The status quo for digital communities is to use a centralized platform like Facebook and Twitter. These platforms offer a great stage for communities to be built; however, there are several disadvantages of using them over a decentralized underutilized platform like SMS, the technology behind text messaging.
The most clear disadvantage is portability. Using a centralized platform makes it difficult to move a community. If a Facebook page gets closed down, there is no easy way to take that presence and bring it elsewhere as Facebook has the centralized power. On the other hand, a physical book club that meets at a Starbucks can easily move to another coffee shop or location. They have mobility as they are not tied to one platform.
This is a key reason I built Evant, a platform that helps leaders organize communities using SMS. We’ve already helped student groups at universities across the country increase participation and volunteer recruitment.
Most community leaders do not need to be concerned about portability. However, they should be concerned about the consequences of portability. Because Facebook and Twitter own communities on their platform, they limit the channel to those communities based on their heuristics of good content. Their algorithms decide if content is considered desirable. Without portability, there is nothing that can be really done against this.
An alternative digital presence is a decentralized one — a community that does not rely on a single platform that is controlled by one player who can act as the gatekeeper. SMS and email are two key platforms that provide decentralization for virtual communities.
A list of emails or phone numbers of community members, is not owned by one single platform. Such a list can be used on several different platforms. It provides a direct channel to community members where one can communicate, coordinate, and fundraise directly. There are no sophisticated algorithms that decide whether or not community members want to see this content. If a community member opts in, it is understood they want to hear from the community.
Email is a mature platform for community-building and communication. It has been heavily utilized by communities and industries for years, and there are a number of great options presently available for building newsletters and conducting marketing campaigns over email. Email’s greatest disadvantage is its overutilization making it far too easy for important messages to get lost in the noise of irrelevant marketing messages.
SMS on the other hand, while used extensively as a broadcast channel in political campaigns, is nowhere near as mature a platform for community-building as email has become. The current state of SMS in campaigns is more akin to spam. There is a lack of creativity when it comes to using SMS, a direct channel, for building communities.
SMS is reserved primarily for conversations with close friends and family. As such, using SMS effectively requires a delicate strategy that respects this intimacy. Building an interactive SMS community platform that is focused on engaging people is a great way to leverage the unique directness and intimacy of this form of communication. An effective SMS strategy can build community and increase engagement while giving you ownership of your community and the content you create.
With Evant, we’re giving candidates and cause based organizations the tools they need to build decentralized and portable communities during a time when tech companies across the board are placing strict limits on political speech and activity. We are focused on allowing you to build engagement and trust directly between you and your base.