Social networks are not communities and they’ve never been!

The social presence is the buzzword of these days. It seems that presence in social networks is the inevitable part of living a modern life.

The terms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, social networks and online communities are often used interchangeably by most of the people without any thinking about the attributes of each one and the subtle yet significant differences between them. By Overlooking these differences, we are in danger of living with the people we were not looking for or leaving the people we have been always craving.

The difference between social networks and communities

It’s not possible to prepare a list of differences between Social Networks and Communities which everybody agrees on. However, I’ve made a list of the points that I believe are helpful in differentiating them:

Ties vs. Goals

Social networks are made of nodes and ties. Every person is a node, and every relationship is a tie. Social networks are designed in such a way that you feel the compulsion to promote yourself and make more ties.

So I’m connected to my friend and, therefore, have a connection to my friend’s friend, and sooner or later, the social platform will recommend me or my posts to the friend of my friend’s friend.

In contrast to social networks, communities are built around common goals, targets and values. So we can have a community of bookworms or an online community for freelancers. However, a social network is much more general and always takes a neutral position regarding goals and values: Facebook tries to provide the same space for book-haters as well as book-lovers and the same access for liberals as well as conservatives. This is the policy that a community will not tolerate.

More connections vs. Stronger Connections

Even if you claim that you have a private profile for close friends, still it makes you happier to have one more follower at least in your limited target space. Social networks are empires of numbers. Everything is finally translated into likes and follows. But a deeper and stronger relationship is preferred in communities.

Therefore, most of the people consider social networks as an opportunity for more friends and relationships but the communities for a few but deeper ones.

Commitment to the nodes vs. Commitment to the whole entity

Compare these two sentences:

I have a facebook profile vs. I am a member of our local health community.

The former is about ownership, but the latter is about identity. This is a difference that no one can ignore. In a social network, we are committed to our friends and in a community, we are committed to the community itself.

This is the reason that when you are deactivating your Facebook profile, you receive a message stating that your friends will miss you. Would be nonsense if the message says: Facebook will miss you.

The above list can be much longer, but it’s enough for the purpose I have in mind: Although there’s neither a pure social network nor a pure online community on the web, it’s too optimistic if we think one can be a perfect substitute for the other.

As being present in each of these spaces has different costs and benefits, every individual and every business has to make a tough decision about its online presence and considering this two different entities as one can be a fatal mistake for anyone who is considering the web as a part of its future.