What are the first thoughts you have when you hear the word ‘community’? Or ‘neighborhood’? Do you picture a row of homes plotted along a street? Or did you think of your electronic community and your digital neighborhood you can access at all times of the day through your favorite social media app? Your response to this is probably a good indicator of your generation, with younger generations gearing more and more towards an electronic or e-community.
Did you know that many people trust their digital community more than their neighbors and friends? Just consider this: Social media influencers are now the #1 factor driving fashion shopping decisions among female millennials (41%) selected as their primary influence. Lifestyle influencers now have greater impact than more traditional factors such as friends and family (37%), TV / magazines / advertisements (20%) and celebrities (19%).(1)
When social media first began, people used it to connect with their friends and share photos and stories. But it was not used as a means to meet new people. Today, people use social media to create a network or community where they feel at home. It is much easier to connect with individuals with similar likes and interests as you with the tools to now reach across the globe to find people. And the studies are showing that people trust their digital communities more than they trust their neighbor.
One of the remarkable changes this past decade is the newly defined ‘community’. Communities have normally been defined by geographical physical boundaries. These have defined our neighborhoods, friends, sports groups, school boundaries, and church groups. As we continue 2020, it is good to recognize that this is being challenged digitally. There is a blurring between the physical and the digital. This has been spoken of extensively by Klaus Schwab in The Fourth Industrial Revolution. (2) This is the same guy who started and hosts the World Economic Forum each year in Davos, Switzerland.
The studies and the influence of the e-community is even stronger among younger people. In a new study, 92% of millennials and 97% of Gen Zers look at social media as a top source to help drive a purchase decision. That’s even more than the 80% of millennials and 78% of Gen Zers that trust their own family and friends. Coming in at third place are celebrities, who are trusted by 51% of millennials and 64% of Gen Zers. (2)
Your community is no longer fixed to where you live. But rather it is an extension of the things you value. And it can reach nearly anyone, anywhere. And people are voting with their time spent creating and nurturing relationships towards the digital. Consider that roughly 45% of the world’s population use social media, with an average of 2 hours and 23 minutes spent per day on social media.(4) And 16-24 year olds spend over 3 hours per day on social media. (5)
On one hand this may seem a bit unsettling that so much time and trust is placed on views and opinions of others we have never met in person. For those who are accustomed to getting routine advice from neighbors or family members this may sound absurd. Actually, to be absurd, consider that there are even prominent social media influencers who are simply digital personalities and not even human.
It may also be unsettling to try and reach the same level of emotional connection or fulfillment with our digital relationships as we have when in-person. Generally, the older generations view these as irrelevant whereas the younger generations do not make much of a distinction, if any, between the digital and the physical.
Regardless of your perspective, it is quite empowering to think that you can reach across the globe and connect with people who share your interests and that it is perfectly normal to create a network and community of your own. And with those relationships comes responsibilities to respect boundaries and nurture those relationships.
While older generations appear to place greater emphasis on portraying a ‘perfect life’ scenario on social media, younger generations place more value on being ‘real’ in the digital. Millennials and younger generally do not spend the effort to create a perfect image of their lives. In fact, some of the most influential digital members seek just the opposite, to share their lives with all the good, bad, and ugly. Being ‘real’ is rewarded with massive followings and levels of influence and trust.
Like any relationships, the e-community takes time and attention. And there is a fair amount of give and take in these relationships. If you are a bully, or all you do is take, then you will find your community shrink. If you are generous and supportive, you will find it grow and blossom. And if you are away too long people start to wonder if you are well.
The e-community is allowing people to work remote, connect globally, and have a greater sense of awareness and compassion for differences around the world. It brings greater access to people and comes with a responsibility to have greater level of respect and understanding.
For those who are not aware of the power of the e-community, it is good to at least become aware and acknowledge that you have real competition for your time and attention. For those who are aware and use these communities, it is good to know that not everyone gives equal emphasis as you do to the physical versus the digital. Or the proximate versus the away.
So welcome to the community! Whatever community you choose to be a part of. Just remember that differences make life interesting and bring added color to the world. And when you do connect with people, that you give more than you get. Your new neighbor in the e-community can be your neighbor down the street. Or it could be someone on the other side of the world.