Information vs. Belonging (and the value of the debate format)

Last week, I debated David Spinks (founder of CMX and author of The Business of Belonging) about whether members want information or belonging from a brand community.

You can find the video here (edited out some technical issues at the beginning).

You can watch the video and make up your own mind on the value of our arguments.

It’s worth noting the popularity of the format. I’ve hosted hundreds of webinars over the decade and never had as many registrations as this one (this also speaks to the popularity of David). Nor has any previous panel or webinar had the quantity and quality of engagement of this session.

I think there’s a few things going on here:

1) Testing a new format. We certainly didn’t invent this debate format, but they don’t seem to be widely used. Yet every community has contentious issues with competing sides. I suspect there’s a deep level of fatigue with typical podcast interviews. Interviewees aren’t typically forced to vigorously defend their claims.

A debate (where the audience selects a winner) flips that on its head. You know you’re going to be pushed hard so you need to justify your arguments better. This increases the quality of the discussion (as long as you can keep it civil). There is no reason you can’t select two known figures in your community to debate competing issues (it might even resolve the topic from spilling over into other areas).

2) Tribal nature. Debates with a winner tap into a tribal nature. People get to pick a side and debate the claims of one another. The quality of engagement in the chat was extremely high (and frequently funny) throughout. It never felt like just me and David debating, it felt like everyone else debating too.

3) Real-time feedback. The value of having the chat window allowed every attendee to be a real-time fact-checker. This also makes the audience part of the debate and surfaces higher-quality information than we would get without the chat. This provides the entire community with a great role to play in the debate.

I’m still debating (aha!) whether to do more of these. But I definitely think more communities should explore it. The cost is minimal, the preparation isn’t especially high, and you might find you have an engaging format your members love.

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