Build Mobile Communities

The age of mobile community

One of Merriam Webster’s definitions of Community is: “the people with common interests living in a particular area”. I think we can all agree that at least this definition can be challenged by humanity’s recent experiences. It is not just about the pandemic, even though we will get to that in a moment, it really is about the traits of modern populations. In an accelerated trend since the mid-twentieth century, people have become more and more mobile, mobile in geographical terms, mobile in social terms, mobile in cultural terms. Mobility is one of the main constants of modern life. We expect mobility and mobility is expected of us. At the same time, we are social beings and we do search for, join and nurture communities. While we will join new communities as we evolve, we remain faithful to communities that helped us get there. The Internet helped us remain in touch with or part of communities no longer in our “area”. It might be time to drop the “living in a particular area” from the definition of Community or expand the definition of the area from physical space to digital. We entered the age of mobile communities.

According to recent research conducted by Facebook and The Governance Lab at NYU, 77% of people surveyed globally state that the most important community they belong to now operates online.

Adapting to the mobile community concept

Individuals instinctively adapt to the changes in the environment, they find tools and services that help them mitigate mobility with their desire to belong to communities. Organizations, which in many cases are placeholders for communities, are built on a set of prescriptive rules, rules meant to help them survive challenges, rules that also make them less flexible. Often organizations fail to understand the true value they provide to their user or customer communities and that makes them less interested in adapting to changing circumstances. It seems research, statistics, and even education are slowly pushing organizations towards adopting mobile communities. Nevertheless, the pandemic is accelerating the trend, it shifted the Overton window (the interval between what is acceptable and what is possible) for what a community is and the ways in which to manage it.

Managing the mobile community

Engagement of mobile communities can be done with the use of multiple tools or services: one for storytelling (blogging platforms such as Medium), one for announcements (email, Twitter, Facebook), one for live streaming (YouTube, Twitch), and one for donations and financial transactions (PayPal, Venmo, etc). Possible but rather cumbersome for everyone involved. Assuming that the organization’s community manager is well organized and a black belt multitasker, it is very improbable that most community members will be able to keep track of everything going on over all these channels (with their respective authentication and access methods). Moreover, all these individuals were trained by the social and productivity applications out there to expect simplicity, to expect ease of access, and ease of use. Even if they give their communities some leeway in terms of operations, they wish “things would be just as easy as Facebook is”. Finally, despite the commitment members have to the community, today’s life is busy, fast, overwhelming in the amount of information it provides every minute. Keeping the mobile community engaged and responsive requires the means to draw the member's attention to the community stories, updates, and events.

Mobile app first

So how do we keep our mobile community informed, updated, and engaged without asking them to hop from one service to another? The answer is obvious: a dedicated mobile app for the mobile community. The answer is obviously a mobile app, not just because a mobile app can have all the features mentioned above in one place, with easy access and easy use. The mobile app can provide easy access to feature stories to read while waiting for your lunch order. The mobile app can provide brief updates, all saved in an easy to search timeline. It can provide a calendar of events and notifications that will draw your attention to something new happening in the community. All that within the familiar look and feel of the community brand. The answer is also obvious because … it is the first thing we would all think of as users when presented with this problem of mobile community engagement. A mobile app is an expectation.

At Applications Studio we are seeing this evolution firsthand. We see organizations, from eCommerce businesses to nonprofits noticing the gap between the expectations of their customers and what they offer today. They see their communities become less and less able to stop by for a good chat and, whether due to generational behavior or due to physical constraints, needing another way to stay engaged within the community, within the mobile community.
Where is your organization on this evolution path? Did you start to appreciate the importance of a community to sustain your small-medium business or nonprofit organization? Did you start to appreciate the needs and expectations of your mobile community? Do you have the tools to act on all these understandings?

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