More ‘We,’ Less ‘Me:’ Why Online Communities Are On The Rise

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Article Takeaways:

  • Online communities are more popular and impactful than ever.
  • Online communities fill a void for self-expression for many.
  • There’s a space for brands, so long as they’re authentic.

Consumer behavior online is changing. Where feeds were once dominated by perfectly curated content, an increased desire for authentic human connection has given rise to a new era of digital interaction: one led by the online community.

Confronted with a fractured social media landscape, saturation by new technology, and a simultaneous decline in participation in real-world organizations, consumers are increasingly looking for more authentic connections than have been possible on traditional social media platforms. This has set the scene for online communities to emerge as a dominant means of meaningful connection and belonging, where shared passions and interests drive deeper, more significant engagement.

Reddit is home to more than 100,000 online communities and over 430 million people who connect on mutual interests and collective experiences – and these numbers are growing by the day. From support for new parents and baking tips to fashion advice, product recommendations and everything in-between; you name it, there’s an impassioned community talking about it on Reddit. So when I tell people I work for Reddit, they’re always eager to share stories of the hours they’ve spent on the platform, memorable things they’ve learned, and new hobbies or products they’ve discovered in our communities. This is the stuff that gets people excited. The conversations and connections that happen on Reddit are real, relatable, relevant, and can’t be found anywhere else.

We recently partnered with GlobalWebIndex to better understand this movement toward the online community, explore the distinction between online communities and other online destinations, and unpack the opportunity this shift brings to brands.

In our research, we uncovered five key truths to understanding and navigating the rise of the online community:

Online communities are more popular and impactful than ever

Engagement with community sites has increased from 72% to 77% in the past two years, with over half of internet users in the UK visiting online communities more than they were a few years ago. And while ‘we-centric’ conversations are on the rise, there is a clear move away from ‘me-centric’ social sharing as the number of people sharing details of their personal life through traditional social media has declined by 35% over the past five years.

Online communities fill a void for self-expression

Social media once provided an outlet for people to be themselves – but times are changing. While people still want to express who they are online, they want to do so in a more meaningful, communal way. People believe that community sites provide up to 48% more authentic and respectful environments than traditional social media sites, and better allow users to be their true selves.

There’s wisdom in crowds

Despite trust in established media sources declining by 8% in the last two years, those in the UK are over twice as likely to trust online communities more than they do influencers or celebrity recommendations.

Anonymity fuels authenticity

Online communities often support or encourage anonymity, and 88% of UK internet users think this is a good thing or something they don’t mind. These users believe people are more honest, more inclined to express themselves authentically, and more likely to be vulnerable when they’re anonymous. Specifically, issues these users have with trust and self-image can be better addressed when there’s less pressure to disclose who they are.

There’s a space for brands, so long as they’re authentic

It’s no secret consumers are growing increasingly wary of influencer and celebrity messaging and are looking to build personal relationships with brands. Brands are welcome in online communities, provided they engage with an authentic human persona and contribute in the same way as any other community member. Since 2015, UK consumers have grown up to 32% more likely to advocate brands that make them feel involved, or with whom they have a one-to-one relationship. Because of this, 75% of online community participants in the UK would be receptive to brand participation, and they’re looking for brands to embrace and contribute to the collective nature of the community.

The online world is reflecting the real world like never before, so it’s hardly surprising that the platforms on the rise are those that bring people a sense of belonging and security. Online communities allow people the freedom to be their authentic selves in a contextually relevant, welcoming environment, and this, in turn, drives trust and influence.

What’s exciting is that members of online communities want brands to get involved, contribute to the collective nature of the group, and show them new things and engage with their perspectives. Advertisers and marketers have a lot to gain from embracing and engaging in these spaces and contexts.

At Reddit, we’re just starting to uncover the impact networks like ours bring to belonging, influence, and culture. We believe there is a community for everyone, and we’re proud to offer a place for people to find theirs.

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