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What businesses need to know about the future of online communities

Ten years ago, it might have been acceptable for a business or creator to not have an online presence. Today, as the saying goes, “if you’re not online, you don’t exist”. In fact, in the last ten years, we’ve seen online communities grow to be 63% of the world’s population.

Of those 5 billion people, a majority are made up of shared interest communities, who are looking for brands that resonate with their values and advice from their peers on products and services to buy.

It’s clear that for any business owner, artist or creator, the importance of community and its role in our lives is greater than ever before.

PopSpot CEO, Erki Koldits, offers four trends concerning the future of online communities and how businesses can leverage them for their own community building.

Community and decentralisation

The fact that people can now buy and sell bitcoin on social media shows how far we’ve come in using digital networks as places for personal business.

Platforms such as PopSpot, are created to increase earnings capability for writers, artists and creators. Essentially, what this is saying is that the world (or at least 63% of it) is moving towards a trend where digital infrastructure is created with the purpose of decentralisation of earnings.

Whether this has been fuelled by an increased use of digital due to the pandemic or the natural progression of the growth of digital in our lives, one cannot say. What is certain is that this trend means that the number of use-cases platform creators intend for consumers to have when they enter a digital network is growing.

This growth is intended for platforms to be one-stop shops for communities to do everything on. This speaks to socialising, being entertained, shopping and supporting artists, social and political movements, either monetarily or otherwise, via one platform.

Community and the emotion economy

Right now, people online from San Francisco to South Africa are talking about the same societal trends: inflation, rising costs of goods and fuel, personal, economic, and political issues, as well as equal rights. Research has shown that people today value business leaders and brands that share societal issues that align with their communities.

Brands, influencers, writers or creators would do well to look at current online discussions and incorporate the community’s feelings about them into their online content. The rise of image and video centric platforms such as Instagram and TikTok shows that communities are keen to engage with brand content, however, that content must resonate with existing societal and community conversations.

Privacy and influencer engagement 

When looking at online community conversations around values like personal freedom, we’re seeing governments’ responses to online communities’ requests for personal privacy, with the implementation of stricter privacy laws.

This is evident in the enforcement of South Africa’s POPIA, for example. Over the last year, we’ve all been struck with a request for “cookies” consent forms when entering a new website.

What this means for businesses is that, in the future, to tap into the interests and in-depth information on trends, likes and dislikes of consumer communities, there will need to be greater emphasis on social listening tools and greater reliance on community managers to govern brand sentiment. This is how brands will look to reach new and existing audiences.

The fan economy

On the other hand, we are going to see greater reliance on creators and influencers to assist businesses with brand messaging. When we look at who generates the most conversation and engagement from the consumer base we want to target, it is these influencers, artists and online creators.

These creators are also looking to gain greater personal agency by receiving direct remuneration for their work from their online communities. With platforms like PopSpot, the incentive for being active within a digital community is to earn money and give followers and fans market-based rewards like NFTs or bespoke merchandise for their support. This is the “socialise to earn” model, which says that earnings are based on positive actions and engagement with an online community.

Decentralisation, token or reward based community economies, and greater ownership of communities for both platforms and their users are what Web.3 is set to bring about. Brands wanting to tap into this community-centric online revolution would do well to look at how their community managers are tapping into this, to aid their future growth.

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