A portrait of Pete Heslop
13 Mar, 2024 5 min read

Everything we've learnt from Richard Millington's 2024 Community Talk: Part 1

In this article, we look at Millington’s take on AI and what this means for digital communities and knowledge sharing in 2024.
Everything we've learnt from Richard Millington's 2024 Community Talk: Part 1

At Steadfast Collective, we’re always looking for fresh insights into community building, so watching Richard Millington’s ‘This Is Community in 2024’ was a no-brainer for us.

Millington, founder of community consultancy FeverBee, discusses the upcoming challenges and opportunities for the online community space. Here, we’ll look at Millington’s take on AI and what this means for digital communities and knowledge sharing in 2024.

AI implementation is inevitable

It’s impossible to look at digital community trends without mentioning AI. Although the AI buzz has been ongoing for years, Millington notes that very few communities are experimenting or actively using it within their platforms. 

This year, however, he believes it’s time to start. 

We know that AI can be a powerful tool for community engagement. AI can use community data to: 

  • Personalise communications

  • Gain insights into member behaviour and preferences

  • Enhance community support

  • Predict future engagement

Nevertheless, there has been and continues to be an underlying hesitancy to adopt AI in digital communities, particularly those in support-based communities. 

The future of knowledge sharing in communities

Digital communities are built on individuals coming together, sharing ideas and information, and forging relationships. In the eyes of community leaders, the top goal of communities is ‘information and knowledge sharing’. 

We recently chatted with Zendesk Director of Community, Nicole Saunders, about what community meant for Zendesk. On our Digital Community Leaders postcast, Saunders defined community as ‘any customer-focused programme that’s organised around the idea of connecting users with one another to share knowledge’.

One of the main challenges we’re seeing community leaders face is the prospect of AI stepping in to become that primary source of knowledge. 

When we think of AI in terms of knowledge sharing, most of us will think of one particular platform - ChatGPT. ChatGPT has become renowned as the go-to platform where users can input a prompt and retrieve an answer within seconds. 

This Q&A style of knowledge sharing is very similar to what we've been used to seeing in support communities for years.

This begs the question, will these communities no longer be a valuable source of knowledge, and will people go directly to the likes of ChatGPT?

Not entirely, according to Millington. And we agree. 

Super Users vs AI

Millington’s webinar reminds us that while AI implementation in digital communities is inevitable, it doesn’t mean community members will be replaced. 

Straightforward questions will likely move from community groups and forums to AI bots, and very little can be done to stop that. This could mean fewer questions to answer in communities and, therefore, less need for highly engaged community members known as ‘super users’. 

However, it’s all about perspective.

Think of AI bots as an FAQ bank that will instantly answer common questions. This could benefit super users, as they no longer need to handle questions where the answers are readily available. 

Instead, community members can focus on offering support through real-life experiences that people connect with and relate to. Not only does this save time, it makes their contributions more valuable.

This changes the narrative from who or what will answer the question (community vs AI), to who or what will answer what type of question.

Digital communities offer a sense of belonging and comfort that AI cannot replicate. Other like-minded people may have gone through a similar situation and can provide community users with first-hand advice.

Human exchanges aren’t going away any time soon, with 78% of us wanting to interact with a real person more as technology improves.

Community members are the heart and soul of any community, and their contributions are essential to building and maintaining a thriving community. While AI can undoubtedly enhance the community experience, it can’t replicate the significance of human empathy. 

AI needs digital communities to work

It’s worth remembering that AI relies on quality human contributions to operate effectively. If people stop going to digital communities for member advice, AI bots will start to lose the very data it bases its learning on.

If anything, active community members are vital for AI to learn and work in this space. 

It’s all about finding the right balance between using AI to improve community engagement and helping your community grow. 

Our takeaway

Millington’s insights prompt us to reconsider how we view AI in digital communities in 2024. Communities help people to feel part of something, and that won’t change with the implementation of AI. 

Yes, community leaders will likely see a drop-off in common questions and concerns because of AI bots. However the desire for humanised content and authentic relationships will become much more important. Attaching emotional understanding and relatability to communications will serve digital communities well in 2024. 

The best thing to do is integrate AI where it provides the most value to your digital community, such as automation and data insights. The heartbeat of communities is human interaction. By incorporating AI in a way that works alongside human contributions, you can make the community experience a much more efficient and engaging place for your members. 

At Steadfast Collective, we develop digital applications that bring people together. If you’re looking for assistance with building your community in 2024, let’s talk

Keep an eye out for Part 2 where we discuss Millington’s ‘Community Everywhere’ approach and how to drive growth.