesn’t seem to offer anything that Facebook, Instagram or Twitter doesn’t so, if I’m right that communities don’t really work there, I can’t see YouTube being the exception that suddenly changes the game. Again – delivering the best content to the audience will be the key to success.

I could of course be wrong. Hit me up on Google+ if you think I am. Oh wait…

Mike O