Humans are social beings so it is only natural that digital mediums would attempt to reflect that primordial desire for community. Social media has taken some steps towards mimicking authentic community, but with some gaping holes that are becoming hard to ignore. Much of this has to do with the commercial model that extracts the value created by individuals on social media to enrich a few private stakeholders. Though many of us have a love/hate relationship with social media, we must remind ourselves that what we have now are still the earliest iterations of this medium and the future holds endless possibilities for improvement.
Digital Platforms need to model organic human interactions first and business models second, not the other way around…
I am co-founder of Unify, a popular Facebook Page and global community. I was Social Media Lead for 6 years and had the pleasure of helping to innovate on the platform while learning various ways to organize campaigns, communicate, and educate. I also made friends with other creative individuals who were also growing their brands like Collective Evolution, The Mind Unleashed, Truth Theory, Prince Ea, Sustainable Human, and Minds among others. It was beautiful at the beginning because there was a shared desire to inspire with many of the admins and bloggers eager to collaborate and share their knowledge. Over time I also began to see the limitations of the platform as I watched Facebook evolve.
This led to many conversations about where things are going as well as long threads of disgruntled individuals lamenting that Facebook ain’t what it used to be. In these various inspired conversations, a movement began to blossom with leaders in the field envisioning new ways to build social media platforms. With so many inspired ideas emerging, there was a common denominator in regard to the issue of mass adoption. Everyone is on Facebook, many would love something new and better but which one to choose and what will it take to get everyone else on that platform? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here…
Humble Beginnings: At the dawn of the internet in the early 1990’s came the first websites, two short decades later there are 1.6 B websites globally according to Netcraft and Internetlivestats. It has now become obligatory for businesses, organizations and individuals to have a website, which serves as a calling card, a brochure, a resume, or a place to send people who want to know more about you and your brand. Statistics show that most people only go to your website once to learn what they need to about you, and rarely come back… Unless of course you build in a reason for them to. This was the dawn of Web 2.0, social media, blogs, and a more interactive web environment. By building a sort of “community hub” people can come and go while adding and receiving value.
The Facebook Proposition: Facebook was the first, and remains the largest social media platform to fulfill this next evolutionary step of the online commons. Many feel that it has been a bait-and-switch. Facebook encouraged people to bring their fans, clients, and community to the platform but over time they have made it so that Fan Pages have to pay for advertisements so that their audience sees their posts. Personal data is extracted, political groups like the Atlantic Council now censor what we see, and large corporations use their advertising dollars to populate our feeds. The algorithm is secret and always changing which makes Facebook an unstable and unpredictable place to build a business or grow a community.
For all the emerging problems, Facebook has been and remains one of the best options currently… but that is all about to change!
A Fragmented Landscape: Third-party social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and LinkedIn help individuals, brands, and communities achieve engagement. Yet because of the business model driving these platforms, they want to keep you on their platform with their branding and subject you to whatever suits their financial (and sometimes political) interests. For example we recently saw a Facebook purge where pages that had built millions of followers were deleted without notice or recourse. We have seen shadow-banning on Youtube and Twitter. Though a well-managed social media account can be a very viable broadcast mechanism, it can also be very noisy and fragmented while leaving the end user, and content contributors at the mercy of these giant corporations.
What is Missing? A community is supposed to benefit everyone who contributes to it. The real value on a platform like Facebook is created by everyone who uploads their photos, videos, and blogs yet all the profits are siphoned off at the top. Of course there is enormous expense and infrastructure for Facebook to maintain, yet the user-agreement still continues to feel more like exploitation, than a reciprocal exchange. As shareholders push for greater quarterly profits the user-experience begins to degrade, the initial excitement fades and one is left feeling like the thrill is gone.
Conversations Lead to Collaborations: Many individuals have been working to evolve what is possible for social media. In these conversations an idea has emerged to integrate multiple platforms in a seamless way. Denise Hayman-Loa is CEO of Carii, Inc. a robust social media platform solution that creates dynamic branded digital community ecosystems. With over 34 years of business strategy, entrepreneurship, client facing and management experience in technology and financial services, Denise is a wealth of inspiration. Together we co-authored this article.
The Solution: A fully integrated social community platform that allows for customized branding, a robust set of tools, affiliate-based networks, focused engagement, and interoperability with other social networks. This allows for organic, and distributed communities of individuals to maintain their sovereign data while engaging directly with each other on topics that they are passionate about. By not relying on the traditional advertisement model to sustain itself, users enjoy the freedom to brand their pages/accounts however they like, post to their own networks, or to other social media platforms and host conversations on their own terms. Thought-leaders and contributors should naturally be elevated within social ecosystems rather than having to pay to access their own audiences. Much of this is possible by making a paradigm leap in our understanding of what an online community is.
The Evolution of Online Communities: The definition of community certainly means different things to different people and not everyone has the same understanding, but the medium/platform used has a great deal of influence over how a person can gain value within an online community. Community can be defined as people who are connected by a common purpose or interest, and who will commit time to communicate and engage meaningfully around that purpose.
When you have an organic community with shared values you shouldn’t need to pay to advertise to that community every time you have a campaign, initiative, fundraiser, a new product idea, or community project. Algorithms shouldn’t be tweaked to please advertisers, or censors with private interests. They should be used to leverage the voice, contributions, and value created by the community as a whole without the noise we have come to associate with Facebook.
Imagine an interactive website with tools similar to Wordpress PLUS a robust set of tools that is completely integrated and customizable to fit your community or brand. This is community based on sovereign individuals contributing to a network built on a distributed and reciprocal exchange of value. Permission-based data capture and other revenue models can eliminate the clutter created by ads and sponsored content.
Mass Adoption: By changing the underlying paradigm and business model new social media platforms have more leverage to innovate unrestrained. For example, Carii has built in the ability to share out to various external social media from within their platform. These posts can pull people into your branded website which is literally built on top of the Carii social network platform. It is fully integrated with your website and interoperable with multiple other social media platforms which turns a traditionally competitive model into a collaborative one. As digital social networks begin to more closely resemble organic human relationships, we will see the concepts of reciprocity, more fairly distributed value, and less exploitation by an all-powerful, often invisible third-party that can change the rules on a whim.
Back to the Roots: Humans are historically drawn to community for shared support, for cross-pollination of ideas, for safety, not to be exploited, or trampled by bullies. Just as I witnessed in the early days of Facebook with other page admins, people prefer to lift each other up in a cooperative way rather than engage in cut-throat competition. As the newer, smaller social media platforms emerge, each with their own innovations, they will benefit each other to allow interoperability that benefits the end user rather than merely the platform owner and large advertisers. It is through the honoring of sovereign data, and the sanctity of the individual that we can truly engage in the greater community.
Whether you are a company, a nonprofit, an activist, social movement, political candidate, creative media producer, blogger, or musician you will benefit by creating a community that is branded, easy to engage with, and less noisy than the current options. If you are developing your own social media platform, or community, I would love to hear from you! This is an invitation to dream, collaborate, and build something better. This is the evolution of an idea in motion. This opportunity to participate in an open exchange where each contributor is respected and valued is what makes a community authentic.
*Find other writings by me at my Medium Profile or at my Facebook Authors Page*