Network Effects in Community Building

The total value of an entire community is greater than the sum of the individual parts. This is because a community’s value expands on an exponential basis with each new member. A new member creates potential value from unique interactions with each member of the community as opposed to one interaction.

What this means is that in the beginning, it’s important to get community members to join as quickly as possible. The more quickly you get followers, the more quickly you will be able to leverage the network effects associated with an expanding community.

This is essential for digital citizens to understand. Digital citizens are people that spend an increasing amount of time interacting with digital communities. They represent a shift towards a digitally immersed society. As more people make this shift towards becoming a digital citizen they will need to learn the foundational principles of digital society such as network effects.

I’ll provide myself as an example. I’m working to build a community around the shifting mindset that life is progressively leaving the physical world behind for the digital world. This change has consequences for society, how we will live and interact with one another and what it means to those unprepared to make the change. As I work to define what a digital citizen is and seek out like minded individuals to discuss this topic, I am working to build my own community.

Through this effort, I have started to study the importance of network effects in digital life. My findings are pretty simple, to be a successful digital citizen you must become an active network node, or a point of value creation and redistribution. In the case of a digital citizen, think of a node as an information filtration system that increases in value as it’s activity increases. Active network nodes provide increasing value to those that seek it’s specific information filter.

Some of these network nodes can be narrow and specific to niche topics, others can be broad and appeal to wider communities. But the fundamental premise holds true regardless of size, ie: to be a valuable network node a digital citizen must produced valuable filtered content it’s community with high frequency.

When working to build a community its important to think of the community as a network being built from a seed network node. In digital settings, this means several things.

A seed node is simply a starting point that requires resources and a lot of initial nurturing before it becomes a network that can start to self reinforce (take care of itself).

The seed node must be clearly identified and defined as a content filter. Ie: what type of information will blossom from the seed? An audience that is interested in searching the internet for radios is more than likely going to be uninterested in a seed node about digital citizenship.

Once defined, the seed node will need to begin producing content, lots of it and as high quality as is possible when first starting out. Like a seed that has been planted, nothing is going to happen at first. But with access to sunshine and proper watering, the seed will sprout, sink its roots into the ground and being to grow up through the soil.

For a digital network node, this means that when working to establish a community network, there won’t be very much action in the beginning. But in time and with proper cultivation you will see results.

Once you’ve started to produce content as a network seed node its important that you get your seed as much sunlight as possible. This means finding as many pre-established and relevant networks to engage with as possible.

Your goal is to woo interested network participants to coming over to your seed node. In a best case scenario, they will find your content valuable and establish a link between your budding network and another well established network. In reality, when starting out, it will more than likely be that you get one off visitors to your seed node. These act as important initial indicators of success.

It also highlights the importance of establishing a way to capture early network visitors. Building an early version of an email subscription landing page is a great and important way to capture early visitors and establish links to other networks. Early capture of network connections will greatly accelerate the speed with which a network can grow. By capturing early participants, a network is more likely to capture other active network nodes capable of sharing content with other networks and establishing a reinforcing growth loop.

When building a digital network you want to become a super-connector. An active and value oriented network node. Focusing on quality, quantity, and speed of initial exposure will greatly amplify your ability to create a long lasting and value oriented digital community.

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