Considerations on creating communities

Author: Simon Kingsnorth, Author, Digital Marketing Strategy

We have relied on communities for as long as we’ve existed. You could even argue longer. Homo sapiens – the species of every human left on earth – started in families and, after the discovery of farming, these families came together in tribes, villages, towns and cities. For 300,000 years we have relied on the help of others, the shared knowledge, strength and resources of each other. Without communities we simply would not be alive today.

History is full of communities that have served their purpose for the good or bad. We are surrounded by them. Our governments stem from the need for a group of people to make decisions together for the good of the country. Rebellions have never been started by one individual and no Dictator has run rampant across others’ lands alone. War, religion, politics – the biggest movements in human history – would all be meaningless without communities behind them. Sayings such as “Strength in numbers” and “Two heads are better than one” show us how embedded the concept is in human behaviour.

So, with the onset of the technology age, it was inevitable that a new angle on the community would form. With Web 2.0 came social media. The ability to move on from simple message boards to live, immersive communities. A wonderful concept. One that has added so much to our lives. The ability to come together with family, friends and long-lost school-mates is a powerful thing. To share ideas and views with strangers, begin movements and understand what our wider community of humankind across the world is thinking and feeling. A powerful concept indeed.

But like many such enormous movements, the reality does not always come together as smoothly and sincerely as the vision. There is a dark side to us homo-sapiens. The desire to categorize things, and put things into neat boxes is a survival instinct: “lions will kill us”, “white berries will poison us.” But this also creates negative views that can derive from one-off experiences. “People with different colour skin to me are not like me.” These sort of views are of course very misguided. In fact if we were to make decisions on such limited data in business we would quickly be discredited. But more than this – these views, as weak as they are – are reinforced by communities. We come together with those we trust and so we often accept their views as correct without empirical evidence.

The social media age has exacerbated this beyond anything ever before it. As a result some communities have become toxic. Certain social media services have become such negative places that they have directly contributed to suicides and other mental health issues. Trolling and other terms have become broadly known, which is a clear reflection of how negative communities have become. This has in turn created a trend that is gaining momentum at the moment.

In the early days of social media there was a lot of discussion about FOMO – the Fear Of Missing Out. That others knew about events or news before us. That our friends were doing things we didn’t know about. This propagated the growth of social networks as many, especially millennials, needed to know what was happening across multiple channels to stay in touch with fashion, events, etc.

The trend we need to be aware of now is quite the opposite, as is often true due to the fact that we as humans are fickle and create endless circles of rebelling against the previous trend. JOMO is the Joy Of Missing Out. You may have heard the term ‘Digital Detox’ becoming more common in recent years. The need to be surrounded by notifications, social platforms, apps and devices is falling away as many of us rebel against the always-on lifestyle it creates. Indeed some hotels are now advertising themselves as NOT having internet access as a selling point. A haven from the modern world.

So what next? Well, communities will never go away. The shape of them may change but we need to be aware of the psychological and behavioural impacts they have and be sure that as marketeers and, more importantly, as humans, we create positive ones.

I discuss more about consumer behaviour, the changing landscape, the digital age and how to build an effective strategy around these trends in the recently published second edition of my international best-selling book, Digital Marketing Strategy.