audience or community? Defining the new social media landscape
Think about your first social media account. Why did you join? The answers change as you move across the platform and over time.
If you joined Instagram in the mid-2000s or early 2010s, your goal was probably to see what your friends were up to. But let’s say you joined later during the rise of the influencer. Maybe your argument is in favor of keeping an eye on the people you went to high school with to keep up with the news or the latest trends. If you have chosen TikTok during the pandemic, you may be on the lookout for a lockdown diversion – a target that TikTok recognizes as it identifies itself as an “entertainment platform” rather than a social media platform.
What is social media? If brands, creators and audiences are logging in for completely different reasons, where is the commonality? As the preferences of platforms and those who use them change, so should our job definitions.
Are you consuming or communicating?
In the world of social media, there is a lot of talk about audiences and communities. We see these words interchangeably, but they are very different.
Think of an audience watching a play. They are clapping, laughing and crying at appropriate times – but they are not part of the show. They can ask the cast questions later and the actors can adjust their performance based on how it is being received, but the script doesn’t change based on actual audience input. is to entertain, inform or persuade the audience, not to engage in dialogue.
Now think of a community like a small town. Everyone has a role to play—doctor, groceries, teacher or firefighter. All those parts interact with each other to form a functioning city. If people stop playing their part, the community stagnates. Everyone is encouraged to connect with each other and these interactions strengthen the community.
Communities and audiences have different dynamics. In both cases, everyone is connecting with other people—audience members have shared experiences and community members working together—but they’re doing it in different ways. As the social landscape matures and mimics real-world interactions, platforms are picking up on the different ways users want to engage and creating features to meet those needs.
what are you watching?
If the audience is like a theater full of people, the goal is to keep them entertained for as long as possible. Audience-focused platforms are constantly creating and refining features to keep users on the app and coming back for more.
Making my new summer treat #rubytuesday #fyp #bbqsauce #saucegoals
Original Soundtrack – Ruby Tuesday
algorithms run show
Who hasn’t had the experience of watching Reel or TikTok videos, which is so exclusive, you wonder if the app has scanned your inner thoughts? This is the work of the algorithm. This top-down distribution approach is the hallmark of an audience-based platform. When you log in, you don’t necessarily decide what you see, the algorithm does that for you.
Audience-based platforms feed viewers content they enjoy theoretically while fine-tuning recipes based on their reactions. TikTok is particularly adept at this concept, with the For You page entirely curated by their algorithm.
creating value with creators
If audience-focused social media is a drama, then the producers are the actors. Creators thrive on audience-based platforms because they aim to create content that entertains, informs and persuades. It’s no surprise that the top goal of marketers when working with creators is to reach new audiences.
Companies like Meta are taking notice. Facebook is shifting its focus from news to creators with a billion-dollar investment in Creator Functions, while Instagram is pouring more creator content into its new feed with suggested posts.
stick with your community
In a small town people know each other, interact with each other and trust each other. Community forums work in much the same way, focusing on interpersonal relationships. There are few passive observers in a community. Everyone has a role.
room to grow
Community platforms and features leave room for real conversation. Instead of just commenting on posts, you’re talking about topics. A creator or brand marketer can initiate the conversation, but community members decide where it goes. Geneva and Niche are the latest examples of these apps, offering chat room-esque spaces where people can gather on shared interests. A host can create a specific group or channel, but once it is created, it belongs to everyone.
A community’s values and priorities come out systematically—there is no order that matters most. Community-based platforms are the same way.
While audience-based platforms use algorithms to deliver content to individuals based on their interests, community platforms let users decide which conversations take priority. Reddit’s upvoting system is a prime example of this. Users give content a thumbs up or thumbs down based on relevance and resonance, with the highest ranking content at the top. The system lets communities decide among themselves what’s worth interacting with and encourages users to engage with their peers.
aligned with the platform
Brands have known for some time that not all platforms are created equal. But as the divide between audience and community becomes more clear, marketers need to align more closely with the platforms and features they use – whether they are employing social teams, Whether creating content or measuring success.
Audience-based content should be focused on engaging the audience. This top-down approach to content is more traditional. The brand tweets, people like and retweet and the cycle continues. Apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook are great avenues for top-down content intended to dazzle.
Community based content is less produced. Brands need to have a strong brand voice, but they cannot be prescriptive. Some brands are coming to Geneva for focus groups, ambassadorial events or general community building, while others are engaging in conversations in existing communities through Ask Me Anything (AMAS) on Reddit. The main thing to remember with community content is that your brand is not in charge. It is a democratic process and you are just there to initiate the conversation.
The difference between audience and community is ego.
If you want a community, you have to step down and not be the main voice. You have to be a bridge, not a star, and it’s tough, especially for thought leaders and brands who want to be in the light.
— Christina Garnett (@ThatChristinaG) 28 July 2022
What is my inspiration?
Social media is an emerging category and always will be. As definitions change and platforms dig deeper into their niches, marketers have to keep an eye on what’s driving users to sign up for the service.
By putting your customer or prospect’s motivation at the forefront of your social media strategy, you will always be able to deliver timely, relevant content in a way that speaks to them. New subcategories of social give brands the opportunity to be more intentional about how and where they appear online, and what success looks like.
Want to know more about what consumers want? Check out the Sprout Social 2022 Index™ for the latest on consumer and market trends in social.
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