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Design Your Online Community for the Users, Not for the Organization

Written by Maddie Grant | on March 24, 2015 at 9:42 AM

We talk a lot about how social media has changed marketing pretty drastically, and we also talk about the Millennial generation's use of social media and how much time they spend online and behind their screens. But we're missing a more important point. When you look at the bigger picture, the real game changer behind social media has been the way it has transferred power away from central institutions and towards individuals.

Remember when the only way to get video entertainment was at the movie theaters or watching the handful of television stations we were offered? You were left out of the game if you didn't have the resources to produce very expensive programs and broadcast them around the world to your desired audiences. That's not true anymore. TV and movie studios still provide that service, of course, but YouTube has put that power into the hands of individuals as well. And we individuals like it that way! That cat is out of the bag. We like getting our entertainment exactly when and where we want it.

Of course this transformation goes beyond just video entertainment. In the digital age, the user is king. Software is now designed to work on multiple operating systems and multiple devices (all of which change constantly). Designing software to work on multiple operating systems is hard on the software company, but it's worth it, because it takes into account the fact that users will be coming from iOs, Android, Chrome, Firefox, IE, etc.

And algorithms present each and every one of us with customized (and sometimes creepily accurate) recommendations for products to purchase as we move about the online world. This personalization is important not just because it's nice to be able to craft the experience for the user in general; it's important because it helps move the needle on business goals.

Now, remember the Millennial generation grew up with this kind of customization. They have a personalized experience almost everywhere they go online. They spend their "down time" playing games like World of Warcraft, where they are working on global, multicultural teams that perform virtually on a twenty-four hour basis. They are creating and inventing and breaking rules and solving problems in ways that make sense to them. They get a bad rap in the workplace as being too 'entitled' as a generation. But they aren't entitled - they are used to operating in a digital world where customization, personalization, collaboration and transparent communication are foundational.

Then, perhaps they log in to your online community - and what happens?

Is their experience frictionless? Can they easily get to where they want to go? We often create online communities in order to increase "engagement," but are we letting people engage in ways that make sense to THEM, or do we push them to engage in ways that make sense to US, the organization?

Are we creating cookie-cutter paths for them to create and share content we can use to improve our marketing? Are we segmenting them because they fit in our little boxes, so we can give them content for those boxes (that we created)? What happens if a similar discussion is happening in multiple "boxes"? Are you creating an online community that provides value to a large number of people, even though they have diverse - and diverging - interests and needs?

How do we provide a container within which they can create and share content that is truly meaningful to them? Let's think about how to create an experience designed for the user - and not just the Millennial user, but every individual.

This post is part of a series about Millennials and Online Community. Join us in the conversation! How are you thinking about designing your community in a way that personalizes the user experience?

Topics: Millennials, Marketing, Member Communities

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