Recent events have shown how Facebook, Twitter and other generalised Social Media can be exploited for political interests, spreading misinformation and creating hatred among communities. As more and more audience become aware of “doomscrolling”, they actively avoid social media forbetter mental health (see here)
A recent survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that a whopping 82% of the respondents had seen some misinformation on popular Social Media platforms. And 54% of respondents were really concerned about the drastic increase in misinformation on social media and messenger apps. Does it mean that people are quitting digital social media in general?
They are switching to something else!
The Need for Digital Communities & Vertical Networks
We humans, love to be a part of a tight-knit community, where we know each other. However, as years passed, Social Media scaled massively from small bulletin boards to massive Social Sites. Initially, people believed that social media platforms will help build large scale communities with no boundaries.
With this vision failing badly, people are turning back to the idea of smaller, focused and more responsible digital communities. A growing interest in Vertical Networksproves this paradigm shift of preferences.Vertical Networks connect people with specific interest or passion. Vertical networksare not restrictedto hobbyists, professionals andsmall communities;
Even corporate organisations are jumping on to the vertical networks bandwagon. They provide fine-grained control over the organisation’s specific requirements.
Slack is an excellent example of how users turn towards the benefits of closed communities that combine collaboration and chat. Slack’s daily active user base doubled between 2017 and 2019 and number of communities on Slack has more than doubled in the past 3 years (see here).
Another reason vertical social networks are booming is that many of them are purpose-built. Compared with general community platforms, purpose-built vertical networks provide better utility and enhanced user experience. The success of Twitch, GitHub, Linkedin and many such platforms proves that people are more than ready to use vertical social networks in parallel to other social networks. For example, Twitch started as a video sharing service in 2011-in direct competition with YouTube, that had a monopoly and billions of dollars to spend on marketing. Twitch solved specific problem YouTube at the time didn’t know existed – live streaming of video games!
Far from the madding crowd
A micro-community provides one benefit that large social groups fail at -intimate conversations. Ever lost in the swarm of one-way social media posts, advertisements and promotions? Micro-communities are the solution. Trust me – even you are a part of this social trend.
Micro-communities are a small group of people with a shared purpose. Users feel safer and are more open to intimate conversations in smaller groups. The experience is the opposite of overcrowded social media platforms.Users may be a part of multiple micro-communities with shared topics of interest. Small WhatsApp groups of close friends and office group with team members are examples of micro-communities.
Users feel more comfortable discussing their weekend plans or picking a movie to watch in these tiny groups. Interactivity is also much higher than larger groups as almost everyone speaks freely (see here).
Many businesses provide access to micro-communities for closer interaction between its members. Private coaches and even large Universities create micro-communities for each batch of learners to share problems and get peer help. But is it worth it for businesses to invest in building communities?
The Future of Digital Communities in 2021 for Businesses
Shifting user base from Social Media giants to the smaller, community-driven social platforms has made businesses rethink their product and marketing strategies.People are more likely to follow their peers’ product recommendations than being bombarded with intrusive advertisements all over the internet. Reddit, for example, has many subreddits based on a specific niche. People discuss a problem, share tried and tested solutions, and follow the peer recommendations even if it involves buying a new service or a product.Communities also inspire Entrepreneurs to build better products to solve specific niche-related problems. Example – GitHub was created to solve a computer programmer’s dilemmas and is an all in one tool with project management, code sharing and a social media platform.
GitHub’s revenue has crossed $300m and was recently acquired by Microsoft for $7.5 bn. This and success stories of Twitch, Dribble, and other purpose-built social networks show that there is a lot of room available for vertical networks. You just have to solve the problems of a particular niche. Huge brands like Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook are buying and operating self-competing vertical communities, cannibalising their own revenues in old school business terms. But, in the new world, the results are opposite. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp Messenger are thriving with innovative business ideas from separate development teams. Microsoft did not shut down GitHub or merge it with Teams. Amazon did not integrate Twitch with Prime Video. These niche-specific platforms are highly active and thriving along with their general counterparts.
Marketing 2021, 22, 23…
Traditionally, there are two ways to get users to your business. Organically or through paid marketing campaigns. Organically acquiring customers is a slow process with no guarantee of success. And paid marketing can get really expensive in the long run. There are promising alternatives to these traditional marketing methods-and they are Influencer Marketing and Community Marketing. These alternative methods target digital communities in specific niches. They focus on solving user’s problems through customised products; traditional sales techniques have no room in the new marketing era. SmarTrike, a company that manufactures ride-on-vehicles for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, used the power of influencer marketing through a popular YouTube parents channel. They could reach 12 million parents, yes 12 million laser-focused prospects who are most likely to buy their products (see here).
TubeBuddy, a popular SaaS provider for YouTubers, has built it’s own active, engaging, and thriving digital community. Their revenue is skyrocketing without the need for expensive advertisements. Free users willingly convert to a paid membership when they find value in engaging community.An engaging community is not just about comments, likes and questions. People here share their progress, motivate others, pair with accountability partners and even support each other during difficult phases of their journey. As a brand, you listen to their interactions and customise your products to solve their problems. It becomes a win-win situation for your brand and your customers; you build a product to solve their problems, and they willingly buy your products.If your brand doesn’t have a community yet, it is the right time to build one.It may sound a bit overwhelming to think about the technical aspects of building and running a new social platform from the ground up.Surprisingly, TubeBuddy and other thriving communities did not build the platform to run their own vertical social networks.
Building a No-Code Digital Community
Brands can quickly build and run digital communities without writing a single line of code. There are multiple ready to deploy solutions that can be customised with your brand colours, logos, fonts and content feeds. tchop is one such platform that helps you build communities of interest with tweaks and customisations to match your brand’s requirements. tchop and similar tools are a good starting point to get into action without spending much time.
As your communities grow, you may need to look at their management. Most communities assign a Community Manager, Community Engagement Experts, Support Members, Content Moderators and Customer Success Reps from within the existing Community Members. Having an org structure in place helps manage large communities effectively.
But first, you need to start.
The year 2021 will bring significant changes to how people interact with social media. Most users are already aware of the overcrowded social media platforms’ pitfalls. They will gradually shift to smaller digital communities within their niche. Communities will only become more relevant and profit for years to come. Innovations in no-code community-building platforms like tchop will it easier to get started and to attract the first thousand users. The year 2021 will be the right time for existing businesses, enterprises and new innovators to adapt to the growing shift towards digital communities without spending many resources at the beginning.