Good lord, I must sound like a Clay Shirky groupie by now. I’m not. Really. He’s just such a prolific writer that it’s taking me awhile to browse his stuff and share some things.
Today I found “Communities, Audiences and Scale.” In this 2002 article, Shirky does a great job of articulating the difference between a community and an audience.
It’s all about scale. A community is a smaller group by necessity, because a community is about interaction between individual members, many-to-many communication. An audience is larger and so the corresponding communication is one-way, center to edge.
Shirky points out that the larger a group, the more complex interaction becomes: “As group size grows, the number of connections required between people in the group exceeds human capacity to make or keep track of them all.”
In our context, our products (newspaper, TV, online, niche print pubs) have an audience and we communicate in what Chuck Peters has called the “megaphone” method — a centralized blasting of info to the masses.
What we must grow — what I am experimenting with — is a community, a smaller, originally recruited group of people to get talking and interacting around a slice of content. If we get it right, the community
will grow because people who care about it will join and run with it. The structure we build gives the community form and, yes, some boundaries, so it doesn’t implode from the forces of growth or group behaviors. See related post “Group Think” of May 12.
(Just to muddy the waters a bit, Shirky also argues in his book “Here Comes Everybody,” that social media tools make it easier than ever before for groups, large or small, to form, communicate and thrive.)
Now, the question is — with thanks to Chuck — how do we cross-pollinate? We’re a business, looking for revenue opportunities. Can we “tag” community members so as to target audience-advertising to them, too?
What do you think?