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How To Engage With Communities Without Being Eaten Alive

In Marketing we talk a lot about communities lately. We want to join communities, we want to build communities and as businesses (when we’re honest with ourselves) we want to profit from said communities. And if we’re upfront and honest with that community and have real value to add then it’s usually okay.

But when we’re not honest we can find ourselves in a world of hurt.

We hate people coming into our community with the goal of exploiting that community for their own gain.

One of the single most fascinating communities on the Internet has to be Anonymous. I won’t go into a lot of detail about the group but in their own words:

We  just happen to be a group of people on the internet who need — just kind of an outlet to do as we wish, that we wouldn’t be able to do in regular society. …That’s more or less the point of it. Do as you wish. … There’s a common phrase: ‘we are doing it for the lulz.’

Recently, Aaron Barr, then CEO of the high tech security firm, HBGary Federal - they did high level tech security for the US government - decided he’d do some “research” on how not secure social media is by finding out the real identity of several influential members of Anonymous. The research wasn’t just some well intentioned anthropological research it was a move to, at best, show how smart he was to his defense clients or, at worst, rat out the supposed identities of one of the biggest thorns in the governments side.

Needless to say, this did not end well for Aaron Barr.

Here’s the complete saga from @arstechnica on how anonymous got revenge on security CEO Aaron Barr (using Bitly bundle) http://bit.ly/hxL9vj

If you don’t have time to read the great Ars coverage, here’s Colbert’s take on things.

The Moral of The Story?

Don’t mess with communities. If you don’t have genuinely have the best interest of the community at heart, then you don’t want to join or build a community. This is an extreme example but it is only one of many, many examples that range from mom bloggers to youth, to Anonymous.

Photo credit by ansik

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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • http://memorago.com jon knight

    Back when I was fixing folks’ pcs one of my usual bits of web-wisdom was “If you don’t do it in the ‘real’ world, don’t do it on the net.” Usually this was directed at the guy who made a habit of visiting porn sites but wouldn’t be caught dead on the local ‘hooker street’.

  • http://twitter.com/briancrouch Brian Crouch

    Interesting to see a CEO tempt fate that way… (Playing World of Warcraft while married, I mean. ;) )

    An interesting facet of communities, to me, is that almost no one exists as a member of a singular group. The overlapping aspects of an individual’s life, the barrage of ideas and value-judgments end up creating ever-more-tenuous relationships within some kinds of communities, and the incentives for continuous engagement can decline over time. I can’t imagine a psychological incentive will always win out over an existential one… People may perceive a community as a group of “friends,” but that’s scarcely the reality.
    Further, an individual that has antipathy to the adherents of one side of an issue, may simultaneously be allied with members of the community on the opposing side. Specifically, a person may reside in a political subcommunity that directly opposes the policies of that person’s employers. The evolution of the individual’s stakes in various other aspects of life (taking on a mortgage, having kids) draw one away from time spent in that extreme community, thus giving time to consider challenges to its core principles- alternative views. The community’s individuals becomes less monolithic and balance emerges: a maturation that leads to openness.

    To me that represents both risk and opportunity. The myriad viewpoints of any group tests loyalties, alliances, cohesion and effectiveness. A community may believe it’s a unified body, but soon find someone deeply within its midst is being pulled into other directions. By one perspective (a jaundiced one) that individual can become their ‘worst enemy.’
    On the other hand, that individual might provide perspective that allows the community to grow wiser.

    So if a community is destructive to a business’s ends, sometimes TIME is the only cure, and allowing maturation and entropy and the effect of reality’s dilution to do their thing. I certainly posit that poking the bear or… shall we say, “being intimate with” the hornet’s nest is rarely as effective as allowing time to do its natural work.

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