Learning from the Small Town Mentality

We live in a gated community with armed guards and a giant moat in the backyard.According to Wikipedia, I used to live in a census designated place (CDP), or a place that has a population of people situated in an area where there is a lack of municipal government. If it weren’t for Arlington County, Virginia, I would suggest that CDPs are places that have a small amount of scattered people living in an area. Grand Canyon Village was such a place, and I can verify that there is just a little over 1000 people in this CDP at the time of this writing (I know, because I printed less than 850 employee newsletters when I wrote this article, and we are the largest concessionaire in the Park). A CDP is one way to call it. I prefer my wife’s explanation of where we live: A gated community with armed guards and a giant moat in the backyard.

Whatever you call it, this tiny community has even smaller subcultures within it’s boundaries, and further cliques within even those affiliations. These cliques are nothing new, and it should come as no surprise that this same logic easily applies to the Social Web as well. To people who create online networking spaces, keeping this in mind has helped to organize only societies. David Bohnett and John Rezner must have understood this when they created GeoCities back in the early 90s. GeoCities allowed people to set up their own web space based on geographical areas that correlated with their area of interest.

Ahh, the 1990s. This was back when people used the term “information superhighway” to talk about navigating the internet. This made more sense to me, as I could readily imagine people taking proverbial off-ramps while their pages loaded new places to explore. Sometime later people started using the term Web 2.0 to explain sites that created more interaction between users and the sites they were on. I hate that term, because it’s a more convoluted term, confusing people into thinking it’s a thing rather than a theory. In a job interview a few years ago, I was asked if I know how to do Web 2.0, sort of like do I know how to make bread or something.

I think the biggest problem with calling things Web 2.0 is that it forces people to forget that the internet of today is a social place. Social Networking, Social Media, and all the parts of it work to build societies within societies. This is something that many companies that start making Social Media Marketing (SMM) a priority tend to forget. For the most part, marketing departments seem to focus on the Marketing part of the term rather than the Social part of it.

For years marketers have been used to utilizing television, print and radio in order to sell products. These mediums have all been, for the most part, one-sided conversations. Advertisers have had to spit out copy in 30 second increments for years, and with the advent of the web, these methods don’t work when applied to Social Marketing. The reason why is because these days, the Social Web allows people to respond to the marketing being directed toward them. In order to stay on top of this trend, marketing departments need to change the way they market to people. This sentiment is nothing new, as it’s been repeated over and over by many experts in the field. But how exactly are those departments supposed to react differently?

I look at Social Media Marketing (SMM) as an opportunity to build trust among the people who are being sold services or products. Social Media, whether it’s in the form of blogs, forums or social networks, are essentially all communities (often within other communities). One’s business page on Facebook takes that community further deeper into a smaller community, for example. As Antony Mayfield states, “A good way to think about social media is that all of this is actually just about being human beings.1” This is very important in understanding a marketer’s role in the Social Web.

Social Media are basically online tools that not only allow, but encourage, people to communicate with each other through contributions and feedback. A perfect example of this would be Wikipedia, which has been argued to be as vetted and precise as the Encyclopedia Brittanica2 . Creating dialogues and discussions are important ways to grow a sense of devotion to a community. In order to to create brand loyalty surrounding a product, a sense of community should be established in order to defend the brand. For proof, just look at any debate about Macs vs. PC. They both essentially do the same thing, but either side will tell you that their preference is the way to go.

Many online marketers end up becoming the Town Crier instead of the Chairman
I think the problem with most online marketers is they end up becoming the Town Crier instead of the Chairman in the online communities they are pushing their goods and services. Spouting out marketing one-liners isn’t going to incite conversations about the services or products one is shilling at any given point. On Facebook, this might generate a few likes or nods, but to really create publicity about something takes honesty and proof that this person posting is an expert.

To really be the Chairman, one needs to assume the full capacity of the role. This person is the expert, the person who mediates the discussion and adds value by addressing the concerns of the public with experience and knowledge of the product or service. As Larry Weber points out, “[T]he real job of the marketer in the social web is to aggregate customers. You aggregate customers two ways: (1) by providing compelling content on your website and creating retail environments that customers want to visit, and (2) by going out and participating in the public arena. Branding in the social web is the dialogue you have with your customer. The stronger the dialogue, the stronger your brand; the weaker the dialogue, the weaker your brand.3” [Emphasis mine]

In summary, as long as we think about online networks as small communities, we can learn from the small town mentality. If we think about what makes a small community flourish, we can gain the insight to build that community to it’s fullest potential. To further the analogy, online marketing departments should start to develop models of chambers of commerce rather than the place in the town hall that posts the minutes of the last meeting. Learn to be your product’s chairperson. Your community will trust you more.

Click here to view references