It is a truth universally acknowledged, that people coming together and building a community can have a lot of power. For a long time, communities have only been active in the real-world, far away from Alternative Media. They came together for a common purpose and often tried to create something new.
Startin with ‘Offline’ Communities,one example can be found in Eastern Germany, before 1990: Thousands of citizens of the German Democratic Republic lit candles and marched peacefully on every Monday starting on September 4, 1989, claiming “Wir sind das Volk!” (We are the people!). These demonstrations were an important part of the Peaceful Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Another, more recent example comes from Manchester, UK, where locals created the Hyde Park Community Orchard (watch their 4-minute video here). Several subgroups are integrated in this project. At the “Operation Farm“, School classes are planting trees, sowing seeds and, in the end, harvesting the fruits of their work. In the “The Plant Café”, people with learning disabilities can take lessons in handcrafting and healthy lifestyle. The Orchard is a powerful place for connecting several generations. Trust, interest in others and having fun are essential pillars for this undertaking.
With the rise of Alternative Media, communities began to appear online and spread very fast. Look at Karen Parles who set up a comprehensive online resource on lung cancer for both, patients and professionals. She connected concerned people and gave them something extremely powerful: hope. This single website advanced the whole field of lung cancer.
An additional example is Trip Advisor, an online platform where everyone can rate and review the places he or she has used or visited. Based on those reviews, others decide where to go on their next trip. The platform targets the “long-tail” and the online users can both, highly praising a certain hotel and boosting sales, and disparaging another one and ruining it. Thus, they have an enormous impact on offline behavior.
The New Mix: Offline and Online
Recently, we can see a new emerging trend: Using online platforms to facilitate offline interaction. Meetup is the biggest network of local groups worldwide, with 11 million users and basically one meetup every 13 seconds (!). Everyone can find like-minded but unknown people with the same interests. Scott Heiferman, a co-founder of Meetup, said that 9/11 and how people connected with each other directly afterwards in NYC inspired him. He wanted to use his skills to help connecting with local communities. Now, Meetup is a successful website and without “artificial” help something very interesting happened: Local businesses began to contact local meetup groups, offering discounts for group members, which is an old but nevertheless lucrative marketing model.
Alternative and Social Media gave communities more and more power. We remember the impact of Twitter & co. in the Arab Spring, where young demonstrators used these online platforms to organize their resistance against the government. If we look back in time, we can only imagine how Social Media could have accelerated the Peaceful Revolution in Germany ’89.
By looking at these examples, it is obvious that companies have to pay attention to their customers goals in order to promote the development of a community. Leah Betancourt has collected several crucial points for creating community engagement and therefore profit for a company.