Technology both helps and hinders community.
It helps in the following ways:
1) Accessibility. Technology allows everyone in the world to participate. You don't have to be in the same room. You don't have to wait for a pause in the discussion to participate. You don't have to be extroverted to jump in. You can join in the specific discussions you like. You can ask the difficult questions you couldn't ask in person.
2) Longevity. Community activities are (usually) stored indefinitely. They create a body of knowledge. They create a sum of previous stories and shared experienced. This is powerful for communities filled with tacit knowledge easily lost when members depart. You can use this to rapidly improve the skills/abilities of members.
3) Nudges. Technology can automatically remind people to participate in communities. We can use technology to establish reminders, notifications, and other nudges to get people into the regular habit of participating in their community. From the moment members join, you can nudge members to participate in the right discussions in the right way via copy and tech tweaks.
4) Influence. Technology allows you to have clear influence over what the community. You can add/remove discussions, highlight members and material you want people to pay attention to, and establish the rules for participation more easily than you could with an offline community. You can create an easy narrative for the community via content.
Technology also makes community work more difficult:
1) Depersonalizes. Technology depersonalizes the communication experience. there is a weak social presence. It doesn't feel as real nor as valuable. You don't get the same quantity or quality of information exchange as in person. You also care less about other members. You can use anonymity to attack people without retribution.
2) Evolves. The steady evolution of technology can lead to members deserting platforms en-masse just as you've finally created the perfect platform. Members are fickle, and happy to jump from one platform to the next at great speed. Keeping platforms updated is more difficult.
3) Causes fear People are scared. They're scared for their privacy, they're scared of looking bad, they're scared of their information being stolen. They fear sharing information, they have privacy concerns, they have concerns about overlapping identities.
4) Distracts. Technology is also a huge distraction from the work of getting people to interact with one another. It takes time to design, develop, and maintain a platform. New features are as likely to do harm as do good.
This isn't a comprehensive list.
We need more of the former and less of the latter.
If you want to master the social science approach to building successful communities, sign up for our Professional Community Management course.
Registration is open now. The course begins on April 28th.