The Importance of Community Online and Off

And a New Study That Underscores That Market Reality

By Published on .

I have a couple of friends that I've never met.

With some of them I talk about wine. A few teenagers refer to me as the 'elder' punk
Noelle Weaver Noelle Weaver
because I used to listen to bands named Naked Raygun and Nine Inch Nails. A lot of Southerners and I seem to share a passion for bourbon. And even still others of you [some reading this very entry] love to swap war stories and opinion about the state of the communications industry.

How 'bout you? Who are you talking to (or maybe just reading) online?

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg states in the 1999 book "The Great Good Place" that people need three places in their lives: 1) The home, 2) the workplace, and, 3) the community hangout or gathering place.

To many of us, "the gathering place" has traditionally been church, the barbershop or a social organization where we gather with friends on occasion to talk about our lives and interests.

When the online world was brought to mass audiences a decade ago, it was quite often a one-on-one interaction. We would go to places like and to find, discover and interact with a static website. But Web 2.0 brought us a whole new world of interacting with people through social network sites and perhaps more importantly, ways to share both audio and visual parts of our lives, interests and beliefs with others.

Earlier this week the University of Southern California released a study that revealed that to many people, the world they experience online is just as important to them as the real world.

The 2006 Digital Future Project found that "43 percent of Internet users who are members of online communities say that they 'feel as strongly' about their virtual community as they do about their real-world communities."

This fact, among with those listed below, begins to uncover a different reality than the long held stereo-types that spending vast amounts of time online was bad for you. It is wasted time. It keeps you apart from family and friends. It leads to feelings of isolation and withdrawal.

But the USC study found out a few other interesting things that debunk these myths:

  • One-fifth of online community members take action off-line that relates back to their community;

  • Participation in online communities lead to social activism (almost 2/3 of online community members participate in social causes through the internet);

  • One third of internet users say that they spend less time watching TV since they began using the internet;

  • Among users 17 years and older, almost two-thirds [65.8%] consider the internet to be very important, or an extremely important source of information; and

  • 42.8% agree that going online has increased the number of people who they meet and stay in contact with.
As the internet continues to evolve and grow so too does our ability as marketers to find audiences who share the same interests. And with that comes the ability to more precisely target people who are interested in learning about and [hopefully] buying the products and services we're offering them.

That brings a new challenge for all of us. We can talk all we want to about "niche" targeting, but let's face the fact that many of the databases, mail lists, software and processes have all been built on measuring a large mass audience and pinpointing how we affect the few.

How do we as an industry target the few and massively affect them?
Most Popular
In this article: