Twitter Chats Reveal the Future of Online Communities

Written by Omowale Casselle

Recently, I have been paying a lot of attention to different chats that happen on Twitter. Quite honestly, these community focused discussions are extremely interesting to me because of what I believe they reveal about the future characteristics of online communities. (If you’re a regular here at TalentCulture, you probably have participated in this community’s popular Wednesday evening #TChats. If not, I recommend you do!)

Collective vs. Individual Ownership

  • While there is usually someone who has come up with the initial idea for a hashtag, by and large it is owned by the community of participants. No one can trademark or copyright a hashtag. Also, the social nature of the platform makes it difficult to prevent anyone from using it.  This collective group ownership is a valuable element of future online communities. When people feel ownership, they become careful stewards of what has been created.  In many ways, they are so in love with their experience that they refuse for others to destroy what has been built. As a result, you will often find community members passionately maintaining community norms.

Participation varies and depends on interest/expertise/willingness to share

  • In online communities there has always been a distribution of participation. With hashtags, there are additional ways to foster participation. For example, even if you are too shy to speak; one can simply re-tweet something that they find especially valuable or interesting.  By lowering the barriers of participation, more people are drawn in which is the key to utilizing the collective knowledge of the community.

Many of the most popular are based on niche topics with the core value proposition being the opportunity to learn more

  • Many hashtags are first and foremost an opportunity for others to learn about an area of interest.  This shift away from self-gratification towards mutual gratification is one that I think is especially exciting about these communities.  Instead of people hoarding knowledge, hashtag chats give participants an opportunity to share their learnings with others. In the process, valuable social capital is earned which gives people with key insights increased hierarchy within the online community.

Heavily focused on crowdsourcing (Moderator asks questions and variety of people weigh in on the subject, the most popular or well received answers are typically re-tweeted)

  • Many hashtag chats are loosely organized around the topic of a few questions with the community being asked to respond based on what they think.  Within this dynamic, community participants can ask burning questions that are on their mind around the subject of interest.  This simultaneous loose and rigid structure is especially appealing to participants.  In addition, the real-time nature of the communication channel enables moderators and community members to key in on subjects that are of great interest.  This helps keep the interest of community members and keeps them coming back each week to learn more about a specific topic.

While these trends are just developing, it will be interesting to see how they evolve to become what I believe will be the foundation of successful online communities moving forward.  This represents a shift from the closed model that many web 1.0 communities were based upon.

Remember, the model that forced you to register for a site to figure out if the community was interesting.  Once you realized it wasn’t, they already had your email address to spam you with.  No longer! In this new dynamic, you have to show your worth in the open community before people will even give you a chance to move into a closed, intimate relationship.

This dynamic is especially crucial for employers who are seeking to engage with prospective candidates to master. By moderating online discussions around subjects related to their industry, company, or individual opportunities, employers can create a dynamic recruiting environment that will be irresistible to candidates.

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