By Ernest Bazanye

According to Hubspot, a community provides people with a feeling of belonging and a network of other people they can connect with. This is based on their shared interests and/ or characteristics.

Why you should mind about your online community?

“Twitter is not real life” goes a dictum that was common in the earlier days of social media. It’s a pity that it faded out of use before it became most relevant. We need that piece of wisdom now more than ever. In today’s highly digital and connected society, it’s funny to think people can still feel disconnected from others. With so many people who communicate online, behind screens, this connected world can actually feel rather lonely at times.  Be reminded that words online are not the same as words offline.

They don’t behave the same way, they don’t carry the same heft and they don’t mean the same things because they speak in a different context. Communicators who wish to reach online communities have got to understand this and have it underpin all their messages. However, sometimes the concepts behind what an online community is can feel a bit abstract. 

A woefully common approach is to get your message, write it, and post it. Then wait for the response you desire. When it doesn’t come, the ”common-approachist” will seek to latch onto trending hashtags or hound out “influential” accounts and, when that doesn’t work either, just speak louder.

Here’s why that doesn’t work as well as you think it will. Here is why we/they don’t listen.

Social media is not like a classroom in a school, where the audience gathers to listen to the performer. You don’t have a captive audience here. Social media is more like the playground during recess at school. A teacher may come to the kids in their various cliques and attempt a lecture about it, but any teacher worth their diploma knows this would be a waste of time. Those rascals will not listen to a teacher during recess.

If one of the kids started the conversation, though…

That is a fundamental rule of successful message conveyance online. Don’t be the teacher. Be one of the kids. Don’t just know your audience, be a member of your audience. Don’t talk to the community, be part of the community and talk with the community.

Not like a spy infiltrating the community under a deceitful disguise either. Be genuine about it.

TIP:

The key to successful outreach and community building is to not be annoying or spooky. If your social stream is only links and you bombard the same people over and over again with e-mail, you’re not going to get earn their trust or fit-in.

Except in cases like this. You may have probably noticed that this article is written as if I, myself, am not a communicator. I am addressing communicators on how to talk to us, “us” being the group to which I belong, i.e. the community communicators address. I am not speaking as a communicator but as a community. Well, every rule has its exceptions.

Be genuine, be authentic, be honest.

There are a lot of instances where brands or businesses shoehorn themselves into online groups and try to pretend to be part. Of course, the consequence, if you don’t pull it off, is that we’ll see you as a liar, as a false persona trying to pull a fast one on us. The result is a loss of credibility.

This is why viral hashtags or trending memes always begin to fizzle out and die the second the first marketing brand gets involved. Before brands began to trend-jack, a Twitter hashtag could go on for days in Uganda. Now, it’s done and dusted in four hours because that’s how long it takes to get approval from a client to start pretending that they are part of the game when they are just sneaking in with other motives.

It’s like school days again. There are the students, chatting in the playground, cracking jokes, and sharing the pre-internet equivalent of memes and trending topics. Lol and Lol they go, until a prefect from one of the school clubs sidles into the group and says something like, “Hi squad! What is lit today? Are you on fleek?” That is when the members of the group start looking at the time and remembering that they have somewhere to be.

It’s like school days again. There are the students, chatting in the playground, cracking jokes, and sharing the pre-internet equivalent of memes and trending topics.

Don’t assume. Don’t take the audience for granted.

You are at a major disadvantage when communicating online because there are no classroom walls to keep your people in. The rest of the internet is just a tab and a google search away, so don’t take for granted that speaking is the same thing as being listened to.

Make the effort to be appealing enough to compete with the entire rest of the internet when you post. Remember that you have to earn our attention.

Listen more than you speak.

Shut up once in a while and listen. It’s easy for communicators to think that their job is communicating, but it is more than that. The job also requires being communicated to.

And you have to listen extra hard online because of this unique attribute of social media, comment threads, and discussion spaces online: silence means more than the noise.

You will find that a successful youtube video has thousands of views. But only a tenth of the viewers hit the thumbs up, or only a hundredth leave a comment. Even weirder, most of that hundredth are leaving negative comments.

Listening to online feedback means you have to hear and understand what those who left no response are doing with your message. You have to develop the skill of listening to people who don’t speak.

Finally, the top rule of all communication. Know when to break the rules.

 

Bottom-line

By breaking down the traditional one-way exchange of information and opening up your communication, your community will deliver value far beyond expectations.

When you can tap into people’s unique perspectives and invite them to share their expertise and knowledge with others. You inspire engagement and connections that are relevant and meaningful.

 

 

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