Social wants to reach the masses, does this mean opportunity for communities?

I was reading this news piece from Axios:

Now Facebook wants to shape your online life around the algorithmically-sorted preferences of millions of strangers around the globe.

  • That’s how TikTok sorts the videos it shows users, and that’s largely how Facebook will now organize its home screen.
  • The dominant player in social media is transforming itself into a kind of digital mass media, in which the reactions of hordes of anonymous users, processed by machine learning, drive the selection of your content.

I keep wanting to delete my Facebook account, I haven’t yet, but that’s a story for another time.

I have noticed the above trend, being pushed random content, ‘ala TikTok’. It is addictive and very easy to go down a very pointless rabbit hole.

As I was reading the above, all I could think is that this is an opportunity for niche communities to thrive. And to even use FB & Instagram videos in combination with FB groups as a growth tactic to find people to join your community.

Infact, the post even ends with my exact thoughts.

All this leaves a vacuum in the middle — the space of forums, ad-hoc group formation and small communities that first drove excitement around internet adoption in the pre-Facebook era.

  • Facebook’s sunsetting of its own social network could open a new space for innovation on this turf, where relative newcomers like Discord are already beginning to thrive.

Creating open content is exactly what FB wants right now, you could use that to your advantage to find new members.

Thoughts?

Honestly, I think Facebook missed the entire Creator Economy marketplace and has been playing catchup to Twitch, YouTube, and TikTok ever since. Facebook Gaming and Facebook Videos haven’t really done much to dent - or even realistically appear as a viable alternative for Creators or Eyeballs - the progress of Twitch and YouTube. Why do we think that a Facebook Discovery Engine will unseat TikTok?

Perhaps Meta is banking on the high likelihood that TikTok will be banned in the United States in the months to come. But whereas Meta’s Instagram Stories and the broader Instagram Influencer economy helped launch many successful Creators, Meta’s Facebook hasn’t been able to capitalize on its ~3 billion users.

There is no doubt that the vacuum presents an opportunity. It’s an exciting one to explore!

But to what? To get users off of Facebook/Meta’s walled-garden? Have we discovered a model where we can recruit TikTok’ers to join online communities? Facebook has been pushing its Groups and paid Business Marketplace model for some time. I read the Axios article, and it doesn’t exactly sound like Facebook is canning those - but it’s clear they see it as some sort of legacy business.

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I guess it depends on the community.

In the previous community that I founded, having a LinkedIn group and then a company page, helped people discover us. The LinkedIn page has almost 70k followers, a bit part of that was signing up early to their pages features.

Finding the right wave to ride can be a great growth opportunity.

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Great point, and I totally agree. The early adopter / catching-the-crest just-right, can be a thrilling way to build numbers early. But it’s usually a one-time shot. You have to have your call-to-action and community-concept strong enough to convert visitors to members.

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I’m curious to see where Meta goes with its products because it is facing a bit of a crisis.

Facebook is in decline. Certainly Gen Z has little to no interest in it. To them it is perceived to be some racist/angry boomer thing (at least to my 14 year old). The groups feature is compelling but honestly it produces some of the most toxic vile communities due to the divisive nature of politics which infects everything over there, especially in the post-covid era.

Instagram is dying a slow death. It’s mostly recycled TikTok videos and trends with less reach.

WhatsApp is probably its most used platform but monetisation is challenging.

Honestly, if I had a video strategy, I’d be putting it on TikTok. I’ve been playing with it for a few months and reach and engagement is impressive.

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While I agree that TikTok has managed to capture and evangelize the Creator Economy far better than Meta, I think there is genuine risk to involvement with any CCP-aligned social network. An increasing number of countries throughout the world have banned TikTok, and I think it’s only a matter of time before the United States follows suit. The same can be said of any Tencent-aligned property, now that a Chinese-aligned surveillance state beyond the dislodge Huawei hardware is becoming ever-more-apparent through all of the software, websites, games, and social media applications we use.

That said, I also agree that Meta is not the answer given the crisis it is facing. The Metaverse, which has become a well-reported obsession for Zuckerberg and team, is being eyed with great trepidation and wariness by a society that is quickly abandoning other emergent technologies - like Blockchain and NFT - as socially detrimental, if not psychologically damaging and risky.

I think Meta’s future will largely depend upon its ability to re-invent itself, and therein rests a very interesting opportunity for legacy community builders.

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I’m sure there are really bad groups on FB, the ones I’m on are pretty insightful. Mostly they are related around topics of interest around things like parenting, education and my local area.

I do wish these conversations didn’t happen on FB though. I’d love them to happen independently.

Yes, my heart is in not contributing at all to any of these social spaces.

I’d love for there to be a trend that for every group on FB, there is an independent equivalent forum. Even to some extent you could take what people are talking about on FB (the ideas, not the exact words) and start posting them on a forum. Patience would be required, both for traction and figuring out how to make it sustainable, but it’s possible?

I’d love for forum tools to create better features for monetizing - e.g. paying to be listed in a directory.

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Great question, Rosie. I think the only thing that can really unseat Facebook is another Facebook, not a loose collective of independent websites. But do we really want to extract people - their ideas, not their words - out of Facebook? And what does this really say about what is going on in Facebook, and to a greater extent, TikTok, Twitch, and the Creator and Influencer Economies?

My take: I think Facebook’s primary strength is its ubiquity - there are 3 billion people on the social media platform, and users aren’t community members here - they’re the commodity being monetized and sold. So for Facebook to survive and thrive, it has to continue attracting and retaining audiences - because the audiences themselves are the product.

This has grave implications for independent websites and forums. Much of the digital ecosystem that supported independent websites collapsed during the first wave of Social Media (and one of the last holdouts, the venerable advertising platform Project Wonderful’s Ryan North, specifically cited the death of the blogosphere and independent forums as reflective of the “disappearance” of the Internet, and a symptom of where audiences have gone). I don’t mean to be overly doomsayer-ish here; these events happened years ago now.

It leads me to two broad conclusions about who our future community members are:

  1. They are more transactional, less committed, and far more mercurial. The demographics of the web have permanently changed, both because the technologies we use have radically changed the way people expect to interact with content (greater emphasis on video and app-ecosystems, less interest in walls-of-text and traditional websites), as well as the sheer saturation of options throughout digital life. We might be able to attract periodic commitment from community members, but need stickiness in radically simple and subversively addictive ways to keep them coming back or to deepen their engagement through our various community ladders.

  2. Our future community members need things to be super-easy, or they won’t give us the time of day. Barriers for entry in online communities need to be radically simplified in the age of radical connectivity. In his 2010 book, Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky argues (among many things) that since 1940, humanity has been searching for more efficient ways of expressing itself creatively, and since the advent of social media - and what we would later recognize as the Creator Economy - people are primarily interested in simply, quickly, easily doing only (primarily) three things: connecting, learning, and sharing. It is notable that he doesn’t discuss content creation or contribution as a topic of mass-appeal, which suggests that endeavors like posting to forums requires a level of effort and intellectual rigor that most people today are disinterested in expending. (You rightly point out that the “ideas, not the … words” are what you would hope can evolve beyond Facebook.). But as Shirky so aptly pointed out, people want something simpler, easier, more intuitive.

I think the disruptive potential of anyone being able to create anything, at any time, over any medium, by using any device (but today, it means for the majority on the web, mobile devices first), means that digital communities should find ways to embrace this multi sensory, mobile-first way of participating - at least at the lowest levels of engagement so we can convert visitors to members, and eventually, make those bigger intellectual asks of members.

What do you think?

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I’m not interested in unseating FB, they can be what they like. And maybe I’m losing a fighting battle, but part of me thinks that if one or two people in every niche could create an independent space that is cared for then the world be a much better place.

I am interested in creating change for things and people that I care about. Small things can create impact. The challenge is always how to make it (financially) stable.

Extracting ideas can be seen as research, and we can pick and choose the things we determine to be potentially helpful to people, to expand and modify them.

All good points, but also I think we talk ourselves into this corner of what we think we need.

Yes things are more transactional these days, they don’t have to be. However, I believe the key is to create spaces that go deep and help people discover things they never knew existed.

Social is surface level, when people need or want to go deep, forums become a great place. And quite frankly, I’m tired of superficial and lightweight content. The internet is increasingly boring me, and that’s kind of sad.

I think we can find ways for forums to integrate with social, for example, some popular YouTubers have forums as back channel.

Maybe we need to make them harder to attract the people we want. There’s so much cr*p on the internet that wastes my time, I’ve personally become super focused on not spending time anywhere that wastes my time.

We can build spaces that respect people’s time with good, deep and valuable conversations. FB will never quite do that.

[I really appreciate this conversation btw :heart:]

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I love this idea, Rosie! And I definitely think that because Facebook Groups, like much of what Social Media offers us, is just “surface level,” you can use it as a farming / fishing ground to draw people in to something deeper and more meaningful. That’s how I have historically used both Twitter and LinkedIn for my gaming and business communities, respectively.

I completely agree. Again, I think the Engagement Pyramid (Groundwire, 2010) is very applicable here. We have to think of our communities not as utilitarian and transactional, but as living organisms that require campaigning and nurturing. To get visitors even interested, you’ve got to present something surface level and accessible - like social. But, I also love what you have done here with articles and newsletters (which you then seed and drip over social media).

I wonder, do these forums only serve as conversation / support-deflection for already-established large YouTube channels (like Linus Tech Tips)? Or can forums as back-channels be used to help grow the overarching community? Considering the stagnant nature of forums (which @MattM has better blogged and posted on elsewhere), I struggle of thinking of independent forums as a growth use-case, but rather as a deflector or augmenter to some other pre-existing case that is already reflecting demand. Like support questions/tickets or comments.

I agree. This is where I think community building and content creation unite. Community Builders cannot just be campaigners and curators; we have to be storytellers - of our stories and our creations - and invite people to go deeper and wider into them. They can contribute (or not!) but once they start engaging in the sort of Cognitive Surplus that Shirky describes - connecting, learning, and sharing what we create - then our communities truly become alive.

Me, too! Thanks so much for creating such thoughtful conversations and community prompts. :heart:

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Discord, and TikTok, both are related to Tencent. But also both are the most popular social apps in their categories. I don’t think people would stop using them for privacy concerns.

Governments won’t give consumers the choice, considering how dangerous these mass-surveillance platforms are. The following countries have banned TikTok:

  • India
  • Pakistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Nepal
  • China (!!)

The greatest irony here is that China, who owns and operates Tencent through the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), does not permit TikTok to operate within the country, specifically because it is (a) hyper-addictive, and (b) drives misinformation. For surveillance, China already has its entire population under vast social controls.

In the United States, the FCC has called for TikTok to be banned from all mobile ecosystems - and he previously sent a letter to Apple and Google to remove the apps.

In my view, community managers have a responsibility to the communities that they foster. Using unethical software, or selecting platforms that present risks or dangers to users, is, in my view, immoral.

One could argue Instagram fits the same pattern also. Personally, I use neither - Instagram, nor TikTok, so I don’t care if they stay or go away. But as I pointed out on Twitter, TikTok found a nice BlueOcean that’s now enjoying fully: https://twitter.com/andupotorac/status/1552831918139473920/photo/1.

Say what you want about the data, but product strategy and UX are excellent.

I completely agree with you. Certainly, China’s perspective is that hyper-addictive misinformation is socially corrosive – which is why they won’t allow it in any of their information and entertainment ecosystems – but they eagerly promote it in the West as a part of their mass-surveillance program. But for the West, allowing people to be frivolous with their time is, in fact, an inherent part of the freedoms that we all cherish, even if we do acknowledge that the steady junkfood diet of infotainment, reality television, and conspiracy theories threaten most liberal democratic institutions.

I think there is no denying that TikTok has cornered a UX that is brilliant, and now Facebook wants to – no, needs to – co-opt it in order to attract and retain audiences that are fleeing its platforms. I think it is also a given that TikTok and all CCP-run software platforms will invariably be regulated, restricted, or outright banned in the West over the next couple of years, and so Facebook is rightly positioning itself and Instagram to succeed TikTok’s inevitably departure.

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This is such an important topic, maybe for another thread, that I hope democracies will figure out how to restrict across platforms, as it breaks right through the unity countries should have against foreign enemies like Russia, China, and others.

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