What is an online community?
The number of online communities are only increasing. Think about how many online communities you are more or less a part of, privately and through work? With the increase in channels, and time becoming a scarce resource, more and more people enter online communities not only because of interest but also increasingly because of a fear of missing out (FOMO). We cannot go to face-to-face events all the time, but we still want to have a foot indoor with relevant communities, just in case.
A community refers to people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group or nationality, according to Cambridge Dictionary.
An online community is therefore a virtual community, whose members interact and communicate with each other primarily via the Internet and where the purpose is to serve as a common group for people who share the same interests.
Online communities are fluent in nature with people opting in and out, depending on the purpose, subject and channel of the community and where the individual member is in terms of life phase, how committed an individual is to the community, a fear of missing out or where the person is in his/hers professional career. An individual can either be deeply vested in a community by contributing and engaging or be a passive member who just reads and follow, but does not engage or share.
According to Helen Baxter, different types of online communities can be broken down by purpose and shared characteristics of their members:
- Communities of practice, where individuals share the same profession.
- Communities of circumstance, where individuals share a personal situation.
- Communities of purpose, where individuals share a common objective or purpose.
- Communities of interest, where individuals share an interest.
The identity of the online community is very important. It makes it easier to grow and engage with a community if the purpose, description and graphic identity are clear.
A clear distinction between non-members and members of an online community is also important as it gives those who are members a sense of community identity and allows the community manager to know a lot more about her/his members.
Members of an online community can be broken down into these kinds based on characteristics and contribution to the community (we will write more about how you can use these in a later post):
- In-scope non-aware: a user who is not yet aware of the community, but will be interested in becoming a member once made aware.
- Passive member: a user who is a member of the community; but does not read, engage or share content.
- Link member: a user who is a member of the community and reads and share content outside the community, but does not engage or contribute inside the community.
- Comment member: a user who is a member of the community, and only contributes with comments, but would never begin a discussion or post something original.
- Engaged member: a user who is a member of the community and contributes to discussions, comments, ask questions and find content to share with the community.
- Community manager: the user who manage the community, help members, provide information, regulate behavior and increase performance.
Communities and online communities are ever evolving, channels change, people change, generations have new demands, but some things stay the same. We all want to feel a sense of belonging, no matter if its in social life or at work. We most often believe that the minds of the group can provide us with better answers than the mind of an expert who are just out to sell us something, and sometimes we just need to find friends or solutions online, so we can spend more time offline.