I’m realizing that there’s an irony in what those of us who spend our time shouting our “outlooks” to the rafters about the customer experience are doing. For the most part, we’re commenting on and chronicling what has been going on since the dawn of man. It’s called conversation. Most importantly, conversations at specific locations.
Of course, to belabor an obvious point, in the past, present, and future, those locations were, are, and will be marketplaces, homes, on the street, inside of other buildings almost any place that humans get together. When humans banded into groups of like interest or practice they formed organizations that effectively localized or focused conversation around those interests. So we saw investment clubs or book review groups or veterans halls or even stadia where people of mostly like mind get together for a short time. Think about it. The investment clubs are communities of interest those who are interested in figuring out what’s the best way to invest. The veterans’ halls are communities of practice those who fought in foreign wars. The stadia, which might host a baseball game for your community team (the Yankees, of course), are outcome-based communities. When the event is over, people of like mind disengage and go home. But they congregate for that time to achieve or observe that outcome.
In other words, what we’re going to discuss here was physical and “analog” long before it was web-based and digital. The conversations that go on in all these places are actually that: interactions and communications between people for some reason at a tangible location.
The online communities are dramatically transforming what defines a location, but they are also impacting the physical locations where we congregate.
Just So Ba-NAL, Dahling All You Dahlings
If this was 1990, and you made the oft-repeated comment, “This does nothing for me, ”that would have been a statement of purely personal expression. You would have gotten a nod of the head or perhaps a disgusted stare from one or two people who felt it did something for them and that’s pretty much it.
However, in the year you’re reading this (or 2525, according to Zagar and Evans), “does nothing for me” is social commentary that sets off alarms everywhere. Why? Because the customer is possibly telling that to thousands of people who actually listen to him.
In the present, the customer is willing to talk to people they don’t know without a second thought because the tools are so available. What makes this even more powerful and potentially dangerous is that they can easily find online locations teeming with citizens who might have generally similar interests and views or identical specific outlooks. For example, there are sites devoted to satellite TV with forums like Satellite TV Forum where you can vent about DirecTV or Dish Network.
You need to know what these things are, how the network works, who the influencers are within the network, and what you as a corporate mogul can do to involve your company and maybe even yourself in this conversation going on outside your corporate walls. That’s where the enterprise social network comes in for one part of the solution.
What Are Social Networks and Communities, for Real?
To get some idea of the definition of community, we’re heading back to the 1950s. So go buy yourself a chocolate malt, flip on some Elvis, slip on those white bucks, and pay attention.
In 1955, George Hillery, Jr., a professor of sociology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, took 94 sociological definitions of the term “community” and analyzed them. He found 16 common concepts within the 94 different characterizations. Interestingly, he found only one concept that was common among all 94 and that was the most obvious: they all involve people. That said, he found that “69 are in accord that social interaction, area, and a common tie or ties are commonly found in community life.”
Those common areas define communities today too. Most online communities are built around a location that gives a like-minded group of people a place to interact around their common interest. That would be a 95th definition. For the sake of easy sailing, I’m going to use “social networks” and “communities” more or less interchangeably.
Social networks exist indigenously. The primary difference between the current social networks and the traditional ones are that you don’t have to physically be in the presence of the other members or the key intersection points of the network (called nodes) to have an impact on the network. The new digital versions have other advantages. You can capture the data that is provided by the members’conversations. With the right tools, you can respond to the members’concerns, fears, disgust, or love, even if you had no idea that the member was conversing about it that day. You can uncover and analyze the conversation a lot easier than in the past. It’s no longer an issue of someone going behind other members’ or the network facilitator’s backs. All the information is right there for the picking. Transparency is the order of the day.
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