Spot.IM Contributor

Oct 17, 20183m read

The Value of Community in a Social Media World

By Ben Szurek

In a 1962 essay titled “The Virgin and the Dynamo,” the poet W.H. Auden explores a tension that characterizes life in the modern world. Life, according to Auden, is a war between two competing truths: (1) the fact that all people are unique, valuable, and responsible for their own actions and decisions, and (2) the reality that there exists billions of such self-determined individuals, who come together in groups that cause each one to act less as an individual, and more as a member of a group.

The problem, for Auden, boils down to this: how do we retain our individuality – the sense that we are unique, self-determined, and valuable – when it is becoming increasingly clear that each one of us is also a statistic – a single unit in a teeming collective.

Auden was exploring these thoughts in the early ‘60s, well before the advent of social media. Now, at a moment when technological advancement has given birth to an internet and online social networks that enable people from across the world to join together faster and more frequently than ever, the problem he puts forward is even more urgent. Social media allows us to present our individuality in a variety of ways: through images, statements, and interactions with other social media users. At the same time, social media so often devolves into a sheer numbers game: who has the most likes, shares, views, comments, etc.

The appeal of amassing numbers on social media is obvious. Garnering a certain number of likes and views suggests that whatever achieved those numbers is popular, and therefore valuable. But it may be time to rethink the paradigm of what success through social media looks like.

How can we construct and implement social media platforms that uphold the best aspect of the technology – the ability to connect with other people, regardless of physical location – rather than settling for quantifiable popularity as the only measurement of success?

Creators of branded content are already working towards an answer to this question, beginning with the premise that brand visibility means less than brand engagement. Rather than settling for advertisements that will be seen by many, creators are striving to put out content that will invite consumers in and motivate them to participate in the creation of the brand. We know that branding efforts can be disillusioning in their pursuit of ubiquity. Though flashy and colorful, Andy Warhol’s hundreds of paintings of Campbell’s soup cans show the eerie side of branding, which can make a product so appealing and yet so impersonal. The new wave of branded content looks to change that through marketing the product by personalizing the company-consumer interaction.

By prioritizing the quality of company-consumer interactions over the quantity, branded content is moving from creating advertisements to creating communities. This, too, is one of the focuses of Spot.IM: building a new platform to create communities of writers and readers for publishers. Communities are personal and interconnected. They foster meaningful dialogue and personal accountability – two things often missing in the social media landscape at large.

In his essay, Auden draws a distinction between crowds – which are large, untethered, amorphous – and communities, which center around a shared love of something, or each other. Social media, as it stands, is a crowd. The way forward is to find the communities within that crowd, and to build them up from within.

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