Here is a partial list of things that happened in 1985:

Source: The Independent

  • USA for Africa recorded the charity single, “We are the World”
  • Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and de facto leader of the Soviet Union.
  • Coca-Cola changes its formula and launches New Coke.
  • The Nintendo Entertainment System is released on US shores.
  • A joint American-French expedition locates the wreck of the RMS Titanic.

But during my stroll down memory lane, there were two notable events that jumped out to me more than the others. First, was the release of summer blockbuster “Back to the Future,” which saw Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly being transported to 1955 via a DeLorean that’s been transformed into a time machine.

The other was the founding of the WELL, the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, a home for digital dialogue between writers and readers of the Whole Earth Review and widely regarded as the birthplace of the online community.

To say there’s been change in the ensuing years would be an understatement. The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that 90 million Americans have participated in an online group and estimates of virtual community membership in the United States have exceeded 25 million – more than six times the population of Los Angeles. Then there was the rise of social media. Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn seemed to promise a new advent of digital communication, broadening the opportunities for users to participate in a more global community.

Yet for many nonprofits, that early promise remains unfilled.

The number of American adults on Facebook hasn’t increased since 2016. eMarketer reports that Facebook engagement is sinking, already down 10% versus last year with no end in sight and even more dramatic declines among key demographics with only half of American teens using the social media site.

LinkedIn now has 562 million members but only 260 million users are active on LinkedIn monthly. What’s the average amount of time spent per month by those active users? 17 minutes.

If we’ve learned anything, it’s that while social networks and community platforms seem interchangeable, they aren’t. The Community Roundtable defines social media as a loose network with the predominant structure being a hub and spoke model of interaction between an audience and the content creator. It is composed of users who have nothing in common (only using the platform because their friends are on it), creating a communal monologue with transactional engagement – a quick comment or, more often than not, a click of a like button.

However, as more and more organizations are learning, it’s not the quantity of engagement that makes the difference – it’s the quality.

In the 1986 film “Back to the Future,” Dr. Emmett Brown remarked to Marty McFly that you never know when or where a bolt of lightning will strike.

Marty, with the perspective of his recent trip into the past responded, “We do now.”

Many organizations are turning their attention back to online communities and forums, integrating the best of social media and leaving behind the risk to create a digital space designed to drive long-term, meaningful interaction. What can we learn?

To learn more about this, watch Personify’s on-demand Webinar, Back to the Future: Next Generation Forums, where we’ll explore:

  • Trends driving digital engagement, including changes to keep an eye out for in your organization
  • The importance of improving access and the growing role of forums in engaging members on the go
  • Driving interaction, from opportunities for passive action to recognition and beyond
  • How community members can drive a more personalized experience – and new tools available to support organizations looking to bring it all together.