A digital community, in the simplest form, is a community in a digital space of interested and engaged users. These communities can develop around content, shared interests, products, or a company. With products and companies such as Tiktok, Fortnite, Minecraft, and Pinduoduo, the engagement around the product develops a community, and the community in turn becomes part of the product. Digital communities are generally seen as a maturation of online communities where anyone can join or be part of them.
There is a suggestion that these digital communities will be developed at the intersection of content curation and knowledge management, where users can interact with content rather than being restricted to consuming content. In this way, the communities could be centered around content and curation rather than content development, and offer a place where users can interact. And the spaces could provide a place to look at how information or content is collected, stored, and contextualized.
Digital communities are largely moving away from social media towards niche, gated communities focused on common interests, where users develop digital micro-communities with an emphasis on helping people feel close and connected. These small, individualized communities can offer a place away from the traditional platform and possible interference and present a space where users can enjoy the content of people they trust.
New digital communities can be developed toward specific vertical communities, similar to Reddit, with business models divorced from advertising in attempts to avoid the challenges which have developed in incumbent social media products. Social networks in gaming provide an example, where users pay to play the games (e.g. Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft) and engage in the communities around the game.
Many of the digital communities are developed through traditional social media technologies and tools where the company, content creator, or community can develop until there is a better space for the community to exist.
For companies, especially those developing products, developing digital communities for brands and products offers a quick way of assessing customer satisfaction. The community can offer a company immediate and frequent user feedback, which helps the company understand the ways users are interacting with and using the product. The digital community can also help companies gain and retain customers.
In China, many companies have embraced the idea of digital community as a way of networking and developing products or an ecosystem of services. There, the social aspect of cell phones is emphasized culturally more than in other areas of the world. And, in China, in order to sell an internet company, there has to be a robust social and communal aspect where users can create and engage in these digital communities; otherwise, the companies do not succeed.
In avoiding advertising business models, emerging digital community companies could, and have already begun to, follow various user-engaged monetization models.
User-engaged monetization models
Commerce tools and platforms
In this model the creators or content providers are able to recommend and sell products to the users.
Digital goods and in-app currencies
In this model users are charged for virtual items, in-platform upgrades, or premium services.
Internet-based paid communities
In this model users are offered expert feedback, exclusive resources, and community support for pay.
Tipping, donations, or microtransactions
In this model viewers or users can reward creators through payments, and often the platform takes a cut.
In this model the users are able to subscribe directly to a platform or a creator.
Virtual live experiences
In this model the users are offered a ticketed experience.
Digital community companies
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