Are You Building An Online Group, Community, Or Pseudo-Community?


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The following is a pre-release version of a portion of a chapter on the realities of online communities, from the book “Giving The Business To Social Media”. It is presented in it’s unedited form. In the book there’s more information about how to go about establishing true communities to benefit the business and users.

Groups, Communities and Pseudo-Communities

In our definitions, we aren’t going to try to develop universal definitions. We’ll focus only on defining the characteristics of groups, communities and pseudo-communities that are important and related to our topic of social media (online).

A group is a collection of people who may be in the same place, literally and figuratively and who share some limited characteristics, such as common interest in a topic. Groups tend to be content or topic driven. While emotional ties between and among members of a group can develop, this collection of folks can still be called a group even if there is little or no “caring” about each other within the group beyond the base level of caring one would expect about any human beings.

A community is different in several important respects. First, the community shares common concerns about what they hold in common. The welfare of community members is somewhat tied together so that what is good for one community member is good for many.

Second, community members care about each other in ways that do not characterize groups. That makes sense because community members share much more than do group members and relationships develop emotional content — emotional ties. The welfare of community members becomes intertwined.

People in true communities behave differently than people in loose groups. They tend to look out for each other, share more completely when they have resources valuable to other community members, and giving and receiving is common and expected. They help solve each other’s problems. While community members are brought together initially as a result of commonalities, often of geography (in real life), the relationships that are formed in a true community often sustain even when members disperse and no longer share the commonality.

A pseudo-community is something that appears to its members to be a community, but is actually a much looser collection of people who’s loyalty and caring about each other is closer to the “group” level, than that of a community.

Here’s an example you might have experienced, since its very common. When you are employed at a workplace for a while, you tend to develop ties to the people you work with. Those connections may even include behavior typical of close friends, and typical of those in a community.

It’s not surprising that people feel they are part of a circle of friends, or community based on working together. After all, when you spend seven hours a day together, five days a week, relationships develop. People feel they have bonded.

What’s interesting is what happens when a person leaves the work context. If the individual was truly a member of a community based on concern for the individual people and what is held in common, you would expect the relationships not to change. It “should” exist even when a person goes on to another job, albeit in a modified form.

Many people discover, however, that once one is away from the work context, one almost ceases to exist. Coworkers don’t call, or call only early in the separation. Most socializing stops. This is not typical of communities where the bonds go beyond interest in a common topic or issue. Communities still care about individuals in the community even if they don’t still share everything they did before.

If you’ve confused a a pseudo-community with a real community, you’ll understand the hurt feelings and disappointment around believing that your relationships, which you thought were based on personal caring and interest, were really not that at all, or rather, ceased to exist as soon as you didn’t share the same environment. Loyalty and concern is a part of real community but not part of a group or a pseudo-community.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Robert Bacal
Robert began his career as an educator and trainer at the age of twenty (which is over 30 years ago!), as a teaching assistant at Concordia University. Since then he as trained teachers for the college and high school level, taught at several universities and trained thousands of employees and managers in customer service, conflict management and performance appraisal and performance management skills.


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