Community in Career Focused Online Communities

9 Jan

A short essay on media & society

The concept of community, before the emergence of telecommunications technology, was defined by close-knit groups in a single location (Maloney-Krichmar and Peerce 1). Factors such as birth and physical location determined how people belonged to a community. Interactions within community predominantly took place face-to-face creating social relationships that took place in a stable and limited set of individuals (Maloney-Krichmar and Peerce 1). As the evolution of telecommunications and transportation took off, the cost of communicating across distances was reduced and personal mobility become easier. A new way to define community began to emerge. Researchers began to consider the strength and nature of relationships between individuals to be a more useful basis for defining community than physical location. “Online communities” became a term used more commonly to indicate “the intense feelings of camaraderie, empathy and support that they observed among people in the online spaces” according to Maloney-Krichmar and Peerce (1). Some have called online communities a concept with fuzzy boundaries that is more defined by its membership; other researchers focus on the people who have come together for a particular purpose, and who are guided by policies (Maloney-Krichmar and Peerce 1). Either way it is accepted that online communities rarely exist only online, and “that they start as face-to-face communities and then part, or all of the community migrates on to digital media, or conversely, members of an online community seek to meet face-to-face” (Maloney-Krichmar and Peerce 1). People today are using the Internet in ways that are driving change in communities — as mentioned before, where and how they are established and composed. These changes create transformative effects on how we define, attach to, and retain communal identity across online and offline venues (Haythornthwaite and Kendall 1083). A common form of online communities today are social networks, and I’ll be looking at one in particular — The Sevans Network.

The Sevans Network was launched in 2010 by Sarah Evans, founder of Sevans Strategy, a public relations and new media consultancy (Garcia). Evans developed an expertise in social media, and created the first weekly live chat using twitter for public relation professionals, journalists, and bloggers. With Evans’ growing popularity in the world of public relations and new media she was receiving many inquiries a week asking professional questions, and wanting tips and resources. Evans looked to her online communities on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to provide her with a better understanding of what resources would be helpful, and what the best way to make them available would be. Feedback consisted of wanting a common place where all questions were housed, ways to connect with employers, links to internships and jobs, and ways people could connect with their peers — or also known as a social network (Garcia). The Sevans Network was then born as an invitation-only network of college students and young public relations professionals, with a goal of helping communications students grow into a professional role and find employment, and to help those already in the work force a way to grow their skill set. Ultimately Evans built the network for it to continue to be a resource to link generations in the communications industry (Garcia). The web of people provides a place for members to ask questions, share information, and work with experienced professionals, much like an offline community does.

When exploring the design of The Sevans Network you come across numerous features that allow for easy navigation and support member participation. Online community design is believed to be central to members’ participation (Khalifa and Ning Shen 723). According to Khalifa and Ning Shen’s research aspects of design that build a successful community include navigation architecture, site features, interactions, and content structures and policies of the community (723). The Sevans Network offers all of those, and more. The network includes: a forum to offer discussions, a chat system that allows members to speak with others while online, a blog directory of members and resourceful professionals, videos, photos, a feature to discuss projects being worked on, events board, groups to join on more specific categories (e.g., Non-Profit PR Pros), and it offers you a page (much like a Facebook page) to share your own information to further connect and communicate. All these design elements of the network construct a social presence that is needed for community to exist. These features are simply a different way to communicate within a community of people who share the same passions, interests, and similar goals. It allows individuals to join regardless of location, which is an extremely important factor for many members. The constraints of everyday life (e.g., work, family, economic status) all have an impact on whether an individual can join a community or not. Someone may live in a small town that doesn’t have a chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), but a community such as The Sevans Network can allow that person the ability to reach out to PRSA members, who normally wouldn’t be as easily accessible without the internet or that community. The interactions of members within the network eventually affect their offline communities. Work life is specifically affected from interactions within this online community.

For one example, members can discuss their work projects with one another online in the privacy of their community. They can take in feedback from people who are knowledgeable in their line of work, and get a different perspective that could become beneficial to the success of the final product. The interactions in their online community concerning the project would thus further benefit their work community offline. The Sevans Network provides tools and a social presence to ultimately benefit members in their offline communities. For students who have joined the network they are most likely seeking advice and support for their new found career path. Possible concerns they could have are what their career options are, or how to go about finding a job. Through the network the student could build a relationship with another member of the community who perhaps is already working in public relations. From that relationship the student can gain valuable advice for finding work benefiting their life outside the online community, while strengthening their one online. An individual they build a relationship with could also direct them to a job opening, possibly providing a recommendation for them.

As the internet and mobile devices are enabling strong community ties, it’s also allowing people to find others with whom they share important associations from beliefs to lifestyle choices, like individuals who join The Sevans Network to communicate and grow in the area of public relations. Community fosters development and growth, and allows individuals to feel of a sense of belonging, whether it’s in a digitalized atmosphere or during offline hours. What Sarah Evans has provided students, and young public relations professionals, is an online community built on a new media platform, that is populated with members who hold true the same ideals and goals to benefit their career success.

Sources:

Garcia, Tonya. “New Network Launches for Young PR Pros.” PRNewser. Mediabistro.com, 14 Oct. 2010.

Haythornthwaite, Caroline, and Lori Kendall. “Internet and Community.” American Behavioral Scientist 53.8 (2010): 1083-1094.

Khalifa, Mohamed, and Kathy Ning Shen. “Exploring Multidimensional Conceptualization of Social Presence in the Context of Online Communities.” International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 24.7 (2008): 722-748. EbscoHost.

Maloney-Krichmar, Diane, and Jenny Preece. “Online Communities: Design, Theory, and Practice.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10.4 (2005): 0-3.

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