1. Social networks as platforms for forming communities.
Ira Shubina, brand manager, ex-director for brand development at VKontakte
Kira Lazareva, Insights lead at Signal by ONY
In 2019, the average amount of time spent online came to 7 hours worldwide. In Russia this figure is just over 6 hours. The pandemic has changed these numbers – at present, people are spending 20% more time on social networks and 36% more time reading news online.
If we’re talking about Russia, today VKontakte is the most popular social network by the amount of time that people spend on it. On average, users spend 34 minutes a day on VKontakte on mobile devices, and 22 minutes on computer screens. These are very big numbers, and we were interested to study what exactly people do on VKontakte.
We decided to look for a theoretical foundation behind this, and found a number of works which stated that people on social networks form their own identity through certain visual elements, texts and publications, and by participating in various communities. Additionally, they interact with one another. Today we will focus on the second part and try to answer the question as to why people interact, and what benefits they gain from this.
People interact with one another for two reasons: either to solve practical utilitarian tasks, or out of the need for an emotional response. In the first case, as a user I solve an understandable, specific task: I can learn something or buy something, and ask for someone’s opinion. In the second case, I do not have any practical task, but I feel a certain emotional need to share something with someone.
If we’re talking about functional tasks, there are three types of task which can be solved through social networks, and they are divided into three groups:
● Employing one’s own social capital and posting questions or requests on their personal profile
● Turning to an existing community to ask questions on a public page or forum
● Creating a community representing a local group
As for the emotional requirement, this can also have three types:
● Emotional response
● Collective action
Despite the need for interaction of each user, all the types of collaboration described above are clearly not communities.
In the study, we determined that a community has four basic attributes:
A community must have values, they may not be articulated, or prescribed as a mission in the community or somewhere else, but these values are shared by all the participants of this community. Values in the community are realized through a series of practices or rituals, and are backed up by certain symbolic or physical attributes. A community is also distinguished by its own language/terminology/slang.
What else did we learn about communities on VKontakte?
First of all, public pages or communities on VKontakte are not communities in the classic sense of this word, but may be called media, a channel where a group of people publish content and thousands consume it. In modern Internet studies, a society is not only seen as an association of people with common interests, but also as a space of collective practices, where people interact, with certain stable horizontal ties between people, which make it possible to get a sense of community.
In our study, we were guided by the work by McMillan and Chavis, “Sense of Community”, The definition contained in this work is often used as one of the techniques of social work and city community building. They listed four elements that make up a sense of community.
The first element is membership, a feeling of belonging, personal interests, a feeling of emotional security and the existence of a symbolic system. It is important that people understand the system of values and ideas that are present here, so that people can identify one other and take part in certain collective actions.
Influence – the members of the community must feel that they influence what happens in the group, and that the group influences the members of this community. A certain unity takes place.
Integration and Fulfillment of needs – I must understand that I will receive some benefit here, and be rewarded for participation.
Shared emotional connection – This concerns the modification and history of the community, collective experience, emotional contact and solidarity.
These criteria distinguish an ordinary public group or channel from a community which can realize its own standards and values, influencing what goes on around it. If we are talking about this in the context or marketing and branding, communities do not gather around brands, but around the benefit that people may bring to each other and society as a whole. At present, with the social situation the way it is, the social context becomes relevant, with the need for mutual assistance and mutual support. If we understand that there are certain interest groups, they may be transformed into a community as whole, if an idea appears which can bring these people together, to inspire a feeling of solidarity. This now seems to be more important than ever before.
2. Methodological approach to working with communities
Asya Repreva, community marketing expert
As was said earlier, a community is not subscribers on social networks and not the people on your mailing list. Social networks and mailing lists are just a communication channel.
Before building a community, you must ask yourself what tasks you intend to solve with the community. Very often, it is quicker and cheaper to solve these tasks using other tools, because building a community is not only expensive, but also labor-intensive.
Determine your business, marketing and communications goals. If we realize that we do not have no tools to achieve these goals besides building a community, then this is what we must do, but if we realize that there are any other tools, it is best to try them.
It takes an average of about three years to build a community. The first year involves active work, and the community begins to function stably, and after a year full results are noticeable. In the second year the risk arises that people will start to leave. There may either be a drop in activity, the community may collapse entirely, or people may leave and create their own sub-communities.
A community is a group of people who first of all identify themselves as being involved in the community. They have a common identity, common values and a common task, which they need to join together to solve.
The community differs from all types of marketing activity in that its main task is to create and support horizontal interaction between people. And you, as a leader, company or client, become the creator of an infrastructure to establish these horizontal ties, by planning online and offline activities.
Why business may need a community:
● Advantage on a competitive market / USP;
● Brand lawyers in a crisis / ambassadors / grapevine;
● Resources: acquaintance, sponsorship, partnerships, investments, consulting, team;
● Less PR work required;
● Acceleration of sales cycle;
● Launch of new products;
● Personal growth of specific person/founder;
● Testers and critics;
● Moderating (no need to hire specialists);
● Assistance for service support;
● Offline/online volunteers
However, we shouldn’t forget that a community exists stably and develops only when it primarily solves the tasks of members of this community (and not the tasks of the business around which it was created). Below we give several reasons for which people may be interested in joining a community and contributing to it:
● Finding like-minded people
● Involvement in a big idea
● Portfolio / knowledge and skills.
● Creativity, realization, hobbies.
● A feeling of being needed.
● To be heard and have attention.
● Fame, recognition, renown.
● Power and responsibility.
● Support and belief.
● PR of their project
● Money / investor.
At the very beginning it is very important to match the needs of a member of the potential community with the types of activity that already exist or may be initiated by business. If these factors do not match up, then perhaps the community is not the most suitable tool for your marketing, as it will not last for long if it does not satisfy members’ needs. You will simply end up waste energy and money.
What types of communities are there?
Communities can be divided by their most basic feature into fee-based and free, which you can simply join by filling out a form or through a recommendation, by clicking on a box on a website, or when you by an item and become a club member Accordingly, there are many mechanisms for joining a community. The most important thing is that at a certain moment people understand that they are a part of this community.
Communities may be divided into communities outside a company and inside a company – these are corporate communities. Communities may also differ by their type of access and may also be open or closed.
As for the types of communities, here we will look more closely at both external communities and internal corporate communities:
—brand, structure-divisions, profession, hobbies (Book club at VkusVill)
— Client: brand/product (Sekta)
— Professionals: partners, experts, colleagues (Association of managers of Russia)
views/ideology (feminist community, religious, Stay Hungry, Ping-Pong Club Moscow)
location (district: Sokol and Airport)
problem (Club.forbes.ru, parents of children with cerebral palsy, urban planning)
hobbies (Sport marathon outdoor enthusiasts, Beatles fans)
I would like to conclude by reminding you once again: building and developing a community takes a great deal of work. To avoid wasting resources and money, you must have a clear idea as to why you are creating the community, what business tasks it solves, and why exactly people will feel the need to join this community. It is also very important to be able to distinguish a community from an audience based around a brand, and not mistake the former for the latter.