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What is an online community

Where to start?

Growing our community and gaining new prospects starts by understanding what it’s all about.

Imagine a large community. It’s formed by active customers, involved prospects and enthusiastic brand advocates. How can you pass your business message on to them? Having them all connected online makes it easy and convenient. How much could such a community contribute to the success of your business?

I assume a lot. Is it is easy to form an online community as suggested? Actually, no. To tell you the truth, if you start it the wrong way or for the wrong reason it may never happen!

Our first step is to gain an understanding of what comprises an online community. After searching the internet, I’ve come across several definitions.

I have chosen seven definitions to share with you.

  1. ‘An online community is a group of people with common interests who use the Internet (web sites, email, instant messaging, etc) to communicate, work together and pursue their interests over time’. (Commoncraft.com)
  2. ‘An online community is a virtual community whose members interact with each other primarily via the Internet. For many, online communities may feel like home, consisting of a “family of invisible friends.". Those who wish to be a part of an online community usually have to become a member via a specific site and necessarily need an internet connection. An online community can act as an information system where members can post, comment on discussions, give advice or collaborate. Commonly, people communicate through social networking sites, chat rooms, forums, e-mail lists and discussion boards. People may also join online communities through video games, blogs and virtual worlds’. (Wikipedia Article)
  3. ‘An online community is a community that forms on the internet. A community is a group of people interacting, sharing, and working toward a common goal. Whereas neighbors may converse in their yards, in an online community, members interact via social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. They also share in forums, e-mail groups, and even in the comments sections of blog posts and news articles’. (Dummies.com)
  4. An online community is a ‘network of people who communicate with one another and with an organization through interactive tools such as e-mail, discussion boards and chat systems’. (Businessdictionary.com)
  5. An online community is ‘A group of people who use a particular internet service or belong to a particular group on the internet’. (Dictionary.cambridge.org)
  6. In Jenny Preece's book “Online Communities” she states that online communities generally consist of the following:
    • People socialising while attempting to satisfy their own needs or play specific parts in the community, like moderating or leading discussions.
    • A uniting purpose in the form of common needs, interests, aims, lifestyles, use of service, or anything else which motivates the desire for community.
    • Practices in the form of unspoken rules, socially defined habits, procedures and legal strictures that influence and limit the way members interact.
    • Computers which mediate and facilitate social interaction and promote feelings of unity. (Via Design to Thrive, by Howard Thorson (2010) ) (Socialmediatoday.com)
  7. Lastly, here is my own definition: An online community is no different to any other community except for the fact it’s online. It is a group of people with something in common. Shared factors include; interests, experiences, ideals, goals or profiles. Loyal customers or brand fans need to create profiles. Communities are often based on proximity.

Who has an online community?

Bloggers, business, organizations and individuals, even blog sites use online groups. Often they create separate communities that serve a specific purpose. (i-scoop.eu)

Concluding

From the definitions, we can see that the communities housed on the internet are quite like off-line communities in most respects. They are built around shared interests, passions and pains, or sometimes around categories based on common traits. These groups’ purpose is to bring people together serve their needs as members of a community.

Let me share examples of online communities that are doing exceptionally well. 
(source:  10 Exceptional Examples Of Brand Communities)

  1. The SAP Community Network (SCN)
  2. Playstation Community (Sony)
  3. Being Girl (Procter and Gamble)
  4. Figment (Random House)
  5. H&R Block
  6. Harley Owners Group (Harley-Davidson)
  7. Lugnet (Lego)
  8. My Starbucks Idea (Starbucks)
  9. Oracle Community (Oracle)
  10. r/Nordstrom1901 (Nordstrom)

To succeed, a community must be "member-centric". This means that the members and whatever ties them together are at the centre of the group’s motivation, not the company or its products and services. (The Hyper Social Organization, p.49)

This is the reason why so many online communities fail. Because they are built around a company or a brand to serve the purposes of the business alone, they fail to give value to the members of the community. Next read: Online Community types

Have you ever enrolled in a brand/product-centric online community? Did you feel like your needs as a member were met? Did you continue subscribing?

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