Lately I've been getting a lot of questions about how online communities differ from social networks--why a Hoop.la site is different from, say, a Facebook page. It can definitely be confusing if you're a marketer trying to figure out where to invest your precious time and resources.
You may need to invest in both an online community platform and one or more social network profiles for your company. But first, you need to evaluate what your goals are, and how you want to reach them.
To help sort things out, here are 5 key differences between social networks and online communities:
- Social networks tend to recommend specific peer-to-peer connections; communities tend to allow members to find and establish their own connections.
- A social network contains a huge array of people who may have nothing in common; communities bring together a cohesive group.
- Social networks usually control the member/user experience; communities usually provide more flexibility and options.
- Social networks are generally top-down, broadcast mechanisms; communities generally allow more member input and discussion. (Note that some social networks contain communities.)
- Social networks tend to be mutually exclusive (i.e., you can't embed Google+ content into a Facebook post); communities tend to provide a neutral container for all types of content to be shared (from social networks, as well as original content).
The way I see it, we all have to find the tools that help move us closer toward our goal--whether that's brand awareness, better customer service, more fan engagement, more traffic to the website, higher sales, or something else entirely (in other words, don't bring a knife to a gunfight).
Do you agree with the differences I described above? Do you disagree?