Quinnipiac, impression management online, virtual groups, persuasive industry, locative media, what is information, role of social media, ICM top 5, strategic planning, defining publics, strategic planning to nonprofits, strategic plan implementation, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Wal-mart, project management styles, future, journalism, reflections, NESN SEO, onward to Quinnipiac, A Day in My Life in Social Media, Viral Videos, Qualitative and Quantitative Analytics in my Life, social media monitoring tools, Media Convergence, Basic Web Analytics, A Crash Course in SEO, Semantic Search, Monopoly, Algorithmic Surfacing, Ambient Awareness, Polarization, Television, Participation, Physician Boundaries, Ethical Dilemmas, Charlie Hebdo, Premium Service, Spiderman, Brian Williams, Dark Patterns, Content Moderation, Big Data, Net Neutrality, Privacy and Big Data, Forgotten, Most Important Role of a Community Manager, Influencer Impact and Networks, Harrison Parrott, Content Marketing for Community Managers, Authentic Brand Voice in Social Media, Best Practices in Using Social Media for Customer Service, Highly Regulated Industries, Sabra Hummus, SWOT and PEST Analyses, Message Strategies, Communication Tactics, Program Evaluation, Continuing Program Evaluation, Strategic Campaign Plan Formatting, RPIE, Biblical Texts, Disruption, Facebook network, Qualitative and Quantitative Analytics, NESN Key Indicators, Writing Ethics, Spiderman, Wireframing, Sabra Hummus, Lonely Writer, Final Project ICM 522, reinvention,

Quinnipiac Assignment 06 – ICM501 – Virtual Groups & Online Communities

Let’s Look at Virtual Groups & Online Communities

This week, we tackled virtual groups.

As John Donne famously wrote, “No man is an island.”

On the internet, there seems to be a similar but not identical truth – few people want to be an island. And so we create enclaves.

Some of our enclaves mimic those we see in the offline world – we associate with people we went to school with, or work with, or live near. We associate with the people who used to be in such relationships to us as well.

And we associate with family, and sometimes even ex-family. We might expand our horizons a little, to also include members of the same political party, or age group, or others who enjoy the same activities as we do, like knitting, or the same entertainments, such as Browncoats.

Online Dynamics for Virtual Groups

This changes online with virtual groups, but maybe less than naysayers had originally thought. The online world is not restricted by geography. It’s not restricted by socioeconomic background, either, except that you need to have access to a computer. But you can often get that for free from a library, so you don’t necessarily have to own the hardware, although that does make it easier.

As McKenna, K.Y.A. (2002). Virtual group dynamicsGroup Dynamics, 6(1), 116–127. [Library Link] says,

“One of the most basic interpersonal needs is to ‘belong,’ to feel that one is a member of a group of others who share similar interests and goals, and to feel that one is a valued (and unique) member of that group ( Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Brewer, 1991). On the Internet, there are a wealth of venues where one can connect with like-minded others who share core interests and values and thus fulfill this important need. Chat rooms, newsgroups, electronic mailing lists, message boards, interactive games, and major interactive Web sites provide individuals with the opportunity to join existing online groups or to create their own.”

Belonging

This need for a sense of belonging appears to drive a lot of members of virtual groups. There is also a need to break the internet down into more manageable bite-sized chunks. With an estimated trillions of webpages online, no one user can experience it all, not even if that person makes an executive decision to only look at sites written in Norwegian, or uploaded after June 15, 2012, etc.

Therefore, users look for something smaller and easier to take. Otherwise, the scale is unfathomable.

Clay Shirky’s Take

As Clay Shirky says, in Shirky, C. (2003, July 1). A group is its own worst enemy. Networks, Economics, and Culture Mailing List. [Link],

“You have to find some way to protect your own users from scale. This doesn’t mean the scale of the whole system can’t grow. But you can’t try to make the system large by taking individual conversations and blowing them up like a balloon; human interaction, many to many interaction, doesn’t blow up like a balloon. It either dissipates, or turns into broadcast, or collapses. So plan for dealing with scale in advance, because it’s going to happen anyway.”

Communities that become too large tend to suffer, as the number of conversations grows faster than the number of users (e. g. for three users, there are four possible conversations; user A + user B, user B + user C, user A + user C, and all three users). Users like to feel that they belong, and that they can understand a place.

Safety

Adventures in Career Changing - Virtual Groups
Virtual Groups (like this seeds on this flower) – photo: courtesy, Bernard Gershen

At the same time, they also want to feel safe. In Dibbell, J. (1998). A rape in cyberspace (Or tiny society, and how to make one).

In My tiny life (pp. 11–30). New York: Henry Holt and Company. [Link | Alternate Link], Julian Dibbell argues that a behavior whereby one user’s account was able to control another user’s account (against the second account holder’s will) was practically a cyber-rape.

The site’s lack of moderation seems almost laughable today, that the designers and administrators of a large online community would leave it to its own devices with zero supervision.

After all, even the most libertarian or even anarchic of users usually wants the spam to go away quickly.

Closeness

Beyond basic safety, they often want positive support, too. As Wellman, B., & Gulia, M. (1999). Net-surfers don’t ride alone: Virtual communities as communities. Networks in the global village: Life in contemporary communities (pp. 331–366). New York: Westview Press. [PDF] say, “Even when online groups are not designed to be supportive, they often are.” (Page 7)

Finally, the use of internet communities is sometimes for even greater closeness than what the members can get in person, perhaps analogous to telling your troubles to a stranger in an airport bar who you will never see again.

As McKenna,  (Ibid.) says,

“The relative anonymity of the Internet allows individuals to take greater risks in making disclosures to Internet friends than they would to someone they know in more traditional, face-to-face settings (McKenna & Bargh, 1998; McKenna et al., 2002). Users are more likely to express how they truly feel and think (Spears & Lea, 1994) when interacting on the Internet, and when identity salience of the group is high, those who interact under conditions of anonymity are more likely than their nonymous, face-to-face counterparts to conform to group norms (e.g., Postmes, Spears, & Lea, 1999).”

When users mourn the deaths or departures of people they have never met in person, when they hug and kiss relative strangers when they finally do meet, and when they can provide comfort to the lonely online as a function of kindness and not for a quid pro quo, that’s when users move from a Gesellschaft to a Gemeinschaft, or from a rough collection to a true community.

Virtual Groups, in 2022

I was editing this post when Elon Musk was finally buying Twitter. Musk originally said he wanted Twitter to be a free for all. But then the advertisers stepped in.

And they told him he was out of his mind.

If he wants paid ads (which he does), and he wants them to be better than spam (which he also does), then Twitter will still have to nix racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, etc. It has to get rid of traumatic images, too.

Gee, Elon, maybe this moderation stuff isn’t so bad after all.

Tags: ,