Zoom is the latest software company to become a household name, but will it last?
Community Chat Weekly is a newsletter about building and growing communities, featuring collected tweets, posts and thoughts from various community managers.
Slack me. Call an Uber. Let's Zoom.
Zoom is the latest software company to become a household name. As social distancing measures have forced people everywhere to connect digitally, the four letter word (but two letter stock symbol) has suddenly become an eponym for the concept of video calling.
And the rise of the popular video tool hasn't just been confined to workplace meetings, it's seen exponential adoption by consumers and communities. Two months ago the app was averaging a few thousand downloads a day, now it's seeing 2.4 million.
All these virtual community happy hours, coffee breaks, afternoon hangs, dance practices, yoga sessions, and so many other events over Zoom — your creativity and resilience in these tough times are inspiring!
– The Zoom Communications Team in March 2020
Zoom has become an overnight social platform. But the platform was built as an enterprise video communication tool, not a consumer tool for virtual community building and social connection. As such, the company was not prepared to moderate user behavior as other social networks do (enter the Zoombombing problem).
Slack is another community platform that was a workplace communication tool at heart, until hundreds of thousands of communities adopted it as their home and communication hub. In fact, almost 30% of companies with a digital community presence are using Slack as the primary means to bring their members together!
The lesson here is that the use-case of a software product can matter more than the original intent of why it was built. And with the world on lockdown for the foreseeable future and a need for people to connect digitally via video, Zoom has become a powerful new community tool.
People over complicate the definition of community, it simply means people coming together for a meaningful, shared experience. But sometimes it can be complicated to decouple a 'community' from the space in which a shared experience takes place. A question we think a lot about is if the community makes the tool, or if the tool makes the community?
Creating shared experience among members requires space, whether that space is atoms or bits – a physical meeting location, a group chat, or a video roundtable. And community tools provide this space to facilitate connections among gathering members. (Does this mean that a physical meeting location is technically a community tool? In a way, maybe 😏).
Simply, we can try to define a community tool as something that:
Creates a defined, shared space (whether bits or atoms)
Enables some form of many-to-many interaction
Although the world isn't quite this black and white, Zoom certainly seems to fit both of these boxes.
3 things that make a community tool sticky:
Community tools don't get adopted in a silo, they need re-engagement loops to keep members coming back. It can be challenging to get a user to download a new app, or incorporate a community tool into their daily workflow.
Slack and Facebook groups have done this really well – people check Slack every day for work, so it is very likely that they will check Slack every day for their community too. People check Facebook every day for friends and personal updates, so Facebook group engagement becomes natural. Why should members bookmark the forum attached to your website and remember to check it every single day, or even download your new app in the first place? Those things are hard. Is the fact that people download Zoom to their desktop or phone, plus the fact that it's become an every day vocabulary word, enough to keep the video tool top of mind and spur re-engagement?
If one person hosts a call on Zoom and invites 30 participants, all thirty must download and create a zoom account in order to be a part of the experience. This is viral adoption at play. Anytime you have more users adopting a platform and there is an incremental benefit to the whole for each new user joining, you have a network effect. It is unclear how much of a network-effect Zoom can capture. Other community platforms with similar patterns of viral adoption and network-effect-like benefit include Icebreaker, Meetup, and Eventbrite.
Some say that community tools and infrastructure are becoming commoditized and less differentiated. With new messaging platforms or community tools launching seemingly every week, the question will become who can get the best 'influencers' or or power users to adopt their tool first. Who can get the communities with the most popular and recognize-able events to use their platform?
A parallel we can look to is the video streaming world – Disney Plus, Amazon, Netflix and HBO are all using the same underlying video technology, but the differentiation lies in the content they deliver. Will someone create the 'Netflix for community'? Run The World, Hopin, or HeySummit which are bringing virtual community building and virtual events to the masses are probably the best positioned. While Zoom has the advantage in sheer volume of users, can they get the right influencers and a consistent stream of high quality community events being hosted on the platform? Time will tell.
There is no such thing as a perfect community tool, but Zoom certainly has a lot of momentum behind it and the Community Chat team is excited to see where the platform will go over the next 10 years.
PS. Anyone have cool virtual backgrounds they want to share? Drop us a reply with your favorites, the Community Chat team is trying to up our game 😛
A handful of recommended readings from the past week.
When we hear the phrase “brand community,” our first response is usually skepticism. But LEGO has done this right. They realized that building a community isn’t about what their organization can achieve; rather, it’s a manifestation of what an organization and a group of passionate people can do together.
There are two distinct groups that need help right now. – companies who have already been building online community spaces, and those who are doing it for the first time now. David Spinks from our friends at CMX says that the best community programs have always been a hybrid of online and offline. What point are you starting from?
Community Chat member Justin Gage, head of growth at Retool recently moved their developer community from Spectrum to Discourse. Disclaimer – this is a more technical read – yet still an incredible deep dive into the thought process and effort necessary to successfully migrate from one community-platform to another. There are big implications of choosing the wrong community platform from the get-go, always consider the tradeoffs before you commit any time and resources.
Why some communities work and others don't (2 min read)
Why do some communities succeed, yet others fail? Community Chat member and Indie Hackers community team lead Rosie Sherry thinks it has to do with keeping a consistent vision, and being open minded are two big drivers – having a community leader who thinks they have the answer to what people need puts community survival in jeopardy.
In case you missed it in one of our earlier issues, we’re hosting a fully virtual, 2 day summit all about Community Building, June 3rd and 4th!
Have a suggestion for a piece of content we should include next week? Email us and let us know!