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Communities, Services and Sites in Social Media

So, it seems Woody Harrelson has stumbled into a lesson that might serve us all:

Woody, meet Reddit

There are certain “laws of physics” which govern different outlets on the Web. Woody didn’t heed those laws. The negative result is predictable and counter-productive to his reputation and his brand.

I see this frequently amongst business partners, and perhaps a few colleagues. There is a desire to harness, orchestrate and control the message in various social media and social networking technologies. Sometimes, particularly in a business context, that’s a reasonable goal. However, you need to know the territory you are stepping into. The first rule is to identify if you are about to engage via a Site, a Community, or a Service.

A site is generally a web site or blog. If Sally owns a site, the expectation of the Internet savvy is, “this is Sally’s house, up in here.” Sally sets the agenda. Sally can acknowledge, ignore or even delete any feedback that may come. While there are some who visitors will be more vocal, in the end, they knew the deal when they showed up. Sally will discuss what she wants, in the format she wants, primarily furthering an agenda of interest to Sally. Sally, indeed, may have several ghost writers if Sally feels they can better voice her positions. In general, Sally is in a broadcasting mode.

A community is a different animal. Generally putting more tools and votes into the hands of the visitors, a community is more of a consensus. There are conventions the supermajority agrees upon. The community cliques feel some sense of empowerment to set the agenda, enforce the conventions, and even prompt the community “hosts” or “moderators” to add tools and design elements which facilitate that vision. Once a place grows too large or too profit-driven to facilitate that, members for which community is important will consider it just a “service” or “utility” and… splinter off to form a new community! Respect for the conventions is important, here. Otherwise you will suffer a loss of reputation, trust, or both. Woody made this mistake by sending an agent to a reddit “Ask Me Anything” session. Reddit, at present, is still clearly a community. Members of Reddit will tell you that. Community is a conversation, from which you might be disinvited.

A service is something in between. I classify Facebook as a service. It is too big to have a standard set of rules. So, you say and do what you want, by proxy or in person. People will selectively listen, or defriend/ignore your channel altogether. Also, it has famously exhibited a top-down approach where the company decides what it wants and rolls those features out to all users… regardless of what users really want. Some options may be added later to minimize exposure to some features or in the name of security. However, there is little expectation amongst users that their input is heard, or that they control the conventions. Their primary vote is to either leave, or, relegate Facebook to a “utility”, like a water line they tap into. Then, as they and their cliques find things important to participate in as a community, they tack on additional third party technologies like reddit or pinterest to facilitate that.

Each outlet is a bit different, but a communicator can get a good start by researching which of these three general categories applies.

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