The Evolution of Virtual Communities

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How often do you scroll through your Facebook news feed, glance at friends’ posts and think, “I. Don’t. Care. Why would you post that on Facebook? Maybe I should unfriend him…”

This, in my opinion, is the future of virtual communities. Our current social networks appeal to a broad range of participants and consumers, but the day of the specialized online community is coming. Users are beginning to look for more targeted, niche groups to which they can better relate. Although networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn certainly aren’t going anywhere, the demand for specialized content is increasing, especially among professionals. Users want to be able to identify with the people they’re communicating with (another reason sales teams should be using social media!).

For example, although LinkedIn is primarily made up of professionals, there is a vast range of careers represented on the site. LinkedIn has recently launched a ‘Groups’ feature for more targeted connections among users. According to LinkedIn: “Many professionals advance their business goals by counting on professional groups, alumni organizations and work groups to make vital new business contacts which will enhance their trusted connections.” Google has a similar feature in which users can create circles to organize their contacts into different categories, each with their own level of access to your profile.

These niche groups will be driven by the consumers — the users — and while this is great for private users, who don’t want to scroll through annoying, nonsense Facebook status updates any longer, it could be bad news for marketers.

Personally, I think it’s going to make my job a bit more difficult. Social media marketers have enough on their plates already, right? Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Quora, blogs, LivingSocial, Groupon, Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram, FourSquare … I don’t think I need to keep going, but there are a LOT of networks we’re supposed to keep track of, update, pay attention to and be fresh, inviting and appealing on. By dividing these networks into smaller groups, social media is presenting us with quite a challenge. Am I going to have to seek out virtual communities for every. single. car. my dealership sells? Oh, boy.

LinkedIn Corporation. (2012). Your Groups. LinkedIn Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.linkedin.com/myGroups?trk=hb_side_grps_top.

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8 responses »

  1. Insightful post as always, Samantha. I completely agree that we’ll see more specialized niche-based communities, and the experts see that coming, too (Qing, 2012). However, I see this as a huge opportunity for marketers. With niche groups, you know exactly who you’re engaging with, and you can be assured of a higher ROI on those efforts. To me, it means we’ll be able to drop all of the random social media efforts with low ROI in favor of targeted high ROI social media efforts. In other words, not more work, just different, more targeted, more efficient work. What do you think? Jennifer

    Qing, Liau Yun (July 25, 2012). Social ads offer better targeting, ROI, ZDNet, retrieved from http://www.zdnet.com/social-ads-offer-better-targeting-roi-7000001198/.

    • Do you think this will also create more opportunities for entrepreneurs to provide a service to businesses and marketers to find these niche groups – sort of the way we currently have services to link all of our social media sites and syndicate our posts?

  2. The evolution of virtual communities , as you mentioned, and the model of professional virtual communities are now recognized as a form of mediation leading trading. Virtual communities are proving to be formidable weapons to attract prospects but also incomparable loyalty tools.However, it made me ask my self about the future of human and face to face relationship? I can not imagine a word where people are stuck to their computer and use it for all purpose, business, professional or personal!

  3. I like the fact that you brought up LinkedIn groups for this discussion. I know that I am a member of many LinkedIn groups. Some are very active, others not so much. I think depending on the type of relationship a user has with the members of that group, and the group itself, this can be a virtual community that is very dynamic and useful. You mentioned Alumni associations, and that is a perfect example of how LinkedIn can expand its customer relationships using the 21st century technology.

  4. great post. interesting point about Linkedin, however, I tend to lean towards LI becoming more utilized then FB, sheerly for the professional implications. LI is a place for professionals to get connected, the people you are connected to have something in common with you – which is why you agree to connect, whether it be schooling or work that is the connection that makes you “care”.

  5. I think a good sign with any mass technology is specialization. Think Henry Ford’s quote about the Model T. “You can get it in any color you want, as long as it’s black”. Now think of how much variety we have in choice of style, color, and size of vehicle. It’s pretty amazing. We are in the infancy of social media. Okay, maybe toddlerhood, but definitely it’s youth. I think that specialization will become the next big thing as well. We crave belonging but we crave to be individuals. The ability for us to find niche groups to connect with will become more and more important. This specialization is already starting to happen in some industries, like the wine industry where the search for industry specific terms has helped launch an analytic app just for wine industry. Pretty amazing, see the article here: http://mashable.com/2011/07/18/vertical-social-media-monitoring/

  6. You are a part of the theme evolving from these final blog posts. The communities will get smaller and more specialized. I think more and more people will step away from the big 3 and move to where people are talking about their interests and answering their questions. Great work.

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