“A network (Van Dijk, 2012) is a collection of links between elements of a unit. Two key factors of a network are elements and links that shape a complete network.” In Computer Science, a network is defined as a group of two or more computer systems linked together. A social network is a computer network that connects people or organizations. (Garton, Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 2006)
* Video: A (Very) Short History of Networking https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=We7dhi878uI
“An online community (Wikipedia) is a virtual community whose members interact with each other primarily via the Internet.” Social Networks emphasize the nodes and connections between the nodes, while online community gives extra weight to community, whose members share the same geographical place, cultural background, interests or believe.
Early studies of Online Community believe the offline behaviors are very important factors to online communication (Haythornthwaite & Wellman 1998). They argued how strong the offline ties determine how frequent the online communications are.
Further studies saw “the geographical place and offline social world of the users as an extremely important consideration in their attempts to understand the use of the Internet (Miller & Slater 2001:21).” According to Miller and Salter, different users value the Internet from different perspectives, which depend on the context of the people who use the Internet.
The concept of “cultural intimacy”, introduced by Michael Herzfeld (1997), pointed out that strangers but who are from similar cultural backgrounds find it is easy to communicate with each other.
Hinton and Hjorth (2013) also state that some social network sites are different from others since the users’ identities can be shown through them. For example, LinkedIn is designed for professionals to connect with each other, which is quite distinct from Facebook.
Actually, there are quite a lot of social network platforms based on the concept “Online Community”. I used to work in a Japanese advertising company, which is aiming to spread Japanese culture to the world. When I was working there, I followed a project named World Manga Academy, which is a platform for sharing manga drawing tutorials. All the users are artists/drawers keen on Japanese manga. They share, learn and communicate on this site by sharing drawing skills. On the site, they are more like a family. If someone has a question about any drawing technique, by simply posting it on the forum, there would be many people to answer this question. This is really a good example of an online community. The Japanese animation fans are all around the world now and this community has broken the geographic borders already.
Voluncation Online Community
The social media campaign project I am working on in this semester is for Voluncation, which is a volunteering information sharing platform. The target audience of this site is young and well educated Chinese, who are willing to travel abroad to experience some meaningful journeys.
At the very beginning, we will build up the information sharing platform for our users, in order to help them develop their own networks on our site. Our users can post blogs, rate the programs, comment, add friends and send messages to their friends on Voluncation.
The most important thing is that all of our users share the same cultural background—Chinese, although some areas may be a bit different from others. They also share the same interest and similar mind, which are willing to help others and explore abroad. According to the concept of “Online Community”, the users on our site will be more likely to form an online community, which means their online communication would be very active and users would be more engaged on our site.
All the series of campaigns we will conduct are aiming to form an online community of voluntourists. We will encourage them to post their own stories on the forum and promote some good ones to gain more comments. Moreover, we will also share useful and interesting information about volunteering work and tourism to provide the common information background for our users. The last but not least, we will emphasize the feelings of helping others and enjoying the exotic trips to arouse the echo of our users. It’s easy to conduct activities and get interaction among community members who share the similar minds.
After the Voluncation community formed, there will be strong cohesion among the members. Once they got any news about volunteering, they will come to our site to share with their friends and get feedbacks. Or if they need any information, they will ask the other members for it. After a while, they will develop the habit to check the site every day just to say hi to friends or share some other daily updates, like on Facebook. However, the difference of it from Facebook is that people around are all same-minded and can understand them. So our users would like to be more active on our site than other social network pages.
Along the rising of Internet, social networks and online community are getting increasingly popular. Online communities are not restricted by the geographical factor but formed based on interests. People would like to spend more time on the things they are interested in and eventually more online communities will come out. By building up and exploring an online community, I hope my work will contribute to both academic research and digital marketing industry as a reference.
For academic research, my work could be a practical experiment in the real industry. We can monitor the interactions between our users to see how they communicate with each other. It’s also possible to gather more data and details about online community, which could be useful for academic analytics. It will contribute for observing the difference between various online communities as well.
For digital marketing industry, my work could be a trial campaign as a reference. Here are some suggestions that are generated during conducting the campaigns of Voluncation.
> The specific online community would only attract and stick the similar-minded users. However, it still would be a huge success if we could attract most people in the same group. A niche market (Britten, 2006) may seem very small, but it is actually a big market based on a huge population.
> To understand the members of an online community, we should think, act and experience from their perspectives. We will never understand them until we become one of them. The point is that even we could be one of them, we still can’t fully understand all of the users. We can only try to figure out what are their true demands and achieve some of the important ones step by step.
> The selection of approaching platform is crucial as well. By studying the user behaviors, we should find out the most effective platform for the campaign delivery. A comprehensive market research or survey is helpful to study the user behaviors. By conducting a market research/survey, we can also understand other needs of the users. A good market research can always surprise us and give us some new ideas about the platform options and the campaign contents.
> The contents of the campaigns are the essential part of the communication with our users. We have to make sure the diversity of the contents to attract new users and preserve the old users, such as videos, tons of images, polls and so on. Meanwhile, we have to monitor and analyze the campaigns and change the campaign plan accordingly, to make sure positive outcomes of the campaigns and generate more good ideas.
By discussing the difference between Social Networks and Online Community, I explained why Voluncation—the Chinese volunteering platform, would like to build up an online community for its branding and marketing. Providing some practical suggestions of conducting the social media campaigns, I hope my work could be a reference to Online Community study for academic research and digital marketing industry.
Van, Dijk (2012). The network society (3rd ed.). London; Thousand Oaks, Calif.
N. (2014). A (Very) Short History of Networking. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=We7dhi878uI
Online Community FAQ and Answers. (2011). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://rydermedia.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/online-community-faq-and-answers/
Haythornthwaite, C. & Wellman, B. (1998). Work, friendship, and media use for information exchange in a networked organization. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 49 (12), 1101-1114
Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media. P32-54.
World Manga Academy. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://worldmangaacademy.com/
Britten, F. (2006) New meaning for the term niche market. Retrieved April 22, 2016