Have you ever wondered how fast the world economy has grown after the arrival of digitization? With computers taking care of automization and super-human efficiency, the industries shifted to programmable and logical controls from a manual mode.
Tim Berner Lee’s creation of the World Wide Web in the 1990s and the subsequent birth of the Internet further bolstered economies the world over.
About 36 years ago, back in February 1985, the first virtual community in the world was launched. It went by the name, Whole Earth Lectronic Link, aka The WELL. Around the same time, most people came to know about real-time online chat with something like CompuServe’s CB Simulator (introduced in 1980), Internet Relay Chat (1988), or AOL’s chat rooms (1989).
From there till now, has been a long stride. Back in the day, a handful of geeks held online conversations by posting and commenting individually on each other’s posts. These messages are on bulletin boards or chat groups – the earliest form of online communities. Look where the trend has gone now.
Today, the Internet dominates every sphere of our lives. Connecting people in a vast and distributed network of computers has increased the amount of data being generated daily. It has also led to numerous new ways of getting value out of it, unleashing many new enterprise applications and a massive number of start-ups.
The level of growth seen in the last 30 years is unprecedented. It is mainly because of the rise of online domains that have grown and created a separate niche for themselves.
- Be it e-commerce (which started when a young Jeff Bezos decided to take his Seattle bookstore online with Amazon in 1994),
- Or social media (that evolved from Zuckerberg’s attempt to build a site for checking the ‘hotness quotient’ of college girls in 2008),
- Search engines (we know the Google garage story from Palo Alto),
- Or most recently, the messaging platforms (from WhatsApp to Telegram to Signal and Slack).
Online Community Management
Amid the two domains – social media and messaging platforms – another sapling blossomed in the early 2010s. It has evolved in leaps and bounds, to become the next big thing on the block. Online Community Management.
In the Google age, everyone surfs the Internet to research everything. From which gadget to buy to where to eat dinner. This rise in the demand for information-based technology has been a boon to information-based communities that exist for disseminating facts, figures, statistics, reviews, etc.
The social aspect of Internet use has been the single biggest reason why online communities are growing. More businesses are taking advantage of this trend and looking to the Web to boost their social impact.
Community forums are a great way to garner marketing data, gather momentum for an idea or cause. They are also a great place to interact with potential customers.
At the same time, consumers too are using the online communities to engage with a company’s culture, before they buy. As the world of social media and online businesses grow, so are online communities.
From I To We – The Rise Of Communities
Among all the other advantages that human beings have enjoyed to emerge as the most dominant species on the planet, the power of building communities is one.
As Yuval Noah Harari pointed out in his book “Sapiens”, the ability to form groups and collectives is a key factor for growth. And this is exactly what is happening in the digital world too.
Today, we have millions of communities present on a plethora of platforms to do the same thing. Reddit threads, LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups, Slack groups, Telegram groups, and a thousand others.
The extent to which the industry has grown and the exactness of implementations warranted has led to the establishment of dedicated community management platforms. For instance, Tribe, Commsor, Circles, LikeMinds, etc. are effectively enabling community participation, engagement, and monetization.
When Mark Zuckerberg laid the foundation of Facebook, the approach was centered around a profile-based platform for personalized interactions among users. But a few years down the line, Facebook soon realized how collective associations can unlock far wide-reaching impacts than singular pages or profiles.
Over time, a bulk of content on the social media platform started emerging from groups. From something as generic as wrestling to something as niche as craft beer or memes. Groups helped to attract similar-minded users and grow the platform organically. It also helped them to increase the engagement time of each group member.
Even Microsoft-owned LinkedIn was started by Reid Hoffman to replicate the formal nitty-gritty of the offline corporate world on an online canvas for employers and employees. But it couldn’t shake off the growing demand for incorporating a group structure in the otherwise profile-dominated social media platform.
Early last year, LinkedIn revamped and relaunched a new version of its LinkedIn Groups. This was buoyed down by demand for professional online communities.
For that matter, even Reddit started as a bulletin-based social news aggregator and web content rating site. It now boasts of more than 100,000 online communities. The users are collaborating on mutual interests varying from support for new parents to baking tips and product recommendations.
Earlier this month, Reddit, raised a stunning $250 million in its targeted Series E fund-raise of $500 million, valuing the company at $6 billion.
WhatsApp And Telegram
The Pandemic on its own did a lot to drive in the importance of community-based platforms. Given the feeling of loneliness that prevailed amidst the lockdown. Family Whatsapp groups bubbling with queries on well-being to Telegram groups abuzz with suggestions for new movie releases, digital communities touched our lives more so ever than before.
Quite recently, Salesforce decided to acquire the chat-based platform Slack for a whopping $27.7 billion deal. In what is being hailed as a nod to the untapped potential of community-based platforms.
The Industry Growth
The worldwide online communities’ market revenue grew from $392.95 million in 2014 to $1.2 billion by 2019, representing a CAGR of 24.3%.
The social business market, which runs largely on community platforms, reached $23 billion by 2019, with compound annual growth of 26%. The significant growth registered by the online community industry came mainly because of the following reasons:
- Effectiveness of online communities in sustaining marketing campaigns.
- Brand-building, driving sales and customer retentions.
- Increased usage in data analytics.
According to a Michigan University study, customers spend 19% more after joining a company’s online community in comparison to third-party sites like Facebook.
This is probably the reason why a 2019 Forrester report found that 60% of businesses own a branded online community with 77% of companies believing that an online community significantly improved brand exposure, awareness, and credibility.
This belief is further cemented by the ‘Keys to community readiness and growth report’, published by CMX Hub, where it was found that 23% of companies admitted that their branded communities grew 100% or more in the last few years.
Even a young community management platform like Commsor raised $16 million in a Series A round of funding in January. It was at a valuation of over $100 million.
The Era of We, a report published by GlobalWebIndex, suggested that online communities in 2020 are more powerful and impactful than ever. Mainly because they fill a void for self-expression that is lacking in normal day-to-day social media interactions. Thus, having similar-minded people in the community fosters healthy conversations.
Besides, the community management industry seems to be uniquely positioned. On one hand, it allows individuals to interact freely, collaborate and build networks. However, at the same time it offers businesses the chance to market products, brands, service customers, take feedback, and accumulate data to drive company goals.
As a result, community management is a vital resource used by many industries like software, healthcare, FMCG, sports, journalism, volunteering, education, etc., making it all-pervading.
If you have been a part of any digital community, you would know why. In the next post, we would talk more about the reasons that are propelling the community-based social media revolution. But the bottom line remains that solo rides aren’t as effective as group-based collaborations.
Check out LikeMinds for more.