The type of community changes what happens in the community. A common mistake is not to align what happens in the community with its type.
Before we begin, let’s be clear about what we mean by community. We mean a group of people that have developed relationships around a strong common interest. The community category is the category of that common interest.
Community of Action
A community of action is a group of connected individuals that want to change something in the world. This typically includes most non-profit/fundraising communities. Greenpeace, Acumen, Kiva, and many others.
In a community of action, you need to focus upon goals/milestones. You need to have continued progress updates. You need to highlight stories of people taking the positive actions that you desire. The community is orientated solely around its goal of changing the future. You have to experience the highs and lows together.
Community of Circumstance
A community of circumstance is a group of people who find themselves experiencing similar situations. These are most commonly health-related communities, such as CancerConnection, Diabetes, and PatientsLikeMe.
In a community of circumstance you initiate and highlight discussions designed to facilitate an emotional connection between members. This usually means asking people about their own experiences or emotional reactions to situations.
You might also focus upon live, interactive, events where members can share their stories, interviews with community members, cultivate the best advice for each unique situation, and providing/sharing the best advice in the community.
Community of Interest
A community of interest is for people that share a common passion in their lives. All communities are technically communities of interest, however the term itself usually refers to things that people mentally enjoy. For example, you find a lot of communities about films, games, music, fashion, different cultures, and plenty more.
In a community of interest you work to facilitate interactions that both increase their knowledge (and thus passion) for the topic, and share their love of the topic. This means a large number of bonding and status-jockeying discussions. It's important to balance what's new with reminiscing and providing a venue for the geekiest discussions on the topic.
Community of Place
A community of place is a group of people bound by a common location. These include most traditional communities. The most common type of online community are those hyper-local in nature, such as EastDulwich, HamptonPeople, HarringayOnline etc.…They also include the hybrid communities – we will cover these a little later.
In a community of place, your role is a broad combination of the above four. You can highlight milestones/goals, provide support for each other, and discuss the love of the location.
Here, however, there is a slightly higher emphasis upon local events/activities. This might mean highlighting what’s happening locally or initiating things that happen locally. Some local communities morph into local trading sites, genuine support groups, or communities of interest.
Community of Practice
A community of practice is a group of people that participate in the same activity.
The most common is a community of profession. However, this can also include people that participate in the same sports, collect various items, use metal detectors, and even raising chickens. The difference between practice and interest in slim, practice leans more towards an active interest.
In a community of practice, your goal is to document best practice, encourage members to share their best advice, filter out the good from the bad, and orientate discussions towards what lies upon the cutting edge of the sector i.e. what changes in the political, social, economical, or technological environment are impacting upon the sector?
Now, it’s not uncommon to find hybrid communities. For example, a community for online marketers in London and Geneva web communications. Hybrids are genuinely good. They focus your efforts and help you conceptualize a community that closely matches the interests of the people you’re trying to reach.
Communities here can include all combinations:
- Action + Practice: A community for professionals that want to change something their industry.
- Place + Circumstance. A community for those affected by a health issue in a specific location.
- Interest + Practice. A community for people that both love to read and write books (e.g. InkPop).
For many organizations, the best thing they can do is decide not to develop a community of interest (which is the hardest) and instead develop a community of action, or a community of place. It’s an easier audience to target and much more convenient than assuming that people do have a strong interest in what you do.
The challenge here is you need to pick one. Don’t drift around from one to another, deliberately decide what type of community you’re going to develop.
The type of community changes everything.. It changes what types of discussions, events/activities, and content you create and facilitate in your community. It changes who you approach to join and your approach to building relationships within that group.
If your community is struggling, it might simply be you've developed the wrong type of community. That's something you can change.
To learn more about the different types of online communities, sign up for our on-demand course, How to Start an Online Community.