The terms social network and online community are sometimes used interchangeably. While they are certainly related, and can even overlap, they are not the same. It’s useful to know the difference, especially when allocating your time and resources to building an online presence.
An online Social Network is a forum for individuals to connect and interact. Facebook comes to mind. Many people on Facebook mostly view the posts of others, and simply “like” or “share” others posts and that’s OK. Participate as you want, send funny cat photos, and it’s OK, because how and when you interact is entirely personal.
Online Communities, however, connect you to others with whom you share a common purpose. It could be a trade association, a charitable foundation, a quilting club, etc. There’s a specific reason to be a member, and the community is built around that reason. I’ve started doing a few videos, and I now belong to an online special interest group on Screencasting. It’s an Online Community not of people I work with or know, but people who all have a single common interest.
My brother and I are connected in Social Networking on the internet via Facebook, but understandably, he is not at all interested in my Online Community. On the other hand, if I needed to inquire about a kitchen design matter, I’d check the many online industry websites, and maybe go to LinkedIn, but I probably wouldn’t even consider Facebook.
What’s important from a marketing perspective, is knowing how to utilize Social Networking and Online Communities as part of a strategic marketing plan. Both are important. Social Networking helps keep your name and presence visible to a wide audience. Nurturing and building your online presence through Social Networking is critical. That means contributing regularly through your personal selection of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Houzz, and other platforms.
Similarly, your connection to the business-related Online Community needs to be purposeful. These are your like-minded business sources. It’s here where you’ll discover trends, learn from cohorts (just as they will learn from you), grow professionally, and search out new business opportunities. Don’t neglect this part of your marketing plan.
It’s worth noting that Facebook has grown beyond just a site for staying connected with friends and relatives, and sharing photos. Facebook now has business pages. Also, you can set up separate “Groups” under your existing Facebook account for friends who share a specific interest. Sounds like an Online Community, right? In my case, I created a separate business group for my Facebook friends with whom I have industry connections. Facebook is also jumping into the search engine world so they’re planning on becoming more searchable themselves. And of course, there are Pinterest, Houzz, Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, and more. It can be overwhelming. Prioritize your Social Networking based on your business needs. For example, designers should find a stronger business connection with Pinterest and Houzz than with Instagram or Tumbler.
Make a plan. There are many paths to online success in the design business, but the least likely one is wandering around aimlessly.
Art Johnson MBA, is a writer, speaker, trainer and social media marketing professional with broad experience in the appliance industry. Art may be reached at Johnson.firstname.lastname@example.org