Is Your Social Network an Online Community or Club?

Successful social networking depends upon a number of factors, with your personality, values, and beliefs being some of the more highly relevant ones.

Social media is social, and that means your personal values and beliefs will eventually be expressed, whether that is intentional or not.

Knowing that most people are looking for agreement in social situations, there is an important question that many of us have considered. Should we express our personal beliefs when you know they may be controversial?

The answer is it depends. Notwithstanding personal consequences, the effects on your business could be either favorable or unfavorable.

In most situations, leading with purpose is better than trying to be all things to all people. So, the challenge is determining if taking a wider or narrower view is better for your business.

Clubs are Smaller and Exclusive

Several of my friends take very strong and controversial positions online that effectively exclude the views of others. There is nothing right or wrong with this, but it does have consequences.

If your business is selling high dollar items for a limited demographic, then a strategy of exclusivity may be the right one. Exclusion tends to narrowly define a group, thereby giving it an identity that is congruent with all of its members.

As a result, it is easier to know precisely what this group values, and your business can command a higher price by creating products and services that are uniquely desired by them.

If this is how you operate, your market is best defined as a club, one whose value is derived by exclusion of others who do not share their predominant values or beliefs. Think of a golf club. Some consider golf to be a complete waste of time, while advocates believe it is the ultimate social activity.

Communities are Larger and Inclusive

Communities by definition exist to equally serve the needs of everyone within them. Social media in general tends to encourage this inclusiveness. Is this right for your business?

A larger community may be more beneficial to your company if it can easily grow and scale to accommodate additional business. For small businesses, this requires strategically planning for growth and having systems in place should it arrive ahead of schedule.

When my new book comes out in March 2013 I want to reach every possible mainstream small to medium sized business. That’s a lot of businesses, but the proven marketing and distribution capabilities of my publisher Wiley are in place to handled the unexpected – something that I am indeed planning on.

A book is a item with a low price point that nevertheless is designed to serve the needs of a specific audience. In this situation, that audience is inclusive of a range of industries, all of which share many of the same challenges and opportunities.

The Best Online Communities are Hybrids

Trying to be all things to all people is a surefire way to fail because then you have nothing distinctive to offer.

Thus, you need to define your community to achieve the optimal degree of exclusivity and inclusiveness. It’s a balancing act. Start by excluding people with your community guidelines.

The more I work with social media the more clear I am about what I will and not do. You will need to determine what that is for you and your team in order to accomplish your objectives.

One suggestion is you can and should take a slightly different approach for your respective media channels. For example, your newsletter may be a club, while your blog that feeds subscribers to your exclusive newsletter may nevertheless be a community.

People tend to come and go as they please within communities, so the growth is fluid and organic. Whereas, clubs grow progressively because membership tends to be stable. People tend not to leave clubs.

The best approach is often one that combines the benefits of both to achieve a digital media channel for your business that concurrently builds growth while sustaining earned loyalty.

What’s your approach? Club, community, or hybrid?

Leave a comment below and share this with your community.

Until next time, Jeff

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