This article will discuss the concept of networked communities which it has become an essential part of social media studies in recent years. Since we have stepped into the era of digital media, it is noticeable that the way we connect with each other has been more convenient and ubiquitous than ever before thanks to the affordance and rapid development of technology. In this aspect, the concept of networked community arises as it is beginning to penetrate into people’s day-to-day life.
To start with this concept, Howard Rheingold addresses the term virtual community by “focusing on online communities as a social phenomenon capable of modifying how people interact in society” (1993, cited in Iriberri&Leroy, 2009, p.6) in his book. The definition of networked communities varies from different scholars, particularly according to Pearce, he refers this concept to “a group of individuals who engage in a process of collective learning and maintain a common identity defined by a share domain of interest of activity” (2009, cited in Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p.8). Briefly these communities are a group of people who share similar interest and have emotional connections with a sense of membership to interact with each other.
Although the term—networked communities seems to be more related to online issue, the importance of offline factors should not be neglected while there are a number of scholars have shifted their emphasis on the connectedness between offline and its counterpart. In particular, Wellman points out that offline factors have a significant role in online communication, people tend to communicate more on the internet if they have an intimate and strong offline network. Through the process of shaping and being shared by cultural context, online experiences are rooted deeply in offline world settings, that is to say, what happen in the real world can mostly account for all sorts of things happening online. As Miller and Slater focus their study on online behaviours of Trinidadians, they find that the reason why Trinidad residents go online is simply because of their identity—being Trinidadian, what’s more, the internet creates an online space for them to be part of the Trinidadian community where it is being socially constructed throughout the process (Hinton&Hjorth, 2013). Therefore, marketers can take advantage of the offline factors to help promote the social media campaign.
Take an existing business entity—Cupcake Central as an example, it strategically creates an online community through various online platforms from which 30 per cent of its sales are directly collected. Its online success cannot achieve without the offline factors, as we can see from its website, it organizes several offline activities to support its online business, such as setting up regularly cupcake workshops for those who loves baking yet don’t know how to bake, meanwhile uploading a few videos on Youtube about baking for users so that they can enjoy free tutorial virtual class online, which has greatly enhances user’s attachment and their loyalty toward this baking brand both online and offline.
Cupcake Central YouTube webpage: teaching baking-lover how to bake
In terms of how to make and maintain a community, Hinton and Hjorth (2013) assert that it is social capital that can contribute to running for a sustainable and firm community. In their book, they reflect the studies of Pierre Bourdieu, James Coleman, Robert Putnam and Ellison et al., to name a few. For instance, they address Parks’ finding with his study on MySpace, pointing out that people use this network site so as to maintain their existing offline network since their friends o to online are somehow living within a relatively small geographical distance from themselves, consequently their preference of being online is merely because their friends are online as well and they want to be connected with their friends so as to construct their social networked circle. The value of people’s social capital is so big that reminds marketers the fact that they should consider the playing role of social capital when designing a social media campaign for its sake.
Virgin Mobile Australia launched its #mealforameal campaign several years ago, its initiative was to encourage mobile phone users to take a photo of their meal and post it on social media channels with the hashtag #mealforameal, in return Virgin Mobile will donate a real meal to OzHarvest, an organization for redistributing excess food for those in need. The figure showed that nearly 150,000 meals were delivered thanks to users’ active participation (2014). Because of the ubiquitous mobile technology, it becomes a common practice for people taking pictures anytime and anywhere, in fact taking picture of food has become one of the popular daily routines for many people. We can see from this campaign it fully taps into this trend and utilises people’s social network—a typical form of social capital to spread this campaign, therefore users can achieve social benefit and bring common good for the society, which I think it’s the key factor accounting for the success of this campaign.
#mealforameal social media campaign
Regrading to the social media campaign, its design is similar to the #foodiechats which aiming to build an online foodie community over social media platforms globally. The recent figures show that there are over 15 million timeline deliveries on every Monday night and it has attracted 42,400 followers on twitter so far (2015). Ever since we have embraced all kinds of social media coming into our lives, we have to admit that we are now living with the always-on lifestyle at the same time. As Boyd asserts that “Being always-on is not just about consumption and production of content but also about creating an ecosystem in which people can stay peripherally connected to one another through a variety of microdata” (2012, p.73), people’s desire to connect with their friends and family can account for why they would like to take a photo of food when on table. Apart from gaining instant gratification when they are posting photos online, this sharing behaviour also relatively helps to enhance their experience while eating, talking and interacting with people even though they cannot see them face-to-face. In other words, sharing their photos online can convey their presence and state of mind among their networked communities. In order to achieve better outcome, my design campaign is targeting at a group of customers who are young and middle-aged Asian as they are active internet users and more likely to share photos with their friends at leisure. They are a group of users who are more willing to stay connected to maintain their presence among these networked communities than other age group.
After launching the social media campaign, there are a certain issues that need be improved to make sure the campaign can achieve a better result. The lack of emphasis on managing users’ sense of community is worth discussing in this article, according to Blanchard and Markus (2004), marketers can make an effort to engage with the individuals from their communities correspondently by rewarding members’ contribution and acknowledging their identity and legitimacy. Granted that, #mydimsumstory campaign can set up a membership mechanism and a bunch of activities both online and offline so as to make member feel more enthusiastic to fully take part in the community. By doing so, hopefully we can see a certain positive effect for the upcoming months.
Blanchard, A. L., & Markus, M. L. (2004). The experienced “sense” of a virtual community: Characteristics and processes. Data Base for Advances in Information Systems, 35(1), 65-78.
Boyd, D. (2012). Participating in the Always-On Lifestyle. In M. Mandiberg (Ed.), The Social Media Reader (pp. 71-76). New York: New York University Press.
#Foodiechats Twitter Stats (2015) Retrieved from http://foodiechats.com/stats/
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Social Network Sites. In Understanding Social Media. (pp. 32 – 54). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Iriberri, A. & Leroy, G. (2009). A life-cycle perspective on online community success. ACM Computer Survey, 41(11), 1-29. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/ 1459352.1459356
Move over #foodporn, there’s a new hashtag in town! (2014, July 14) Retrieved from http://www.ozharvest.org/news/move-foodporn-theres-new-hashtag-town/