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Virtual Community – Secrets Behind The Future of Social Media

April 22nd 2024
Home > Blog > Virtual Community – Secrets Behind The Future of Social Media
Virtual Communities

Virtual communities are online networks where people with shared interests connect and engage. These communities are rapidly becoming the foundation of how we interact online. Read on to find out more about the rise of virtual communities and learn some practical steps to start your own community online

Virtual communities

What is a Virtual Community?

“Virtual community”, a term first coined by Howard Rheingold, refers to a group of people who network online because they share common interests, objectives, or beliefs These communities are often referred to as an electronic community or web community.

In contrast to brief online exchanges, virtual communities promote building stronger bonds through continuous communication and creating a feeling of belonging. A meaningful social network is formed as community members exchange information and provide support to each other. 

Virtual neighborhoods are digital communities centered around specific locations or interests. These can be found in contexts like the metaverse, virtual real estate platforms, and scientific research.

In the metaverse, virtual neighborhoods allow fans and community members to engage with major brands and celebrities by purchasing land and creating exclusive gaming experiences.The Sandbox is a prominent virtual community that has launched virtual neighborhoods themed around brands such as Atari and Gucci. 

Virtual neighborhoods also facilitate digital engagement with virtual representations of real-world locations. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has virtual tours of its exhibitions that visitors located anywhere in the world can visit. 

The Rise of Virtual Communities

In her book “The Rise of Virtual Communities”, author Amber Atherton traces the development of virtual communities from as early as 1980’s. Platforms such The Palace, created by Jim Bumgartner in the 1980’s was one of the first virtual communities available. Since then, virtual communities have continued to evolve with modern communities such as Discord, Slack, and Mighty Networks. 

The Covid 19 pandemic saw a rise in virtual communities as digital communication became more prevalent. Virtual communities became a way for individuals to connect with others over common interests during lockdowns.  

A research article published by Frontiers in Psychology in 2022 by Xiaoyu Xu and Zhineng Hu found that shifts in consumer behavior indicate a desire for deeper digital engagements. An increasing trend for internet users to seek better value in online interactions, going beyond just consuming content to participating in interactive and collaborative experiences. 

From Followers to Family

Virtual communities represent a shift in social media, moving away from members as followers to family based relationships. This transformation caters to the basic human desire for companionship and communication. In contrast to traditional social media metrics focused on follower numbers, virtual communities value the quality of interactions and relationships established within them.

Influencers and content producers are starting to reshape their roles, seeing their followers as more than just passive viewers but as active members of a community. This method encourages mutual respect and teamwork, creating a more active and balanced connection. 

The Value Proposition of Virtual Communities

Virtual communities offer a strong value proposition that benefits creators and their members. For creators, these communities provide a space for increased interaction with a specific audience. Conversely, individuals enjoy exclusivity and specialized content geared towards their interests, including resources not found on mainstream social media sites. 

Benefits for Creators and Members

Exclusivity: Individuals can join virtual communities by invitation or with mandatory membership fees, which increases their exclusivity and appeal. This exclusiveness keeps the membership numbers high, attracting truly invested individuals to the community’s purpose.

Focused Content: Specialized content in virtual communities is personalized to fit the group’s interests, unlike the general social media feeds. This leads to higher levels of participation among members.

Sense of Ownership: Members impact the community’s direction, participate in decision-making, and add content, leading to a stronger feeling of ownership and dedication to the community. 

Virtual Communities Examples

Top examples of virtual communities in the United States with over a million users include platforms such as Buzznet, CafeMoms, DuoLingo, and CouchSurfing. These virtual communities represent a variety of interests, from travel, art and culture. 

Teach.io provides a platform for online course creators to create virtual communities aimed at exchanging knowledge. First time online course creators have the opportunity to learn from experienced online educators while developing content for an online course. Virtual communities also benefit Teach.io students who have signed up to an online course, providing a digital space for students to interact and collaborate. 

Create a virtual community on Teach.io with a free 14 day trial!

Clout Chasing vs. Genuine Connection

The most successful communities seek genuine connection instead of clout chasing, where founders use members to gain validation and popularity. While some online relationships are based on authentic bonding and shared hobbies, others are motivated by popularity and seeking validation. Clout chasing aims to boost visibility and followers for personal benefit, like obtaining endorsements, advertising products, or entering exclusive social groups. 

Distinguishing Genuine from Superficial

  1. Depth of Engagement: Genuine communities promote in-depth conversations, extensive engagement, and meaningful connections between members instead of only receiving likes and comments on posts.
  2. Transparency and Consistency: Those who build genuine communities typically openly share their reasons and constantly interact with the community they have built. They offer frequent updates, join in on conversations, and are attentive to input.
  3. Value-Driven Content: Search for communities that deliver valuable content and interactions, such as educational resources, workshops, and access to experts, instead of solely promoting products.
Virtual communities

The Future Is Here

Virtual communities are expected to change the social media scene significantly. As these communities grow and develop further, they will impact not just online interactions but also the operations of businesses and educational institutions. The advancement of new platforms and the implementation of cutting-edge technologies will accelerate this progression, integrating virtual communities into our online experiences.

Impact on Social Media

Virtual communities are expected to decentralize the social media scene even more, moving away from big, general platforms towards smaller, specialized spaces that serve particular interests and requirements. This change is expected to result in an online environment that is more divided but highly involved, allowing users to discover personally relevant and nurturing platforms instead of being vast and impersonal.

Emerging Technologies

  1. Augmented and Virtual Realities

With the increased accessibility of AR and VR technologies, the immersiveness of virtual communities will be significantly improved. Platforms such as Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms and VRChat are already investigating these opportunities, enabling users to engage in three-dimensional, virtual environments that closely simulate real-life interactions better than ever.

  1. Blockchain and Web3

Implementing blockchain technology offers a more decentralized and democratic method for governing virtual communities. Web3 technologies give users more control over their data and allow them to own digital assets and community contributions.

3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI has revolutionized many industries, and virtual communities are no exception. For example, AI can assist community managers in recognizing the most exciting subjects, forecasting trends, and offering tailored suggestions to members, ultimately boosting user interaction and happiness.

4 Internet of Things (IoT)

As IoT devices evolve and become more accessible, they can increasingly provide smoother, instantaneous communication and information sharing for virtual communities. This has the potential to be incredibly revolutionary in communities that prioritize tech development, health, fitness, and lifestyle.

The Role of New Platforms

Emerging platforms will likely become trusted and popular if they prioritize ethical data usage, privacy, and user empowerment. For instance, platforms like Mastodon and Signal promote a future where users prioritize ethics and confidentiality.

Niche-specific platforms such as Dribbble for designers or ResearchGate for scientists will continue to grow, offering customized environments to meet specialized community demands.

Virtual communities

Starting Your Own Virtual Community

Establishing a virtual community may be rewarding for those looking for a platform for individuals with common interests to come together, educate themselves, and develop collectively. Whether you are an online course creator, teacher, mentor, or fan in a specific area, creating a community can improve your connection with your audience and strengthen your influence. Below are some practical steps to help you begin creating your online community:

Choosing the Right Platform

Choosing the right platform is essential because it determines how your community engages and how you oversee it. Take into account the following aspects:

  • Characteristics: Is the platform capable of facilitating the types of interactions you have in mind? Search for elements such as chat forums, personal messaging, organizing events, and exchanging multimedia content.
  • Scalability: Look for a platform supporting expansion as your community grows. Choosing a platform that allows for growth will prevent having to change platforms as your membership base grows. 
  • User Experience: The platform must be user-friendly and straightforward so that community members with varying technical skills can navigate the platform easily. 
  • Price: Assess the price in comparison to the features offered. Consider platforms that provide subscriptions with different levels for beginners and experts.

Defining Your Niche

Your community needs a specific focus or niche to draw in members effectively. Here are some steps to help you define your niche:

Discover Your Passion: Select a subject that you are enthusiastic and well-versed in. This enthusiasm will be crucial in maintaining your community in the long run.

Study your audience: Get to know the people who could join your group and what they seek in a community. This comprehension will assist you in customizing your content and engagements.

Emphasize why your community is unique: What sets your community apart from others? Emphasizing this can help draw in new members. 

Establishing Community Guidelines

Having clear guidelines is crucial for an organized, engaging environment. To uphold the values of the community, ensure that you have the following in place:

  1. Code of Conduct: Define what actions are appropriate and which are not. This could involve regulations prohibiting harassment, discrimination, and spam.
  1. Rules for engagement: Specify the guidelines for how community members should interact with each other. Promote polite and positive dialogue.
  1. Privacy Policies: Ensure transparency in how member data is handled and safeguarded.

Launching Your Community

Once you have selected your platform, defined your niche, and established a set of community guidelines it is time to launch your community. Follow the follow the steps to launch your community:

Soft Launch: Begin with a limited number of core members to address issues and promote early content and discussions.

Promote your community: Use social media, blogs, podcasts, and other platforms to increase awareness.

Feedback and adjustment: Routinely gather input and be open to making adjustments to better address the needs of your community members.

Sustaining Engagement

Maintain community engagement by consistently providing updates, events, and discussions. The following strategies help to sustain engagement:

Member Spotlight: Showcasing members or activities that positively impact the community.

Member Rewards: Implementing a system for acknowledging and rewarding active and helpful members can promote continued engagement.

Building and sustaining a virtual community demands dedication and hard work, but with a proper strategy, it can transform into a lively environment for valuable relationships and collective development. You can establish a thriving online community by selecting the right platform, identifying your target audience, establishing specific rules, and actively participating with your members.

Virtual communities are great environments to encourage learning online. Visit www.teach.io to start a free 14 day trial!

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