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The Power of Digital Communities

Is there really an audience that would watch a live stream of a random intersection in Wyoming? Yes, and in fact, many of the same people would tune in to watch a live feed of a large puddle in Newcastle upon Tyne in England. Seemingly mundane live stream videos like the Jackson Hole Town Center and the Drummond Puddle Watch have had the internet abuzz in the past year, not so much because of the videos’ content, but because of the communities that formed around them.

That’s the thing about digital communities: they develop themselves whether you intend them to or not. Shortly after it launched, Jackson Hole’s Town Center live stream had thousands of people watching at once, chatting live and creating their own traditions. Every time a red truck passed through the intersection (this happened quite often), the chat would explode with a flood of “RED TRUCK!” comments. Anyone who walked through the metal arch was praised by viewers for “feeding it.” And so it went.

And live streams are not the only place impromptu digital communities have budded and flourished. For April Fool’s Day 2017, Reddit launched a community project called /r/place. For 72 hours, every Reddit account had access to a digital canvas and could add a single pixel every five (later ten) minutes. What began as a blank white canvas evolved into a masterpiece of community collaboration.

Despite some initial warring, including a battle of Red Corner vs. Blue Corner and the German flag vs. the French flag, treaties were eventually established, both formally and informally. Germany and France ended their feud by creating the EU flag together. When Rainbow Road intersected with other communities’ contributions, they organized together to merge their works.

While compromises were reached across communities, one entity was overcome with sheer determination. The Void was an expanding black patch in the center of the canvas, and its goal was to create a blank slate for new artwork by removing established pieces. Communities began coordinating on Reddit and VOIP channels to defend their iconography and combat The Void. At the end of the event, all that remained of The Void was an iconic Pink Floyd prism on a black background.

There’s a great lesson here for community managers and moderators. If you’ve built a strong, safe, and passionate community, it will help to preserve itself. Forum members will report inappropriate content, fans will come to your brand’s aide on social media. And, if the misbehaving members decide to become constructive contributors, they will be welcomed into the fold.

/r/place was a largely self-regulated project, but when you visit the subreddit, you notice something missing. Where is the spam? Where are the bots? The internet woes that tend to stick to all large-scale, popular internet phenomena are nowhere to be found. Reddit’s system of upvotes and downvotes certainly helped keep irrelevant content at bay, but it’s likely their reporting system was also a big help.

Ultimately, digital communities will organize and decide who they want to be. What behavior is and is not acceptable is, in part, directed by those who participate and add content to the community. At ModSquad, we know the importance and responsibility that community management and moderation carry. Think of a community manager as the guiding hand, building the space, creating opportunities, reinforcing good behavior, and facilitating the community to become the best it can be. The moderation team are the hall monitors. They help the community shine and grow by keeping it safe and orderly.

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