What is an Online Community Anyway?

Updated: Dec 14, 2018

If you have found this post it's probably because you are either new to Online Community work, or because you are familiar with it already and looking for the right words to explain it to someone who is not. Regardless - Hats off to you! Online Communities are exciting pathways to the future of digital business. The more folks familiar with it, the better.

Often, these initiatives and programs can be tricky to define. "Community" as a concept is an ancient one, while the application of online community spaces in business is a newer practice.

At the core, Online Communities are:

Dedicated and defined digital spaces where members interact on shared interests, challenges, goals and/or topics. Typically they are hosted and managed by an single entity. They are generally populated by customers, partners, employees and/or fans of that entity.

Curated here are a collection of wonderful articles, posts and resources that dig a bit deeper into what Online Communities are today, what they are not and where they came from. *

Let's start with the basics:

  • This post talks about the definition of a community and provides an example of how an Online Community might be used.

  • This post also touches on the concept and definition of an Online Community - with the added bonus of detailing what a Community Platform is.

  • An excellent and eloquent description of how Community and Social Media are similar but not the same.

  • Another good one on what a Community Manger is. It was written by someone who is not a Community Manager herself, but did a good job of summarizing the role in comparison to a social media manager.

  • This post - from 2003! - discusses the same thing. While this article is getting up in years, it is a helpful baseline to look at for reference of how Online Communities grew into the business initiative they are today.

  • Here you can find a great overview of the difference between a network and a community.

Going a bit further, here are a few related resources:

  • This post discusses what an Online Community is not in an incredibly helpful and constructive way.

  • This fan letter to community (something I can get behind) discusses the benefits of Online Community spaces and provides helpful examples of use cases.

  • Here you can find a break down of some of the most common types of community use cases.

* Just a note: Some of these resources are from Online Community vendors of various sorts. While they all contain very helpful content, some might be a bit biased. Juniper is not professionally associated with these brands.