How do you feel when someone unexpectedly knocks on your door? Or when you get a call from an unknown number? Do you know how I feel? Exposed. Totally and utterly exposed. Meanwhile, if you jump onto my Twitter or my Instagram you could find out SO much about me, yet I am totally cool with that.
It sounds crazy, I know. But I also know that I am far from alone in 2018.
Think about it, if you’re anything like me – you have about 15 group chats on the go, check your Facebook and outlook calendar to confirm your availability and pick your next meal based on the local eateries rating on Zomato. With over 59% of the Australian population accessing social media every day, and over a third of that checking social over five times per day (guilty) it’s SO easy to see how these online tools have seeped into our lives, and altered the way we prefer our everyday experiences.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I am against meeting people in real life, in fact that’s how I’ve met majority of my favourite people. It’s just that I, a digital native (and a proud millennial), find that my real-life experiences are substantially enhanced by these digital communities.
My first life changing experience with an online community, apart from my LiveJournal and Tumblr followers of course, was back in 2011. It was my second year of university, the year that I moved my campus from the physical campus that is Caulfield to the digital campus that is Monash.edu.au… It was also the same year that I moved interstate twice and had my first child.
Look, I’d be lying if I said that I’d always dreamed of going to university from my lounge room in a weird city with swollen feet and a craving for pickles. The framework was great, the education I received was awesome, I learnt so much and the best bit, I met so many people – yes, I met so many people online.
See, my university at the time was really focused on linking us ‘Distance Ed’ students up with each other. What started in the forums, moved to emails and eventually we would spend hours on WhatsApp sharing ideas, seeking advice and getting to know each other. Sure, it wasn’t the *same* as sitting in the dorms with my co-students as I had the year before, but that wasn’t really an option for me and this was far better than second best.
It quickly became apparent to me that I needed more than just the learning tools to complete my education online, I needed a community – a community of educators, peers, influencers and even a few nay-sayers to really keep me engaged and see me receive my degree in journalism in 2013.
Hospitality and tourism
Ever since Airbnb launched, the local media has been screaming – “new threat to local businesses”, which I think anyone who has ever used Airbnb would agree, is absolute crap. In fact, Airbnb is, actually, an awesome tool for the local tourism industry (wherever that location may be). It gives us, the user, an opportunity to link in with REAL humans and move our experiences from the digital sphere to the public sphere. And it gives local businesses the opportunity to link in, and build communities like never before.
Think about the development of apps like Foursquare and the ability to “check in” via majority of social media channels, we are given the opportunity to invite our digital followers into our real-life experiences as we eat at our favourite cafes, drink at our favourite bars and travel to the most remote destinations.
When I travelled to Europe at the ripe age of 19 in 2007, I was a new adopter of Facebook and had every intention of uploading content often. But it wasn’t in my forefront of mind and, if I’m honest, it just wasn’t a priority to me to upload my images let alone ‘check in’ – the internet was too expensive and slow and it felt kinda weird. My community back home KNEW I was gone, they barely spoke to me for the six months I was abroad except for the occasional phone call, and the communities I built as I travelled around, remained in the cities I made them.
These days, when I travel I am just a message away from anyone within my ‘community’. I can be chatting away in the digital sphere with my community back home and the exact time I am in the public sphere with my new community of likeminded travellers. And I stay in touch with the people I meet throughout my travels with a simple ‘follow’ on Facebook.
This cross over of communities, from ours to theirs, businesses to customers and businesses to other businesses, expands the reach of our experiences like never before.
Brands being more than just their products in nothing new. We all remember Nikes’ fall from grace, but in case you don’t — in 1997 their reputation took a hit when they became a symbol for sweetshop labour when it was revealed that they were paying their workers in the Third World just 14c per hour. This resulted in rallies in 11 Countries, including 50 rallies in US Cities and during the Olympics. By 1998, both their share prices and their sales saw a dramatic decrease.
Could you even imagine if that happened in 2018? The reality is, that although the message would have been disseminated far quicker, Nike could have responded quicker and directly to their community. A community that has over 30 Million likes on Facebook, 77 Million followers on their main Instagram and 7 Million followers on Twitter.
By having such a large following online, Nike is able to connect with is customers like never before, so it’s really hard to say what the outcome would have been. The other side of that is that their customers and, well anyone, are able to connect with each other. And customers connecting with each other and building their own communities (as facilitated by the brand), is a new and REALLY interesting trend in retail.
Have a look at Australian fashion brand Black Milk Clothing. Admittedly, I too have spent a ridiculous $90 on a pair of leggings, but in reality, I wasn’t just buying clothing – I was buying into a community. I was becoming a ‘sharkie’, like thousands of other young women.
But then something went wrong, and the person driving the Facebook page one evening made a HUGE faux pas, refused to apologise and lost approximately 10,000 followers – changing the entire culture of the ‘sharkie’ community.
Whilst a lot can be said about Black Milk Clothing’s situation, and the way they bounced back, for now this serves as the perfect example as to the intricacies that are involved in managing digital communities.
When you work in retail or hospitality, communities are really important. But so are your products. When you work in non-profits, you ARE your community. And that community is not just the people you support, I mean of course they are crucial for the success of your organisation, but it is also the people that can support your cause.
So, what does that mean?
One of my favourite local organisations, both for the amazing work they do and their fantastic digital content is St Kilda Mums. Not only do they provide an incredible service for women and children in crisis situations, they have built up a digital community to both support this initiative and to support women all across the world. Without any government funding, St Kilda Mums relies completely on donations to support these families. With over 30 thousand followers on Facebook, they share content that calls for donations and volunteers, news about the women they have supported, avenues for families to find support and shout outs to the community that supports them. In the comment section of their posts, you’ll see people engaging with each other, tagging friends in calls for donations and organic distribution of their messages.
They have built such a large digital following, that last year they raised $50,000 when Model Megan Gale reposted one of their calls for donation to her Instagram feed.
St Kilda Mums has utilised their digital community to enhance the real-life experience of so many families in need, and has used their growing digital presence to build a community of Mums (and Dads and, well, anyone) helping the Mums who need it most.
So, there you have it, digital communities in a nut shell. I could honestly go on about each of these topics and many more for pages and pages, and I will – but I’ll do my best to spread it out over a series of blogposts to share with you all why embracing digital communities is not only crucial for the success of your business, but also for the evolution of the human race.
Do your digital products enable your digital community?