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August 7, 2007

Building Communities Within Your Community

The always awesome Kim Krause-Berg issued a thought provoking post on Friday entitled Why Social Media Bugs Me, ME, ME! Why does social media bug Kim? Because there’s too much selling and pushing of irrelevant content. Kim doesn’t care about your agenda, she only wants the headlines that are important to her. This is Kim’s world, after all; why should she have to be subjected to your garbage?

When I read Kim’s post my first thought of was, “Go, Kim!”
My second thought was, “Kim, you’re not hanging out in the right neighborhood.”

I think a lot of people feel like Kim. They look at the social media sites and at first glance all you can see is the spin. There are too many people trying to sell to you, too much weak content, too many fake promises and too much waste. This is not what social media is about. It’s just not helpful.

The proper way to use social media sites is to find like-minded users and then break off into smaller, more engaged topic communities. Communities that actually encourage discussion about topics relevant to you specifically.

This is something I wish Sphinn offered. I’m becoming a total Sphinn head, but that front page of never-ending content is only useful for users trying to get a general idea of what’s going on. It’s not at all helpful for members who are trying to find a certain conversation, or better yet, trying to start a conversation. Danny had the right idea forming a Water Cooler section, but I think its open-endedness is keeping users away.

Not to sound like a pathetic brand evangelists, but I feel like this is what really separates Facebook from its competitors — how strong the user-created communities are. If you’re looking for a social community that’s targeted to you and where you can hold actual discussions, then I think Facebook trumps most other sites.

This is where the Kims of the world belong, assuming they/she can get passed the silly apps (it’s not always easy). Kim doesn’t want a generic social media site. She wants a site that’s targeted to her interests only and that will show her the headlines that she wants to read. Not what you want her to read.

Obviously one of the reasons I like Facebook is because it’s clean and it keeps me connected with my friends and contacts that I don’t get to see nearly often enough (Like Marie Howell from Bruce Clay Europe. Hi Marie!). But the other reason I like Facebook is a result of how engaged my groups are. I’ll admit, I may have my share of vapid Facebook communities (i.e. Red Sox Nation, most groups created by Ciaran Norris), but there are also a slew of groups present that really are valuable and introduce me to new ideas and discussions.

I’m talking about the Internet TV, vloggers and media disruptors group, the vaguely-titled Search Engine Optimization group, and the most powerful of them all, an SEO/SEM awareness group that I won’t properly mention thanks to Rae Hoffman’s colorful way of naming things.

The groups on Facebook are what allow me to skim through the headlines (of course some are more active than others). They’re what help me finds the gems before the clutter, they allow me to eavesdrop on industry conversations, and because they’re so small, no one is out to spam you. You’re not going to hear about how the Meta Keywords tag is the key to search engine optimization; you’re not going to see comments (or at least, not a lot) about how you absolutely must go check out someone’s site. Group members are producing content for the group, not for themselves. And that changes the spirit of everything.

I’m not saying everyone needs to join Facebook. However, I think for someone like Kim (meaning you have a brain) the average, top level-only social media site isn’t going to do much for you. You’re going to be bombarded with topics that aren’t particularly relevant to you. The key to using social media is being able to form communities with the larger community. I’m sure there are other sites out there that let users do this, I just don’t know about them. I like Facebook.

Author:  Lisa Barone is a Sr. Writer at Bruce Clay Inc. as well as being a friend of everyone on Facebook