Innovations in Connection: Community meets Cybertech, where the future of social impact unfolds through the lens of online communities.
I’m Ryan Mayne, a seasoned community development leader for 21 years and a tech enthusiast with a B.Hons in Psychology. Join me as I guide you through the international waters of cyberspace to find sustainable solutions for the communities we can physically see and those we would otherwise never know existed.
Since my youth I’ve been passionate about harnessing technology to transform communities. This passion led to the inception of a social impact business that fuses coding with market positioning and community management. I have learned many rich lessons along the way.
I left all safety and comfort behind to embark on this path. At times it has felt like a failed mission that cost me everything to lead nowhere, and then there were the rewarding and victorious moments that I’m sure you know well. This path tests the heart but for the social entrepreneur it is the only path, it’s in our DNA to bring life to the solutions we so restlessly carry.
I was a part time community development leader until a turning point. I had co-led a community of AIDS-impacted families to establish a thriving, community-led, self-sustaining, support and actualisation ecosystem for them. I felt great about what we had achieved and left the project in the hands of a capable team. Years later, to my dismay, I returned to discover a community no different to before I had first encountered it. In this blog post you will discover emerging technologies that may have all but ensured that this initiative was sustained.
Over the years I’ve discovered a community of new and emerging social entrepreneurs that are equally passionate about finding hidden solutions between online communities and real-world changes. These solutions are birthed in virtual spaces where people worldwide come together to support each other and make a real difference. They are also the birthplace of flourishing movements.
It is here that this blog carves out its unique contribution, at the intersection of technology, sociology, and human interaction.
There are opportunities reserved for those who have a deep understanding of sociology as well as opportunities only afforded to those who can successfully navigate unfamiliar technologies. My mission is to open both worlds of opportunity up for you, but, more than that, to invite you into a community of people who know the road of the social entrepreneur.
We start here and now. I believe that this blog post will clarify emerging trends and introduce some sociological factors that make them work. It will bring these factors together with some practical steps to start leveraging these emerging innovations for vision-driven community engagement.
We will start our journey with technologies you may have already heard about. Let us take a snapshot at what is making the most impact at present:
Staying connected in micro-communities: what’s really going on behind the off camera?
TRENDS IN ONLINE COMMUNITIES
Tools are only as good as the way in which we use them. Here are some of the ways in which existing tools and features are being used to make the most impact:
The rise of online communities reflects a fundamental shift in human connection, as we increasingly turn to online spaces to find belonging. Niche communities offer a sense of belonging that’s hard to find elsewhere. As we start to implement these trending tools, tactics and strategies we can expect our communities to grow in both number and health, but what does a healthy community really look like?
In the ever-evolving digital landscape, online communities have become pivotal hubs for connection, collaboration, and meaningful impact. Likes, comments, and shares don’t offer deep-level understanding of a community’s health or future. To truly gauge the well-being of an online community, we need to understand the dynamics that define its vibrancy and sustainability.
We should envision online communities as living organisms, thriving on the collective energy and interactions of its members. It is more than the sum of its parts. It must solve both short-term and long-term needs through a harmonious interplay of practical engagement, genuine connection, and meaningful purpose.
Traditional metrics (likes and followers) fall short in capturing the essence of a thriving community. Online communities demand a nuanced approach to evaluation.
Key Considerations for Community Health:
From a sociological standpoint, online communities serve as microcosms of society, reflecting power dynamics, social norms, and cultural influences.
The health of online communities transcends numerical metrics; it’s a mirror of the collective well-being, engagement, and impact of its members. Embracing a holistic approach to measurement allows us to identify and nurture the factors contributing to sustainable, vibrant online communities that empower individuals and drive positive change.
By shifting our focus from our own reputation to the experiences of our members we will naturally serve them better and optimise the sustainable growth of our communities.
Staying connected through new technology: who are we really connecting to?
TOP TRENDS IN CYBERTECH TO LOOK FOR
Emerging Cyber Technologies
I remember a good friend giving me a pair of virtual reality goggles once — expensive ones, too. She gave them to me because she didn’t know what to do with them. It felt like I was holding a piece of an alien ship and had no idea how to use it, only that one day I would. Business is about strategy and intentionality. Once you have fully embraced the technologies that are already mainstream, the next pressing question is, “How do I position myself for the coming technological revolutions?”
The next wave of web revolutions (let’s call it Web3) is fast approaching and we are all going to get wet sooner or later. The refreshing truth, though, is that social entrepreneurship is the most exciting place to be standing for this wave. So let’s dive in.
To fully understand Web3, we need to understand the problems it addresses by looking at the history of the Web.
These trends were shadowed by tech addictions, security and privacy concerns, social divisions, mistrust, and echo chambers. Web3 is a pushback against the perpetuation of these societal pains that have haunted the web’s evolution.
Web3: 3 Distinct solutions
The web has consistently pushed the boundaries of human connection and interaction. We are now on the cusp of a new era. This transformative revolution involves three distinct parallel and simultaneous paths of innovation.
AI-powered Community Management. Artificial intelligence (AI) is being integrated seamlessly everywhere, automating tasks and providing valuable insights to community managers. AI-powered tools can already moderate content, provide customer support, and analyse community data, allowing managers to focus on strategic initiatives and personalised member interactions. This integration of AI streamlines community management, enhancing its efficiency and effectiveness.
It’s easy to predict the broader effect of AI on community management environments. It starts by understanding three of the main priorities held by the big corporates that manage online spaces. These are value to the user, time spent online, and revenue (mostly through data and advertising).
AI serves these priorities by improving the quality of the connections made between users and what they really want, already illustrated by TikTok’s current AI algorithm. This means that social entrepreneurs will be rewarded with more user influence and attention if they focus on a narrow niche of only those users they can best serve.
It is helpful for brands to start conceptualising themselves as serving multiple micro niches instead of one broad niche. This will also require reconceptualising what truly makes them unique and what is the core of their brand that must never change.
Decentralised communities are leading the way to more democratic and equitable online experiences. They are built on the idea that everyone should have a say in how things are run. This means less censorship and manipulation, and more space for diverse voices to be heard.
It marks a shift from mindlessness to empowerment; instead of passively consuming content, users in decentralised communities can become active participants. They can build tools, share resources, and contribute to the decision-making process. This creates a sense of ownership and responsibility, leading to stronger communities.
Decentralised communities can automatically manage tasks, digital resources (such as finances), moderation and access, based on the rules and values agreed upon by the community. It ensures transparency and complete alignment with the community’s values. This can save time and resources. It can also help to reduce bias, human error, blind spots and corruption. This is why these structures have become magnets for funding opportunities.
How could such communities benefit your target audience? Could they be used to facilitate collaboration, share resources, or raise funds for a social causes? By understanding this trend and taking steps to prepare for it, social entrepreneurs can position themselves as leaders in the new digital landscape.
Metaverse. The metaverse is a conceptual idea for a shared, immersive virtual world that is interconnected and persistent. It is a convergence of physical and digital spaces, where users can collaborate and engage in a wide range of activities as if they were physically present in the same space.
Where virtual reality allows for immersive digital experiences, other related technologies allow for users to interact with a virtual world that is projected onto (and interacts with) the real world they see. Where mobile screens moved some of our virtual attention from desktop screens, this will move some of our virtual attention off our screens altogether but in so doing increase our time spent in virtual spaces.
There is still a lot of work to be done before the metaverse becomes readily accessible; however, with Microsoft, Meta and Google collectively spending hundreds of billions of dollars on this technology, we may well see this technology suddenly entering mainstream society at some point. When it does, it has the potential to revolutionise the way communities can gather, socialise, and participate in shared experiences, allowing for the formation of more influencial bonds, collaborations and lenses through which we see the world.
The metaverse could encourage a disconnect from the real world (and from the meaningfulness of tangible change); however, it conversely introduces an opportunity to make a movement’s vision an immersive experience and to help one’s community to see the real world — along with its threats and opportunities — through the lenses of such a vision. It is where the power of storytelling and shared narratives will truly come to life as a super-tool in establishing a sense of collective identity, purpose and strong community bonds. For this to work effectively for social change we should already start thinking about our vision in terms of an immersive experience.
Social entrepreneurs play a pivotal role in shaping Web3, ensuring that its innovations align with ethical principles and promote positive societal impact. They must carefully navigate the opportunities and threats, embracing the potential while remaining mindful of the risks.
Which opportunities will we lead our people to through technology?
What this Means for Social Entrepreneurs
AI-Assisted Community Management
Social entrepreneurs with no technical background can make use of AI for community management in several ways, starting with the following tools:
There are a number of examples of Decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) that are already operating and demonstrating the potential of this technology. These DAOs address a variety of objectives, such as investing, funding, and governance. MolochDAO is one such DAO, which uses a deep feedback voting system (voting measures preference strength and direction) to make decisions. It has funded a number of public good projects, including the development of decentralised tools and infrastructure.
I would recommend starting small and experimenting with the below platforms: don’t try to build a fully-fledged decentralised community overnight. Start with a pilot project and see how it goes.
The following platforms make it easy to create and manage a DAO without any technical expertise:
If you get stuck, feel free to drop a question in these comments or to tag me in a post on Twitter @aLegacyFounder.
The Metaverse is still going to go through many growing pains and the required devices are not yet mainstream. Your time investment will likely yield more results if you wait another 2 years. If you do want to know more about what’s already publicly accessible in this space, you might want to have a look at AltspaceVR or VRChat (for casual social interactions), and CoSpaces Edu (for educational use).
As we embark on this exploration of the future of social impact through online communities, we find ourselves standing at the intersection of technology, sociology, and human connection.
The evolution of online communities mirrors a broader shift in how we seek and establish connections, challenging us to rethink traditional notions of belonging and collaboration. The sociological dimensions we’ve explored – social cohesion, collective identity, and cultural norms – underscore the profound impact these digital spaces have on shaping our societal fabric. We play a vital role in building truly healthy communities that are diverse, meaningful, community-driven, transparent, engaging and promote mental well-being.
The trends we’ve uncovered, from the use of present day tools and features to the immersive experiences of the metaverse, reveal a landscape ripe with opportunities for social impact entrepreneurs and community builders.
The horizon of social impact in online communities calls us to blend futurism with social patterns of the recent past, ensuring that as we forge ahead as leaders for social good; we do so with a profound understanding of the intricate dance between technology, humanity, and the collective drive for positive change. We have the power to unite individuals around shared passions, amplifying their voices as well as the power to separate and alienate. In my next blog post I will explore the humanisation of innovations in connection.
In the comments, I invite you to discuss your thoughts on this question: “How fast should we run towards adopting the coming changes in cyber technology?”
Online communities are becoming increasingly important for social impact movements.
Emerging technologies, such as Web3 and the metaverse, offer new opportunities for online communities. Now is the best time to start experimenting with them.
By mastering the online community space social entrepreneurs are natural forerunners in emerging cyber technologies and we can help determine how they will be used.
To discuss in the comments: How fast should we run towards adopting the coming changes in cyber technology?
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