What is an Online Community, Anyway?


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Quick! What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “online community?”

Facebook? LinkedIn? A company’s support forum?

The definition of online community varies depending on whom you talk to.

Joanne Jacobs, a digital strategist who spoke at a live online session during this year’s Community Manager Appreciation Day (CMAD), says “Communities are not just a random gathering. They’re a group of people who come together for a purpose.”
Vanessa DiMauro, CEO and Chief Digital Officer of Leader Networks thinks that “B2B online communities are professional networks that contain a blend of content and collaboration opportunities around a shared business-based experience.”

Most experts agree that, at the heart of every community, is a shared purpose.

We have our own take on this, but we want to know how you feel. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Demand Metric to find out what marketers really think about online communities, and actual outcomes organizations have found from implementing one.

If you have an online community, do you find it contributes to brand building, or does it turn into a space for customer complaints? If you don’t, why is it not a priority for your organization? Click here to take the survey and help us figure out what we as marketers can do to fix the broken state of online communities today.

Below, we’re taking a look at what a community is not, and break down the different types of online communities that are already out there.

What a Community Is Not

A community is not simply a means to provide customer support. Yes, many companies have successfully used their communities to streamline and more effectively deliver customer support, but a community can be so much more.

A community is not a place in which a community manager contributes all of the content. Think about it: just as successful support communities have crowdsourced answers to lighten their support load, so should the wider community contribute thoughtful discussion, advice and insights via discussion forums, surveys, blog posts and articles in order to provide a rich variety of perspectives and experiences to the group.

And finally, a community is not something that grows on its own. Just like any new initiative, communities must be nurtured in order to thrive. This means engaging members with fresh content, and recruiting your advocates to help you build a vibrant customer community.

Types of Online Communities

Now that you have a better idea of what a community is not, let’s take a look at the different types of online communities. In order to keep it simple, we’ve boiled it down to two main types: (1) public social networks, and (2) branded, or owned, communities.

1. Public Social Networks

Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Quora and Stack Overflow are examples of public social networks. Each has its own purpose and manner in which they engage their visitors.

Public social networks are useful for finding out what customers are saying about your industry – and sometimes, your brand – by allowing you to listen and monitor conversations. They can also teach some great lessons on engagement, like how to use rewards, upvotes, and paths to external content in order to drive interactions.

And while public social networks can certainly help you create brand awareness and reach by going where your customers are, you’re not as likely to get as much in-depth insight and interaction around your specific brand as you would with a community that you both manage and own.

2. Branded (Owned) Communities

Branded communities can either be public or private. However, rather than using rented properties on public social networks, these communities reside on a brand’s website or other owned property. Because of this, companies with branded communities are able to manage and own data about their site visitors, as well reap the SEO benefits that community content often provides.

Branded public communities, such as Salesforce.com’s Salesforce Discussion Forum, Oracle Marketing Cloud’s Topliners, or Spiceworks IT community, exist to help customers use products more effectively, and to solve customer problems, while serving as a rich source of lead generation.

Private branded communities, which require a login, help companies develop even deeper relationships with customers by giving them a safe place to share ideas, advice and interactions about your brand. Companies often launch private communities with a strategic purpose, such as capturing the voice of the customer, or gathering product feedback.

What Community Means to Us

At Influitive, we believe that communities are all about people – their passions, their emotional connections, and their interactions, not only with each other, but with the brands they love.

Whether those conversations happen in public social networks, or your branded community, it’s up to you to nurture that passion, deepen those relationships and build a solid wall of trust that will help you see a return on your online community investment.

The result? A steady stream of qualified leads. Boosted brand preference. Meaningful product feedback and ideas. And happy customers who will bend over backwards to help build your online community into the valuable asset it was meant to be.

community_demand_metric_cta_15What do communities mean to you?

Please take our short survey to help us discover: 

  • Why marketers are or aren’t using communities
  • The strategies behind creating an online community
  • Real outcomes from launching a new communities

Take our survey

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Cassandra Jowett
Cassandra Jowett is the Content Marketing Manager at Influitive, the advocate marketing experts. With a background in journalism and 7+ years in startup marketing, she's passionate about sharing insights, best practices and stories about advocate marketing, and the people and technology that power it.


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