Are we seeing a return to community? I hope so. Here is what it looks like in real life.

The early heady days of social media (circa 2009-2012) were characterised by a genuine sense of community.

This was an era when social media truly was social, and activity on channels such as Twitter and Facebook often acted as a precursor to offline meetups and coffee catch-ups that in turn resulted in stronger connections and relationships between people of like mind.

Then in swaggered the marketers, online entrepreneurs and ‘growth hackers’, and suddenly two-way social media participation became one-way social media marketing. Add into the equation the growing number of extremists on both sides of the political fence who started populating social channels, as well as the platforms’ quest for profitability through advertising, and social media as we knew it quickly evolved into a noisy cesspool of one-way broadcasting.

Humanity was swiftly tossed aside as businesses, large and small, raced to cash in on the so-called social media gold rush.

Out of the blue came a plethora of automation tools, sales funnel blueprints, bots, clickbait headlines … and no shortage of ‘gurus’ telling the world how they could turn us into six-figure superstars!

Numbers were everything, and human connection was summarily dismissed as nothing more than Kumbaya.  If it didn’t have a direct impact on sales, then it was a waste of time.

Great. So where has that got us?

More informational noise, less value.

More pitches, less conversation and education.

More chest-beating, less informed commentary and authentic exchanges.

Brands doing what they’ve always done – bombarding us with promotional messages telling us how great they are, but light on when it comes to delivering value over and above their products and services.

The power of humanity

Instead of earning our attention, marketers have splintered it.

Instead of attracting us to their brands, many businesses and nonprofits are repelling us.

Instead of engendering trust through genuine exchanges of information, online entrepreneurs and growth hackers are treating us like fools with their valueless content and gimmicky copy.

And while these scenarios continue to play out ad nauseum on social media today, there is a parallel ‘movement’ emerging that is starting to restore my faith in the power of humanity. For example, people are retreating in droves to safer online waters, as evidenced by the rise and rise of niche communities using platforms such as ‘closed’ and ‘secret’ Facebook Groups where they can be more open with each other.

I like to say #HumanityIsTheNewBlack.

I experienced this first-hand the other day in Bournemouth on the south-west coast of England.

But first, a bit of background …

Mark Masters (pictured above, second from left) and I connected over social media five years ago and have kept up the conversation ever since. Aside from our many conversations over ‘the socials’ (including Skype), we’ve helped each other with content for our own blogs and podcasts.

Over the past few years, Mark has created a community around a concept he calls You Are The Media (YATM).

YATM has developed over time. It’s a weekly newsletter, dispatched promptly each Thursday morning (UK time). It’s a monthly lunch club. It’s a podcastIt’s a tour. And a conference! It’s all of these things, and more. It’s a sum of parts – the connections and relationships made by professionals and small business owners in the county of Dorset and beyond (outside of the UK, YATM has subscribers from US, Australia, Norway, Iceland, Belgium, Brazil and France).

I might live on the other side of the world and not able to attend all the events Mark puts on, but I have always felt a part of the YATM community, and nowhere was this more pronounced than when I got to speak at an event Mark put on this month in Bournemouth.

I was going to be in the UK to spend some time with my daughter who was on an extended holiday in Europe. I mentioned this to Mark, who promptly said “let’s have a lunch”. I thought, okay, good idea. I’d begin my UK road trip in Bournemouth, meet Mark for the first time IRL (in real life), have a beer and a pie with him and a few of his mates – people from the YATM community – and that would be a great way to kickstart my holiday.

Within a day or so, Mark informed me 35 people would be attending the lunch. This number eventually swelled to 50, with some people travelling from Wales (Ben Roberts), London (Jon Burkhart, Dan Hatch and Lauren McMenemy) and Bristol (Sonja Jefferson) for the invitation-only event. Only one dropped out because of illness, and he had taken off the day so he could stay for the afternoon and get fully involved.

The key words here are ‘invitation-only’.

This was an event for the ‘true believers’, active members of the growing YATM community.

To say I was chuffed at the turn-out would be an understatement!

Here I was, from Melbourne, having never met any of the 50 people attending this lunch before – with the exception of Matt Desmier, who I connected with while we were both on the Gold Coast several years back, at the behest of Mark – but I felt like I had known many of the attendees via social media and their blogs and websites.

The vibe in the room was incredibly warm, welcoming and positive, a world away from the hustle and bustle of Twitter and LinkedIn.

People were interesting … and interested, open to new concepts and ideas; it was a collegiate atmosphere where participants felt comfortable enough to talk about the challenges they faced as professionals and small business entrepreneurs.

I spoke for about an hour – it wasn’t really a presentation per se, more of a Q&A with Mark leading to a few freewheeling riffs on my part, plus questions from the floor. We followed up the event with a four-way podcast interview and a few beers (left).

I may have been the speaker. Mark may have been the host. Jon Burkhart may have fired up the crowd with his own special brand of ‘firecracker’ enthusiasm. But at the end of the day, it was the people who attended who made the event what it was.

All in all, it was a terrific afternoon. But it wouldn’t have happened had Mark not have created and nurtured the You Are The Media community in the first place, if he hadn’t started a blog, created a podcast, or begun a Facebook Group. If Mark and I hadn’t connected five years ago, there would be no event, no follow-up conversation on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn … no post-lunch podcast.

Community. It’s a sexy thing brands love talking about, but precious few have one, let alone are willing to put in the effort to build and nurture a community of like minds.

As Seth Godin says: It’s all about the tribes we create and lead.

What are you doing to build and connect with your community (tribe) today?

(PHOTO: Lee Taylor, from Steele Raymond, who also picked up the drinks tab - thanks Lee!)

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3 thoughts on “Are we seeing a return to community? I hope so. Here is what it looks like in real life.”

  1. What a great story Trevor. You know I love a great Meet Up and bringing the social into Social Media.
    We should arrange some more lunches when you get back to Melbourne.

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