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Are social media platforms a good place for community building?

I talk a lot about why I choose to build community in all-in-one platforms. But can a social media platform be a good place to build community? Yes and no.

In a LinkedIn post, I asked for feedback from my audience about why we build on social media platforms. The data was interesting, but the comments were even more telling.

A few insights that stuck out to me:

  • We are afraid to rock the boat. If it ain't horribly broken, why make a change?

  • Good marketing goes to where people are.

  • There's still a lot of uncertainty around these all-in-one platforms. Do they actually make the experience for the community better?

Jill Goldenziel summarized it perfectly:

"People build community 1) where they can, and 2) where it converts. If social media meets those needs, no need to go elsewhere! But a deeper, more intimate community experience can only be found on platforms that have better functionality to actually facilitate building real relationships."

Here's my 🔥 take

Yes, a social media platform like LinkedIn, Twitter, FB, or IG is a fantastic place to find new community members. It's also possible to build a thriving community on social media platform, but I wouldn't say it's easy.

No, a social media platform is not the best place to host and foster a tight-knit community of people aligned on similar values, interests, or ambitions anymore (it used to be).

Let’s dig in.

I cut my community teeth in the era of The Facebook Group. When I built my first brand community there was one “affordable” all-in-one community platform option on the market and it was unimpressive to say the least. At the time, building your private online community on a social media platform was really the best option because:

  • There were no sleek, affordable, simple community platforms out there.

  • People were hesitant to join a community that made them create and engage in an unfamiliar or untrusted platform.

  • We were all conditioned to value building an audience over fostering a community.

Fast forward to today and each of these reasons has changed and will continue to change over the next decade. I compare where we are today with community platforms to two significant shifts in our cultural behavior towards the internet: 1) when people stopped being afraid of entering their credit card information on the internet and 2) when people started paying for apps on their phone.

Can you create a free version of your app? Yes.

Do you need to have a free app in order for your product to be successful? No. Not anymore.

Can you build your community on a social media platform? Yes.

Do you need to build your community on a social media platform in order for it to be successful? No. Not anymore.

In fact, I would argue quite the opposite. Here's why.

Availability of community platforms and tools

I dedicate vast amounts of energy to monitoring the market for all-in-one community platforms like Circle and Heartbeat. There are new platforms popping up every quarter, the competition is fierce, and the features keep getting better and better. If you’re looking for one place to host content, conversation, and events for your community, we now have options available to us.

If you're struggling to visualize how these all-in-one platforms work, check out communities like The Soapbox Project on Circle, Caveday on Circle, or TOGKnowledge on Heartbeat.

Just because there's no tension today, doesn't mean it's the best home for tomorrow

First of all, just because you can't see any tension doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The best thing to do is ASK your community. Do a poll! Ask: what if we moved this community to a different home off FB?

  • Please no! I hate change and things are great as they are

  • Please yes! I've been trying to spend less time on FB

  • I'd be open to learning more before I decide

We don't know what we don't know. And your community members especially don't know. Even if your community is content on the platform and stick around today, what if moving to a new, better platform could create the value they need to renew a year from now?

Community isn't marketing

You might market your community (I hope you do!), but community is not the same as marketing. While good marketing goes to where people already are, good community invites members into an intimate, thoughtfully designed gathering place where connection and belonging can thrive.

This is not: build it and they will come. If you are asking a lot from your members by moving your community off of social media (create a new log in and learn a new platform), it's got to be a pretty good deal for them.

People are willing to enter a new digital landscape for a valuable experience.

There was a time where the general public was hesitant to create any new accounts and engage in a platform that was unfamiliar to them. As the technology has evolved, our collective confidence has grown. People are way more willing to enter a new digital territory if they believe they will find value there.

In fact, they are more often looking for ways to get off of or lessen their time on social media than seeking new opportunities on those existing platforms.

The world is shifting from an audience-centric to community-centric strategy.

Because the digital landscape has been dominated by social media platforms where the algorithm-defined value of content came from the volume of your following and reactions, it’s understandable that these platforms conditioned us and our members to value speaking to an audience over fostering a community (which, btw, your audience is not your community).

I'm not saying you CAN'T create community on a social media platform, but I AM saying ] these platforms were built for audience and volume, not community and connection. Just because there are community features available doesn't mean you're not ultimately building on a platform that rewards audience-type behavior, not community-type behavior.

But the public perspective on social media is slowly shifting. I believe this is in large part due to the statistics on anxiety and depression and their correlation to the use of social media. There is a small but growing movement to use technology to build more intimate spaces that foster the connection and belonging we all hoped social media could facilitate (but didn’t).

Social Media Platforms are still fantastic for finding members

While I believe the majority of our energy should go towards building private communities, building an audience is still important for all the reasons that businesses have social media accounts across the board. Creating awareness for why people are gathering in your community and who your community is for is critical for attracting the members who will make your community that much better. Sharing content or events on social media is a great way to stir up interest and curiosity and lead people into a more private experience.

Where we're headed

The future of community building is happening in all-in-one private online communities and one great strategy for finding new members is through your social media platform of choice. Finding the right time to migrate your community is never easy. I have another post coming soon on: "When's the right time to migrate my FB Group to an all-in-one platform?" Make sure you subscribe for a monthly roundup of all content coming out of Ember below so you don't miss it!

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And if you’re curious about what it takes to move your community into an exclusive community space, book a discovery call today!


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