Hi there.  This is my first time posting on the Marketing Blog.  I'm the analyst on Forrester's Marketing team focused on two high-engagement verticals: life sciences and automotive.  So thinking about feelings (customers' feelings) and experiences is my business.

Right now I'm fascinated by the question of *how* people experience community.  For my current report — Social Media Strategy For Life Sciences — I've had the opportunity to talk with three companies that are thinking really creatively about how to bring the experience of community online: CarePages, PeerTrainer, and DailyStrength

What do I mean by "experiencing community"?  Getting by with a little help from my friends on the Marketing Team, I'll show you.  Think about a community or group that you're a part of — an ultimate frisbee club, a spiritual community, a health support group — and remember how you feel when you're with that group.  What's going on? 

Shared Emotions

If you learn that you have a rare disease like cancer or MS (or you're caring for someone who does), chances are that you'll be flooded with feelings you've never had before.  All of a sudden you're overwhelmed by by feelings that no one around you is having.  How do you express these feelings and how do you relate to other people when everyone's going about their daily lives?  Finding other people who feel, or have felt, how you feel can be enormously comforting.  You're like the people around you and expressing your feelings feels natural and appropriate. 

CarePages is facilitating this mirroring of emotion online using social networking features.  The site lets users create profile pages for a person receiving care (often for a serious medical event) and find the profiles of other people who are facing the same health challenges — and feelings.


The other part of being in a community is that you cease to be a stranger.  You share history with other people in the group.  That not only gives you the opportunity to have interactions that go beyond initial encounters.  And it also brings with it expectations about how you'll behave.  A colleague of mine pointed out that an important part of Betty Ford's "coming out," was that it brought the social pressure of the larger public to bear on her behavior.  The process of becoming known and being held accountable is fundamental to AA and other substance abuse programs. 

PeerTrainer creates this "longitudinal effect" on the Web by matching people with similar fitness goals in small groups, giving them tools to post their goals and track their-day-to-day progress, and enabling them to communicate.  The small closed group makes people comfortable enough to share their challenges, and motivates them by making their objectives and progress visible to the group.


When you're with a group you're also experiencing something so fundamental it's easy to miss.  This is simply that you're making contact with other human beings.  When you're lonely, contact in any form — touch, a phone call, email — can be a powerful experience.  A friend told me recently she'd discovered that a lonely older relative not only opened all of his spam email, but filed it away in folders because it was meaningful to him that someone had reached out.  Wow.  Receiving contact can be powerful, but making contact and transforming an entire person's day can be enormously gratifying too.

DailyStrength makes it possible for people facing health challenges who might not otherwise meet or interact to provide this contact to each other with "virtual hugs."  The top hugger on DailyStrength today had given out 1170 hugs — something that would be impossible in the offline world.

Enlighten Me!

This topic is much bigger than a blog post, so if you're an expert on the experience of community or related topics in psychology, social psychology, or sociology — or simply someone with a valuable example to share, please add your comments!