Social Media: A Revolutionary Community?

By Rina Chong

“The most exciting thing in the future is not a TV app on your phone; it’s billions of people using their phones to be powerful together.” – Scott Heiferman, CEO and Founder of Meetup.com (@heif).

You may vaguely remember the first recognizable social network launched in 1997 – SixDegrees.com; that, along with a few online dating sites, was far from revolutionary in their application. Timing is everything. In 2002 the real shift began when Friendster and MySpace was introduced then followed by Hi5, Flicker, YouTube, Bebo, Facebook and Twitter. At the time of writing, Facebook had 600 million users. Once social graphs grew and we hit critical mass with these tools, it became possible to foster on-line communities, fill offline events, grow social clubs and promote successful fundraisers impacting the world locally and globally. Needless to say ‘Word of mouth’ has become the hyper-fast ‘word of click’.

Social media tools help people do more than advertise or post comments advertise; they provide people with the infrastructure to self-organize circumventing traditional hierarchies and organizations. Heiferman sums it up in a recent tweet: Community = Infrastructure. Let constituents lend hands, not just voices.” Anyone armed with a tool for organizing community like Meetup.com can create sincere, meaningful change in their neighbourhood that is easily feasible in this modern day online global village. The social web pulls people in with like values and interests from different ethnicities and geographic boundaries – one common thread is the willingness and desire to improve and help those in our respective communities sans geographic limitations. It lets citizens self-organize and engage in public issues such as health care, breaking news, education, fund raising, voting, etc. In addition, it allows people to share while educating others to become aware of current affairs giving everyone the chance to cultivate, take action and broadcast their objective.

When a common interest hits home, people love helping others when it’s as simple as reaching out to their online community. Enchanting people with a cause and raising interest with social media makes it that much easier to build on. There is no need for old fashioned door knocking.

Blogs, wikis, forums, along with a myriad of social fundraising tools make helping and contributing more easily than ever. Lorraine Murphy of www.RainCoasterMedia.com reminds us that blogging is extremely valuable and that people have to take the time to create great content and anchor everything that is related to you on there. Lorraine quotes, “By encouraging and responding to comments, you build a loyal following of people who will return to your blog.” A blog with fresh content and updates is attractive to viewers as well as to Google giving you great SEO to direct people to all your events and interconnects you with other social networks. In addition, unlike a Facebook page, your blog is owned by you.

I reached out to Marc Smith, a Twitter friend and local business owner who seems to always be involved in using social media for social good. Marc is the owner of Amuse Consulting Inc. (@amuse_events) and is a very “social” event planner and actively engaged in his community. Growing up in small town Terrace located in Northern, BC, Marc has always been community focused as he offers his neighbours a hand or a friendly ‘hello’. Using social media to expand his network, Marc has been part of initiatives that have inspired him to bring people, organizations and often much needed funds together for Tweetups, charities and fundraisers. In return, he mentors young PR and event students that have reached out to him making sure to give back just as much as he has received. For the 2nd year Amuse Consulting has been a sponsor of Vancouver Twestival (the largest global grassroots social media fundraising initiative to date) as well as sitting on the organizing committee. In 2010, Twestival Vancouver raised just under $10,000 for charity and has already raised $4800 for this year`s 2011 Twestival that hasn`t even occurred yet.

Marc recently helped organize a community event with over 70 people to support a friend whose husband was dealing with a 3 month battle for his life in the hospital. That event had donations coming in from Ottawa to California. Marc confirms, “What makes community successful is that the members are genuine and user driven. There are no tickets to buy, it’s a show up and participate any way you can kind of event. A hug can go a long way to warm a person`s heart.” The side-effect of his community efforts have generated Marc significant business and referrals due to the visibility and trust he has gathered in the community.

In speaking with Marc and observing other best practices in social media, there are several lessons that marketers can take away from this:

  • These days, community building and marketing are not separate but actually connected; therefore, have a purpose greater than branding and make your purpose about helping others.
  • Build a community with the intention of genuinely helping people first, that positive social equity will pay-off in goodwill and positive word of mouth/word of click.
  • Those people who build community become gatekeepers or stewards of that group. To influence those gatekeepers brands will need to build trust, be genuine and sociable.
You can find the published article on page 20 here in the BCAMA magazine.