I had a very interesting conversation with John Caldwell of Red Pill Email Marketing the other day. In all honesty, I don’t have many uninteresting conversations with John. He’s someone I consider to be both a source for sober second thought and a thought provocateur. Recently we found ourselves in the midst of a “chicken and the egg” discussion regarding the internet, communities and communication.
Did the internet start up because of communities or did it start up and flourish because of the need for more efficient means of communication? At the core of this question is something I’ve preached for many years: The internet is driven by communities and without them it’s just one big strip-mall with infinite parking.
You probably know the story of how the roots of the internet grew from a DARPA project to connect computers at such places as NORAD HQ, the Pentagon and SAC. But did those seeds take root because the people involved needed to communicate and then the community formed or did they grow because a community had formed and to thrive they needed to share information?
Can you have a community without communication? Well, probably not and it is that ability to communicate which allows those communities to grow larger and gain influence. It may be that a community can’t even know it actually exists ‘til communication is possible. Take for example recent events in Egypt. Social media provided a communication channel which united individuals, let them know others shared their concern and were ready to support them.
What I thought was a slam dunk argument (communities first then communication) became a lot less clear as I considered the question. After all, isn’t the beginning of any community as simple as two people meeting and saying hello? On the other hand they’re not a community at that point. Once they know they have a shared interest they then use whatever communication methods are available to them to share their point of view and attract other members.
So my conclusion (not being a sociologist or anthropologist) is that every community starts with a simple communication, but at that point it’s not a community and as such, communication and community run parallel and not one after the other. Frankly, I don’t think I’m smart enough to make a firm declaration on this – although I’m willing to do so just for the sake of an entertaining argument. I’m sure someone a great deal smarter than I has already figured this out.
The one truth I do know is that communities do drive the web and if you want use the web as a marketing tool effectively then you have to know and even be involved in the communities you are trying to reach out to.
While reaching out to other communities, establish your own too. Build a community around your social media efforts and nurture it and you have a resource that is priceless. I’m not just talking about selling stuff to people either. Using a blog as your hub, you can combine other channels such as Twitter, Facebook and others to establish a resource which will be great for you, your customers and generating leads. These communities provide valuable feedback, content and of course, positive word-of-mouth.
And getting back to my conundrum…
It doesn’t matter which came first. It only matters that you value both.
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