If you were to look at the definition of an ecosystem, you may find something along the lines of this:
An ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system. These biotic and abiotic components are regarded as linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. As ecosystems are defined by the network of interactions among organisms, and between organisms and their environment, they can come in any size but usually encompass specific, limited spaces (although some scientists say that the entire planet is an ecosystem). Wikipedia.
This is the true definition of what an ecosystem looks like, and is very much based on the natural world.
However, when you look a little further into the definition shared above and beyond that, you can start to make a strong correlation between such an ecosystem, and the community around a blog or social presence.
The Birth of a Community
Think about the blogs you read most, either personal or professional. What attracts you to them?
- The blogger’s knowledge
- The blogger’s stance
- The topic of conversation
- The comments
- The takeaways you get
- Your feeling of involvement with the growth of the blog
While not conclusive, these are usually the most popular reasons a blog attracts readers, subscribers, social shares, etc. However, more than just reasons why a blog is a chosen destination, they’re also part of a bigger ecosystem at play.
Adding to the definition shared at the start of this post and taken from the same Wikipedia article:
Ecosystems are controlled both by external and internal factors. External factors such as climate, the parent material which forms the soil and topography, control the overall structure of an ecosystem and the way things work within it, but are not themselves influenced by the ecosystem. Internal factors not only control ecosystem processes but are also controlled by them and are often subject to feedback loops.
So, nature’s ecosystem is impacted by both external and internal factors. Sound familiar? It’s essentially how a blog thrives or withers.
The Blog as an Ecosystem
When a piece of content is created – written, visual, audio – it starts a ripple of activity. This may not be large at first, but the ripple is there. When the content is discovered, these ripples become more heated as more eyes land on the creation.
These biotic and abiotic components are regarded as linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows.
Using the quote above and transferring to content creation and distribution, you can see how the blog is starting to create its own ecosystem.
- The “nutrient cycles” begin with the creation. The blogger’s content creates “nutrient” that, when consumed, either nourishes or leaves hungry for more. This leads into the cycles, as the blogger continues to create nutrient for further consumption.
- The “energy flows” start to happen, either in the comments of the blog itself, discussions about the article across social networks, or simply sharing with friends with no further action. As new eyes arrive, the energy flows increase.
As the ecosystem grows, the blogger begins to cultivate the community (or ecosystem) and the links start to form between blogger, ecosystem and extended ecosystem (that of your second and third-level shares).
It’s a continuous cycle of nutrient cycles and energy flows. Unless the ecosystem is left unchecked, that is.
External and Internal Dangers for the Ecosystem
Much like nature’s equivalent, a blog’s ecosystem is always in danger of collapsing around itself, or being overrun when impacting factors are left unchecked for any length of time.
External factors such as climate, the parent material which forms the soil and topography, control the overall structure of an ecosystem and the way things work within it…
While an ecosystem in the natural world can’t control the climate, it can – and does – adapt. It’s the reason organisms that were around in the prehistoric age have continued to survive until today, and will still be here long after man has left the planet.
Blogs that adapt to the climate are the ones that will continue to thrive and grow their own ecosystem.
- Climate: How your visitors feel when they’re on your blog plays a huge role in how your ecosystem grows. Offering a safe haven from vitriol and harassment, and allowing their voice to be as equally important as your own, is key.
- The Parent Material: There are millions of blogs online today. Much like nature’s ecosystem, the parent material shapes the ecosystem. Want to survive? Don’t feed the ecosystem dross that can be found a thousand times elsewhere. You don’t need to reinvent, but you do need to nourish.
Internally, the ecosystem can crumble if the host is lax in monitoring the health of the surroundings.
Internal factors not only control ecosystem processes but are also controlled by them and are often subject to feedback loops.
While the blogger is the host and creator of the ecosystem, it’s the ecosystem that – ultimately – defines the blog and its survival and adoption to new trends. Consider these “feedback loops” that can be actioned upon:
- Mobile subscribers globally are almost at parity with the actual population number – almost 7 billion. Check your analytics and see how many visitors use mobile browsers, and adapt your blog for them.
- Growth is essential to the long-term health of the ecosystem and its host. Your analytics can tell you if your content is finding the right audience and meeting their needs, while comments can help you shape that content beyond what you want to say.
The ecosystem will tell a host all they need to know about its health; if the host doesn’t act, expect the ecosystem to die.
The Social Ecosystem is an Opportunity
Ecosystems, by nature, are adaptive and transient. The host may contain or the components may thrive and explore elsewhere. Many hosts will see this as a danger to their ecosystem, but it’s an opportunity.
…they [ecosystems] can come in any size but usually encompass specific, limited spaces (although some scientists say that the entire planet is an ecosystem).
Bloggers would love their ecosystem to remain in the former part of the quote above – the “specific, limited spaces” – but the truth is, that hasn’t happened for a long time.
Social networks, forums and private groups have enabled the conversation around a topic to take place anywhere. Instead of being a danger to the ecosystem, this is a good thing.
Much as some scientists say that the whole planet is an ecosystem, so the social ecosystem is a whole opportunity in itself. No longer is your ecosystem left to grow on its own – the nutrient cycles and energy flows we looked at earlier are much wider cast.
Google+, Facebook walls, Twitter streams, LinkedIn groups, Quora discussions, forum referrals – all these are new forms of nutrients for you, and all because you’re not worried about keeping the conversation on your own topography.
This wider nutrient source powers far more energy flows between your ecosystem and theirs, and expands the community – and, by association, you – to untapped opportunities and networks. How can this ever be a bad thing?
Embrace the ecosystem.
This post was inspired by a tweet from Carrie Melissa Jones
— Carrie Melissa Jones (@carriemejones) September 26, 2013