In current usage, a community can mean almost any group of people that interact in almost any place in any manner.
This needs to end. It’s too encompassing of a broad array of different groups and outcomes.
Offline we have many of collective nouns to define groups of people based upon how they interact. We have audiences, mobs, crowds, congregations, tribes, and yes, community.
We do need to better understand what sort of group we want to develop. Each type of group produces a different outcome. The result that you get depends very much upon the approach you take.
- Audience/fans. A group of people that read/watch/follow a singular stimulant. This group will have minimal relationships with each other.
- Crowd. A group of people brought together by something unusual. This could be extremely good, extremely bad, extremely exciting. Attention is high for a short amount of time,
- Mob. A mostly disorganized group of people uprising against a major issue. This will usually be leaderless with minimal relationships.
- Tribe. A group with a defined leader attempting to affect change within the world. This group usually will have some level of relationships with each other.
- Community. A group of people who have developed relationships around a strong common interest.
There are overlaps here. There are more types of groups too. But lets keep it simple for now.
We can agree that building an audience is different from a community. A crowd is different from a tribe.
This means we need to answer some important questions.
- Does this group need a leader to guide them towards a fixed goal? Why?
- Does this group need to build strong relationships with each other? Why?
- Does this group need to be around for the long-term or does it need a short amount of attention? Why?
Your answers to these questions define what sort of group you create.
Let's imagine you want to promote an upcoming product, a product your target market hasn’t purchased before. You don’t need a tribe, nor a community. Your target market doesn’t need to communicate. You just need their attention. You probably want a crowd. You want a lot of attention for a short amount of time.
Let's imagine you want to increase repeat purchases of your product. A crowd or mob probably wont get the job done. You need a longer-term group than that. A tribe probably isn’t appropriate, unless it is the founder of the brand him/herself. So you want either an audience or a community.
Let's imagine you’re trying to change how something is done in your industry. A mob might work. You can alert people to a major issue they should be upset about. Or you can be a leader and build a tribe. You can position yourself again an issue and invite people to follow and help you.
Let's imagine you’ve just launched a start-up. You probably want an audience to manage. You want to respond to their questions and build good relationships with them. That doesn’t require relationships between your members. So you probably need an audience. However, you may consider a tribe if you want to cultivate advocates.
This is heavily simplified. The point is we can’t keep using community to encompass all manner of online social activities. Online social groups are all around us now, we need to know which are right for us.