The Meta Factor
In epistemology, the theory of knowledge, the prefix meta is used to describe about (its own category). For example, a metablogger would be a blogger who writes about blogging.
As someone who spends a great deal of time as contributor, participant and observer of a pretty diverse array of web communities, I find the meta aspect fascinating. What I mean by this is without fail, every community enjoys having discussions about itself. It’s something not usually stated directly within the communities, but it’s a reality.
And why not? Just like countries, schools, etc. – any grouping of people together in one place – there always exists discussions about the places we’re in, even if we aren’t there for the purpose of discussing those places themselves.
We all live in a city or town, and we’re there to live, work and play – but we also have a tendency to talk about the city itself as a natural by-product of living there.
We went to schools, where we are there to learn, not necessarily talk about the school itself – but a byproduct of going to the school is discussing the school, becoming a fan of the school, having rivalries with other schools, etc.
A simple way to think of online communities is view them in this light. Just as like-groups of citizens or students of a certain place – while they are all different, there is the normalization factor that they are all members of the community. And, while no one actually goes to a school just to talk about the school, it happens, just as nobody joins a a social network merely to talk about the social network, yet this also happens.
Digital communities, whether structurally defined networks or simply niche specific and loosely connected, are no different than physical communities, they foster those same discussions, rituals and memes between members about the community itself. These discussions come up so frequently because a truism of human nature is we want something to talk about, and our minds gravitate to those subjects we know will register with others and generate conversation. Talking about the place we currently are is an easy conversation-starter, and people take the path of least resistance with social connections because they are easy and low-risk.
Just like residents of a certain city also discuss the city, digital community members discuss the community. In both cases these conversations can be thought of as as meta discussions. Interestingly enough, it’s not just new members, it’s just as likely seasoned members reference the community itself as topic of conversation.
Obvious, right? I think so – but the value here is understanding the nuances of specific and valuable communities and learn how to use shared experiences, discussions and ideas about the community itself which so easily permeate their group as strategic knowledge to tag ideas, marketing and messages to. Remember, meta threads want to spread.
We’re all unique, but even the most unique people have strong commonalities and connections in meta discussions. I call this the meta factor, and it’s something you can and should use to your advantage in marketing strategy.
Some ideas to put the meta factor to good use:
1. Find an obvious commonality that’s vocalized frequently in comments/discussions, but never made into an actual topic in and of itself.
2. Vocalize a shared experience for the silent majority.
3. Remix a cliched or overdone topic everyone is familiar with into something fresh or nostalgic.
4. Speak to the community in their own language somewhere unexpected, outside of the community itself.
5. Groups with a commonality that all members are conscious of are naturally drawn to ideas which reinforce the value of that commonality. Create ideas the community wants to support. Communities are by nature self-protective, so anything that solidifies their presence in the world should spread.
6. Push never works – don’t bother. If you’re successful with push, it also had pull factors in it too – whether by luck or design. Valuable communities and tribes will turn on members who sell out faster than the idea will spread.
7. Change the dynamic of the community – lead them in a new, more desirable direction. This requires bold action, but it’s possible if you set forth a new future vision that is more compelling to enough members of the community than the current path.
This is just a start – the meta factor has application for marketing in many ways, and is an effective strategy to permeate informal and formally grouped networks naturally.
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