We’re All Using Different Definitions Of Community, Here Are The Differences

November 17, 2014Comments Off on We’re All Using Different Definitions Of Community, Here Are The Differences

There is a lot of advice about building communities online.

Much of it won't apply to you because you use a different definition of community than the person giving the advice. 

As community professionals, we tend hold many different definitions which broadly fall under three distinct categories. These are: 


1) The Common Interest Definition

The first is the common interest definition. It’s a community when people share a common interest. If I’m interested in Game of Thrones, then I’m automatically a member of this community. I’m a stakeholder, and thus a member, regardless if I actively participate in any specific place.

You hear this in the news. “The LGBT community thinks….” or “the cyber-security community is concerned about…”. The media isn’t referring to some specific, identifiable, group of people. They’re referring to people that share a common interest.

When people talk about Obama’s online community, they’re typically talking about the interest-layer level. A lot of people discussing their start-up communities also usually fall into this category.

A variant of this is the sense of community definition. Here it's a community if it's members feel they are a part of that community. It doesn't matter if they participate in a specific place. 


2) The Specific Place Definition 

The second is the common interest + interact online definition. 

Here the community label is applied to any group of people that interact around their common interest in a specific, visible, place.

The tool doesn’t matter. Forums can be a community, blogs can be a community, Facebook groups can be a community, 10 people in a local hall can be a community.

At this level, comments on news websites, customer service channels, and more are considered a community. Those that post comments on the HuffingtonPost, for example, are considered a community here. Those that participate in customer service channels are a community by this definition.


3) The Relationships Definition

The third category is common interest + specific place + relationships definition.  

At this level, members need not just a common interest and a place where they interact, but they need to develop relationships with one another to count as a community. 

FeverBee uses this definition. We believe communities need a final distinguishing feature to separate online audiences from crowds, mobs, and other types of social interacts.

Short-term transactional communities (i.e. places where people interact without developing relationships don’t qualify). This disqualifies lots of busy online platforms. Those that post comments on blogs or on news stories usually don’t count, for example. 


What Works Depends On What Definition You Use

What works to create a movement like Obama’s is different from work works to facilitate a lot of blog comments on news stories, which is different from what works to build communities that foster genuine relationships.

If the advice you're getting isn't working for you, it's probably because the you and the sender hold two different definitions of community. Ideally, we would distinguish between the levels using crowds, audiences, mobs, etc…but these terms are less appealing than community.

For now, the challenge when looking for advice is to find people that hold the same definition of community as yourself. 

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