With over 3.5 billion members, the internet is the largest community in existence. It’s also one of the fastest growing communities, and as a result is often undergoing changes — sometimes without us even realizing it. For example, did you know that we’re in the middle of the evolution of the internet from Web 2.0, to Web 3.0?
How the web has supported community
Anyone born before the mid 90’s knows that in the beginning, the internet were far less user friendly than it is today. I can still hear the pings and whistles of the dial-up tone and feel the annoyance of getting kicked offline when someone tried to use the phone while I was logged on.
This first phase was what we could now call Web 1.0. As a user, you had limited tools to contribute to the conversations happening online, and as a result got more of a “read only” experience.
As you can imagine, this type of experience wasn’t very effective at building community. For one thing, ecommerce wasn’t really a “thing” yet and even if it was, it would have been extremely difficult. However, the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 ushered in an era of improved communication that made the concept of online communities a whole lot easier.
With the emergence of social networks like Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter, we found ourselves in the community centric age of the internet. The ability to easily connect with strangers and friends all over the world has created a true web of interconnected users, while technology like video streaming has allowed for shared experiences online.
Perhaps the most notable thing about Web 2.0 is how easy it’s been for businesses to adopt. As new forms of social engagement like Instagram and Snapchat continue to emerge, it’s easier than ever to generate organic conversations that strengthen emotional connections customers have with each other and the brands they choose.
That’s what makes Web 3.0 so intimidating. While Web 2.0 is firmly rooted in organic conversations and engagement, Web 3.0 is focused on making every component of the online experience “smart.” With tools like AI and virtual/augmented reality paving the way, Web 3.0 has the power to dramatically change every part of the internet and, more importantly, how we interact with it.
So how will this impact your brand community? If Web 3.0 is all about data analysis and automating everything with AI, what does that mean for communities that thrive on emotional connections and social interaction?
Why brands need Web 2.0 community in a Web 3.0 world
When you look at how the web has changed, there was clearly a shift from simply being a tool for accessing information to being a powerful communication channel. This is what allowed us to build and engage with communities online, making communication software a key component of what makes Web 2.0 what it is today.
That’s what makes Web 3.0 feel so problematic. While Web 2.0 focused on personal interactions, the driving force of Web 3.0 is computer intelligence and data analysis. Even though these technologies all have their place, they are no replacement for personal, emotionally backed relationships with your customers and brand community.
If you look at any thriving community, a lot of their success comes from social interactions and collaboration, and social media is largely responsible for this connection. You’d be hard pressed to find a brand that doesn’t have either a Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram account that they use to interact with their brand community. That’s because social interactions form emotional connections. It’s difficult to have multiple conversations with someone and be apathetic towards their existence.
In the same way, by engaging with their communities on social media, brands aren’t just as a business, but actual people that customers can form relationships with.
Customer relationships aren’t just for fun either - they are immensely influential in the buying process. As one of the primary conduits of social proof, social media provides a steady flow of user-generated content (UGC) which builds significant trust in your brand. More importantly, social proof allows customers to communicate with each other and a brand, which then encourages others to join, engage, and share the the value of a brand community.
Clearly there are aspects of Web 2.0 that businesses need to keep alive in order for brand communities to thrive. No matter how much automation you set up, it’s never going to replace the value of human, emotional connections, or the benefits of social proof that engaged community members provide.
Communities are more than the sum of their parts
At the end of the day, the success of your brand community will rely on finding a balance between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. Since social collaboration aren’t part of the vision for a Web 3.0 world, your brand needs to actively make them a priority. Otherwise, you run the risk of distancing yourself from your customers instead of growing an emotionally connected, valuable brand community.
Ultimately, the long term success of your brand is closely tied to the relationships that you create with your customers and, just as importantly, the bonds you encourage them to build with each other.