Gamestop, Covid-19, and the Forgotten Power of Online Communities

While the idea of online communities is not necessarily a new concept, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the significance of these spaces.

Online communities have quickly served as a replacement for the in-person connection, and inspiration that human beings so desperately crave, and took for granted prior to this pandemic.

With online communities meeting these needs during this time, we also saw the power and impact they can have on larger issues.

If you have been on the internet, and honestly, who hasn’t during the lockdown, chances are you have heard about the Gamestop and Reddit incident that occurred last week.

In a nutshell, a group of traders came together spurred by a Reddit online message board to purchase Gamestop stock.

This created a tremendous increase in the number of people purchasing the stock, so much that Robinhood, a platform to purchase stocks prevented users from purchasing it.

According to CNN, Reddit notes that since the GameStop stock spike attracted public attention, the Reddit community has grown to over six million subscribers, up from 300,000 during the past year.

If this doesn’t demonstrate the power and impact of online communities, I’m honestly not sure what else will.

I will discuss how this Gamestop incident has reaffirmed the need for online communities, the impact the pandemic continues to have on these spaces, the value and power of communities, how online communities are shifting, and the importance of these spaces for entrepreneurs and creators.

Contents

  • What is an Online Community
  • Covid-19 impact on online communities
  • Types of Online Communities
  • The Shift in Online Communities
  • Conclusion

What is an Online Community

An online community is a group of people with a shared interest or value, purpose, or goal that come together in a virtual space.

As humans, we crave connection, and online communities create just that and provide a space to nurture, discuss, and gather information for both professional and personal benefits.

Online communities provide a home base for people globally to:

  • Learn, grow, and empower one another
  • Build relationships
  • Engage on a specific topic

As seen in what just happened with Reddit and Gamestop. Traders on Reddit came together to work towards a common goal to take on Wall Street.

The impact that the Reddit community has had on the financial market is remarkable.

I will go into the different types of online communities shortly, but we first must highlight the impact this pandemic has on these spaces.

Covid-19’s Impact On Online Communities

When we first heard about the coronavirus in March of 2020, a lot of us thought it would be a few weeks, maybe months at most. Almost a year later, here we are still working from home, and some parts of the world are still in lockdown.

While this pandemic has highlighted the tremendous amount of work that needs to be done systematically, it has also had a monumental impact on online communities and how we connect.

While the world shut down in a physical sense, technology opened up the world in a way that has brought people together who more than likely would never be in the same physical space prior to the lockdown.

People quickly saw the benefit of staying connected virtually to people who shared similar interests, values, and perspectives.

As human beings we need connection, and online communities provided just that.

While nothing can ever truly replace the in-person connections, online communities have done a great job at not only keeping us connected but has also created an opportunity to tap into the inner creator and entrepreneur that lies within many of us.

Many people are finding themselves in the online community space whether forced because of losing a job, or by choice due to having more downtime.

These same people have taken advantage of this time by creating online communities around their passion or interests and have started to monetize it due to the wealth of knowledge they had to share with others.

The Pragmatic Institute, the world-class certification institute for product managers, launched their online community of practice in March of 2020 around the same time the pandemic started, and they have seen 150% membership growth in just 8 months.

While it can often feel challenging to navigate spaces as an entrepreneur or creator, this example clearly demonstrates how powerful online communities can be in monetizing your skills.

Next, I will discuss the different types of online communities.

Types of Online Communities

Online Community is a pretty abstract term, and there can often be confusion around what actually constitutes an online community.

One thing to keep in mind about online communities is the focus should be on the people and not necessarily the platform.

Yes, there are online communities that use certain platforms like Facebook, Linkedin blogs, etc. However, if the community is not working towards a common goal and there isn’t a clear community plan in place, it isn’t an online community.

There are several ways to think about and categorize online communities.

For the purpose of this article, I am going to reference GroupApp’s blog piece of online communities by purpose, platform, and form.

Online Communities by Purpose

A great question to ask yourself when joining or starting an online community, is what is your goal, your purpose for doing so?

Brand Communities

If you are a business owner, looking to market your business, this is the type of online community that is best for you.

The purpose of this community is to create and maintain contact between you and your customers.

Communities for Education and Gathering Information

These types of communities are meant to provide and spread education and information on a global scale.

With the pandemic, we have certainly seen the need to change how we think about traditional learning in the classroom.

Having to reach and teach students without the physical space of a classroom created quite a challenge for educators across the world.

Not only have many students have turned to online communities to collaborate and get support, we are also seeing many people turning to online communities for professional education to learn new skills after being laid off.

Communities for Entertainment

This is one of the most common types of online communities.

An example of this type of online community is meme pages.

Memes provide MUCH needed comic relief prior to and during the pandemic.

According to WonderShare, MemeEconomy is rated one of the 10 funniest subreddits to find memes.

Memeconomy is a quirky subreddit where real-world commodities are discussed through memes. There’s no real money involved but when a meme starts becoming popular, people opt to buy and when emaciated, you sell.

Communities for Activism

These types of online communities are focused on making a significant change in the real world around a specific issue.

An example of this type of online community is the Black Lives Matter Movement.

While the hashtag itself is not an online community, the movement and support behind the hashtag have grown significantly.

Many people have used online communities to organize and protest during the pandemic.

We saw many people come together, to talk about difficult conversations around racial injustice.

In a sense, these online communities have also served as a support group for many.

Next, I will discuss types of communities by platforms

Online Communities by Platform

Each platform offers different ways of managing its community.

One of the most common platforms for online communities is:

Facebook Communities

Facebook groups and Facebook pages are the two main types of communities on this platform.

Group Chat Community

These types of communities focus on discussions between the customer community.

Slack and Discord are two examples of this type of online community.

These can both be a great tool for communication and connecting with others and each has many online communities to join based on your interests and needs.

However, communities on discord and Slack can easily feel overwhelming because of the sheer amount of conversations going on between each member and how disorganized it can be to keep up.

Controlled Online Communities

This type of community exists outside of social platforms that give creators more control, allow them to charge membership subscriptions, and engage with their audience on their terms.

GroupApp is a great platform for starting a creator controlled community.

Next, I will discuss why community creators are moving towards controlled online communities vs platforms like Facebook groups.

The Shift in Online Communities

As online communities continue to grow we are seeing a shift and increase in more controlled online communities(COOs).

Controlled online communities offer a space where community creators can engage with more autonomy and ownership.

There are a number of reasons we are seeing this shift as well as several benefits to a COO.

For instance, community members want more privacy that social media cannot offer them.

Platforms are not always aligned with creator’s goals and values.

We will dive a little deeper into this in the following section where I discuss additional benefits of shifting to COO.

Benefits of Controlled Online Communities

Sense of Belonging

While Social Media can bring people together, it can also be an overwhelming space.

There are a plethora of issues, people, and ideas floating around social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

It can often feel difficult to gain a sense of belonging with others who have similar niches and interests in a larger space.

Even If we can access spaces with similar niches and interests, it certainly feels difficult to feel a sense of belonging in a space like Instagram that engages over 1 billion users each month.

Additionally, in social media online communities, members are consistently distracted by notifications, messages, stories, and anything else Facebook and Instagram may introduce to steal your time in order to serve you ads.

How many times have you been on Instagram and an ad of something you were talking about earlier in the day comes up? Completely unrelated to your online community focus.

When it already feels like they aren’t enough hours in the day, we don’t need that extra noise.

GlobalWebIndex data shows those who share details of their personal life online through traditional social media has declined by 35% over the past 5 years.

That is pretty easy to believe given many people don’t want to share intimate ideas with that many users.

This idea of cancel culture is often seen in larger platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

COOs creates a space where other members are engaging in discussions that foster a sense of belonging and intimacy that you may not be able to access in a larger social media platform.

There’s no room for cancel culture here.

Trust

Unlike Facebook and Instagram, where you have a number of followers, likes, shares, etc.

COOs provide a space where members are not viewed or judged based on these factors.

In addition, users can get support and feedback easily through FAQ lists, tutorials, and from other members which ultimately builds trust within the community.

If you have trust from your community customers, you also have the opportunity to continue to rethink, shift and control how your online community is organized and run.

Complacency and staying stagnant is not what creators and entrepreneurs are looking for in these spaces, and online communities are often run and attract like-minded folks who are constantly working on their craft.

Privacy

According to Higher Logic, Community creators place privacy as a top priority – it’s their job. With a Facebook or LinkedIn Group, you have a limited ability to protect members’ privacy and their information.

Additionally, more than 60% of American don’t trust platforms like Facebook Groups with their information

Community members don’t want their information sold or be advertised to all the time.

COOs give your community members more privacy and a place where they can be their authentic self.

Feedback

Along the same lines of marketing, you can get direct and fast feedback from users and members that you may not receive otherwise.

This feedback can be received from both existing and potential members, which again creates this sense of belonging and trust in showing one another the value of feedback.

When the community has similar values, it creates a space where the feedback will be aligned in reaching a common goal and emphasizes community over competition.

Conclusion

The power of online communities is unmeasurable.

While we have seen an increase in these online communities during the pandemic, online communities will certainly be here long after the pandemic.

Like so many other things, the pandemic has simply highlighted how truly beneficial they can be.

Whether it’s the power of connections, marketing strategies, bringing awareness to systemic issues, or in the case of Reddit Users, allowing “regular people” to take on Wall Street, online communities can provide so much for so many.

If you are among the many who have ventured into the entrepreneur space, being a part of an online community that is specific to your brand, or idea can create substantial growth and leverage for you and your business.

In addition to the business benefits, it allows people to gain that same sense of connection, and intimacy that was taken away from us during the pandemic.

There are several online community options to choose from, however, controlled online communities continue to be on the rise.

They provide a space for creators and entrepreneurs to do exactly what they are meant to do.

Gain and maintain control and ownership of their ideas, products, and space while protecting that sense of greater well being that comes with being an entrepreneur.

As we have recently seen, with control and ownership, comes great collective power.

This is just the beginning of online communities.