Tag Archives: community

starlings murmuration

Crowds, Individuals and Conformity

I’ve always been fascinated by crowds — how they form, why they form, what influences them, and what, in turn, they have the ability to influence. I’ve also always tried to differentiate between crowds and communities, the latter being a more “refined” version of a crowd. Communities have purpose, and common bonds that bind the individuals together. So when I came across a couple of choice documentaries recently, that explored the nature, and science, of crowd/community behavior (and what it means as an individual within a crowd or community) the questions started flying. Fast.

STARLINGS and MURMURATIONS

I came across a brilliant documentary by Marcus du Sautoy, part of the BBC’s “The Code” series, in which he mathematically explains the amazing”Black Sun” murmurations that starlings form every year on their annual migration. Watching tens of thousands, perhaps a hundred thousand or more, fly in seemingly random, yet fluid, ever-changing pattern was both amazing to watch, but it also begged the question “how”? It turns out, as Marcus, explains, that you can mathematically recreate a murmuration of starlings with three basic rules: all birds should fly at approximately the same speed, they should stay close to their neighbors, and they should avoid predators (danger).


If you follow these three simple rules, it turns out that each starling need only keep track of (be influenced by) their seven closest neighbors. And those seven neighbors are constantly changing as the murmuration morphs in flight.

Might not the same basic rules apply to human behavior and individuals within a community or crowd?

INDIVIDUALS and CONFORMITY

After watching the BBC documentary, I stumbled across a great show on the Discovery Channel – Head Games. In this particular episode, they were delving into the nature of human conformity – could they make people conform to a belief or behavior that they inherently knew was wrong or incorrect?

During their experiments, they were able to convince a group of individuals that a snake was sitting high up in a tree — so much so that these individuals went on to convince others that there was indeed a snake in the tree. They described its shape, its color, its movements. But there was no snake.

During a second test, they were able to get a group of people to follow a red line through a museum — even though the red line took them away from the main exhibits (at one point having them actually walk in a circle around a pole).

After digging a bit deeper, I came across a study referenced in Science Daily that demonstrated an innate predisposition in humans to need to conform, as well as a predisposition in certain people (based on the size of certain regions of the brain) to have a higher-than-normal tendency to need to conform. To belong. To be safe. In other words, to not stand out or put themselves at risk.

THE QUESTIONS

After viewing the videos, digging deeper into the “conformity predisposition” and tossing the ideas about, a series of questions began to take shape…

  • At what point, if ever, does a group of individuals become a crowd (with collective influence and behavior)?
  • Can a group influence you in the same way that an individual does? (Can they be one of your “7”)?
  • At what point does conformity override our individual opinions and actions?
  • At what point does a crowd attain the characteristics, and influence, of an individual (if ever)?
  • Does conformity result in a faster shift in our opinions? Or do we still focus on our closest friends to define our behavior?

If you have any answers, I’d love to hear them. Let’s compare some notes. I’m far from done with this subject.

Community

5 Elements of a True Community

CommunityEarlier this week, my good friend Margie Clayman wrote an excellent post titled “Myth: Community makes the world go round” – it’s well worth the read as she raises some interesting points regarding the real value of a business-built community, and its failures if it doesn’t lead to community members actually driving revenue for the business. There is a difference between a business “community” and a “loyal customer base”.

In her post, Margie asked a really good set of questions that got my interest:

What are your thoughts about community?

How do you define this word in regards to the online space?

I love the word community, although it gets tossed around almost as much as “engage” (a word that should only be used when discussing marriage, battle or a warp-drive command). But as I thought about Margie’s question, I realized that most people (there are some good exceptions) really can’t consider their online followers a community, rather they are mostly acquaintances with a few true friends tossed in for good measure.

More importantly…

I suspect that a relatively small % of a user’s follower base actually interact with each other

…something that I consider a core requirement for a community (interaction between the members).

Equally important, if most of the interaction in your online follower based is between YOU and your followers, what you have really created is an audience, not a community (not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely not a community).

The same is true for businesses – I don’t consider a group of loyal customers to be a community (no disrespect to people who create loyal consumers, but I use a Mac but don’t go out of my way to hang out with other Mac users or Apple employees – that said, there have been some phenomenal Jeep and Harley tribes that have formed on their own).

WHAT IS AN ONLINE COMMUNITY?

To me, an online community requires several key components:

  1. It needs to be generally self-forming and self-moderating,
  2. Its members must have a common interest(s) or cause(s) that ties them together (and be able to evolve as those interests and causes change over time),
  3. The overall community must have both a critical mass required to be effective yet not too many members that the size distracts from the operation or purpose of the community (which is one reason why you see solid communities often built as a collection of smaller tribes that interact),
  4. It has to be able to add/delete members as needed, and (most importantly)
  5. It has to generate something of perceived value to its members (which can also bring value to those outside of the community).

Within an online community, there are leaders and there are followers. There are those who are more influential than others, some in their ideas and leadership and some that provide the constant “spark of energy” to keep others engaged (both are equally important in a community).

ARE ONLINE AND OFFLINE COMMUNITIES REALLY THAT DIFFERENT?

Not surprisingly, this type of community isn’t unique and thrives in the offline world. Let me use my neighborhood as an example.

  • We all have a (mostly) common goal — living together, raising our families in a safe place, enjoying the company of others outside on a summer day — and we produce value for both ourselves and our children.
  • We “politely” speak to neighbors who step out of line now and then, and when a family moves away, we welcome in another. Over time, as our kids age, our interactions and goals will change/adapt as well.
  • Interestingly, as you move from our street down several blocks, the sense of community is a bit diminished (but only from our perspective) and there are certainly “tribes” within the community (that are sometimes location-based or friendship-based) but have significant areas of overlap and reinforce the feeling of community I have with neighbors who live several blocks away.
  • We have members within our community that help oversee our homeowners association, exerting one form of influence, and we have those that are always ready to help organize a neighborhood or community event, exerting a different aspect of influence.

In both the online and offline worlds, communities can exist within larger organizations, just as tribes can exist within larger communities. In business, communities can also exist within groups of loyal customers (think Apple). But it is very difficult in the business world to build a true community – that sense of purpose and self-determination typically can’t be created. Inspired? Yes. But created? No.

QUESTIONS FOR YOU

Do you think my definition of a community is valid? Or are there areas that you think I’ve missed or included that don’t really need to be there?

Do you think that the definition of community changes by industry or market sector?

What are some examples of successes AND failures that you’ve seen in businesses and the creation of communities?

ManOnBenchbyTravisNepSmith

Are We Ready to Add Cause to Social Check-Ins?

There was a time when the phrase “check-in” was associated with things like the front desk of a hotel, the ticket counter at an airport or the main entrance to a conference center (“gotta go check-in and pickup up my badge to show that I’m a speaker and didn’t actually have to pay to get in like everyone else…”).

But with the advent of social media and location-aware applications, the phrase “check-in” took on a totally new, and much simpler meaning: “I’m here”. And now, I believe, it’s meaning might be about to change yet again, from “I’m here” to “here’s why”.

The evolution of the social check-in

The social check-in has been around since before the days of the pony express – we used the available media to tell our friends and loved ones that we had arrived at a particular destination. We were not only there, but we wanted them to know we were safe. It was a basic, and necessary, part of life as the world expanded around us. But with the arrival of social media, businesses began to realize that the check-in could be something more – it could be entertaining, it could be fun, it could be competitive and it could drive business.

Companies like Foursquare, Shopkick and Facebook gamified it, made it competitive and engaging, turning it into something that they hoped would drive their business, or the business of others (check out my post on Gamification and the Gaming of Foursquare for some background on that topic). And to an extent, they were right. Checking-in was Fun! You could check-in to your favorite coffee shop, broadcast it to the world and even get points, perhaps a discount on a cup of coffee or become the Mayor of Anywhere.

But what really is the value of being the Mayor of some local hangout? Not much, except perhaps the bragging rights within your own social graph (example: I have a couple of friends who are on a mission to see who can check-in to the most Starbucks).

I’m not sure people care about social check-in points or likes as much as they used to.

Most of the people I know check-in to engage with their friends, or to simply let them know what they are doing or where they can be found. Businesses assume that a check-in to their location is an endorsement, that they’ve captured another “potential customer” (a concept that my friend Alan Berkson, @berkson0 of the Intelligist Group, would argue is “so last century”).

In fact, I’ve seen more than a few people check-in with comments like “worst service ever” – so perhaps that endorsement isn’t quite as real as many people think (ironically, with Foursquare you can check-in, add a negative comment and still get your points – an interesting way of making YOUR point, especially if you rebroadcast that check-in through other, much larger, social media networks).

And it is here, where people are starting to use the social check-in as a statement, as a way to question what they see around them, that I think we are approaching the point where the check-in can become so much more than it is today.

The 4 components of the new social check-in

The emerging social check-in has four basic components (let’s toss aside points, likes, mayorships, etc. for a moment). They are:

  1. The personal check-in itself (somebody deciding that they want to check-in to a particular place/event/etc. and share it with their friends),
  2. The place/event/etc. where the check-in occurs (which could be a fixed location or a time-sensitive event),
  3. The people within (or in some cases peripheral to) the social graph of the person who will see the check-in, and (most importantly)
  4. The statement or comment that the check-in conveys to those who see it (the *influence factor* of the check-in).

With those four points in mind, let’s consider two different check-ins:

“It’s about me”

The all-too-common “Hanging with my friends at the Corner Bistro” – simple, to the point and letting people know not only who you are with but where you can be found. It’s an invitation (and yes, I made this one up).

“It’s about the world”

Now let’s consider another, this one via Twitter/Foursquare (that was an actual Foursquare check-in by a friend): “He’s here everyday not begging, just …dying? What do to? (@ Old Guy In bench)” – this isn’t a here I am, come find me check-in, it’s an observation, i t’s a social comment, it’s non-judgmental and it has both a purpose and meaning far deeper than Foursquare ever envisioned. This is what I consider a social check-in “with cause.”

Let’s check-in to social causes

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to chat with a few people inside the social check-in space. It was an informal chat that got me thinking about the value of being able to check-in to “social events”, not just businesses. When I came across the “Old Guy” Foursquare check-in, it sparked an interesting thought – we have the opportunity put real meaning behind check-ins. Consider the following:

  • Checking into “certified” Social Events would be a good thing. With most check-in tools, you can create your own locations, so setting up a location for a charity event is possible, but it isn’t necessarily time sensitive and doesn’t necessarily mean that the event is an actual charity (social good) event. I think we can improve on this.
  • Checking into a Social Event *remotely* (to show support for the cause) would be an even better thing. Call it a “like” or a “support” – but letting people express their backing for an event – while it is taking place – is something I consider worthwhile.
  • Checking into a Social Event (either on site or remotely) and being able to *donate via PayPal* would be a great thing. You’ve got my attention, you’ve got my support, why not give me the opportunity to contribute?

The ramifications of such a strategy could be a great boost for both charitable causes/events as well as business sponsors, looking to both give back to the social community and improve their image/position within their consumer community. In this light, the check-in could become a powerful tool of influence.

Can this be done? I believe so. But I’m just one voice. What do you think?

Would you as a business representative support or find value in supporting or sponsoring such a program? Would you as a consumer or individual be willing to check-in to show your support or give a donation to a cause or an event?

I know I would.

For an out-of-the-box insight on the whole notion of generational check-ins and the impact of pervasive social connectivity, check out Alan Berkson’s excellent post Turn On, Check In, Hang Out!

Photo courtesy of Travis Nep Smith