Expert communities and collective intelligence: how we got here

With the new year already well underway, we look at the trends that will impact online communities and collective intelligence in 2021 - and how we got to this point.
Expert communities and collective intelligence: how we got here

The start of a new year is always a good time to take stock. What has changed in the past 365 days? What can we learn from these changes? In 2021, this surveying of the landscape is more important than ever. The pandemic utterly decimated our expectations for last year, forcing us to adapt and look at things differently. So what is the state of play now for collective intelligence, and how did we get here?

We have reached peak social media

We are more connected online than ever before. Between the vast array of social media platforms that many of us are a part of, there are countless places on the web to make our voices heard. Yet this same ultra-connectivity has bred a disconnect between brands and their customers.

The problem in a nutshell is that social media has become saturated. In 2020, Facebook users sent 150,000 messages every minute. Meanwhile, on Twitter, each minute that passed in 2020 saw the site gain another 319 users - over 167 million in total. In an online climate this awash with content and people, building genuine connections can become a virtually impossible task. Not only that, but the overlap of membership across the biggest social networks has led to content being repeated across platforms making the differences between them even less noticeable. This has left people looking for more controlled, niche spaces online.

The trust crisis

Another obstacle in the way of brands looking to build an audience online in 2021 is the global erosion of trust in business, media and government. With 76% of people worried about the potential weaponization of fake news, establishing a sense of authority has become increasingly difficult.

Half of people now believe that businesses at large are failing to put the needs of people before their own pursuit of profit. This makes for grim reading for anybody trying to cultivate a positive image around their brand. Among millennials and Gen Z, trust has risen in online communities as a source of news and information since 2015, while trust in traditional media has declined.

The future of work

2020 saw the abrupt and exponential rise of remote working, as millions were forced overnight to stay indoors due to the spread of COVID-19. With only 15% of CEOs expecting normal business to resume by the end of this year, a complete return to the office seems unlikely for now. But even as we look ahead to the post-pandemic world, it seems remote working is here to stay.

80% of company leaders plan to continue to allow some form of remote work at the end of the pandemic. 65% of workers want to remain working remotely even when a return to the workplace is possible. The past year has taught us that many aspects of our working lives are not set in stone. Adapting to produce pre-pandemic results will require flexibility in the marketplace and a lot of patience.

Making virtual events profitable

Our customers in the events industry have been hit like no one else over the past 12 months. Festivals, conferences, expos and meetings have been wiped from the schedule entirely, with their return to an in-person format still some way off. Virtual events have become commonplace in the meantime, but organizers have struggled to make them as profitable and successful as the real deal. The key will be exploring different ways of driving revenue and ensuring that attendees of virtual events are still able to get a bang for their buck.

Owned online communities generate revenue that make this possible. Offering tiered content provides a sense of exclusivity to those who are willing to pay extra, while it also pays to be able to create space in your community for sponsors to market their wares and host private discussions. Given that 80% of virtual event registrations are free, it is vital to explore opportunities like these in order to profit from events going forward.

Customer expectations

Another emerging trend is the growing expectations of customers. Demand for brands to offer a personalized customer experience rose by 27% between 2015 and 2019. The feeling of being personally involved in a product or service is now more sought after than ever before.

As many of our customers have noticed, the saturation of social media and decline of trust in business has made creating these sorts of relationships between brands and their audiences a great deal more difficult. Successful businesses over the coming years will be able to break through the noise and reach out to their audience, something which may only be possible by abandoning social media for more focused corners of the web.

The solution

From surveying the landscape of 2021, it is clear that businesses will need a new approach to adapt to these turbulent times. From cutting through the noise of social media to effectively driving revenue, the solutions can be found in branded online communities. Over the coming decade, we expect to see a migration away from social media towards these niche spaces online, where people can find trustworthy information on topics that are relevant to them.

77% of millennials and Gen Z already engage with online communities, and this number is only likely to grow over time. The ability they provide to find reliable, expert knowledge and have meaningful conversations is something that the internet has been sorely missing over the last few years. With so much of our time now being spent online, we all want to know that we are spending that time as efficiently as possible. This new era of online networking can help us to achieve that, and bring back what the online world has been lacking most of all for the last decade: a sense of community and belonging.

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Go to the profile of Mike Nevin
almost 2 years ago

Jon - I love the description 'collective intelligence'. I run a global community called Alliance Best Practice Ltd which is based on the concept of alliance practitioners getting together to discuss 'what works' in business to business alliance formulation, management and optimisation.  But I agree with you that a simple website or a LinkedIn group doesn't quite cut it anymore.  I think my members would welcome the idea of a niche group with a passion for knowledge sharing around alliances.  I will contact you separately to discuss how we could take advantage of your platform whilst at the same time boost membership (my group has 18,000 members) - Best wishes - Mike

Go to the profile of Jon Beer
almost 2 years ago

Thanks Mike - glad you enjoyed the article and great to hear about Alliance Best Practice.   The core inspiration for us to build Zapnito (a few years ago now...) was due to our fatigue with social media noise, LinkedIn groups becoming often times noisy places.  One phrase I particularly like is 'not all experts are created equal'!   Best, Jon

Go to the profile of Darren Gough
almost 2 years ago

Great read Jon.

For all the pain the events industry has and is suffering due to the pandemic, I think it'll come back stronger than ever. 

The reality of the pandemic is it probably (although painfully and tragically for many who lost jobs and in some cases companies) is that it has also moved an industry forward in a way that was needed.

Events companies are now looking at community and the wider digital piece in a way it would have taken them many more years to embrace. The fat has been trimmed and events will emerge as a leaner, more progressive and integrated sector that will offer year round value by placing community at its core

Go to the profile of Jon Beer
almost 2 years ago

Thanks Darren yes I completely agree.  It is amazing how much of a shift this has been and a decade from now I'm sure we will look back at this time as a pivotal moment in how niche online communities can be a real powerful force particularly for traditional face to face conferences and events.   The hybrid event model will be the norm and the overall value from those hybrid events will be greater than it was previously.   Cost of attendance will be driven down (without travel and hotels) and attendance volume will be driven up.

Not to mention the longevity of conversation and learning that goes beyond the confines of two or three days.