What is an Online Community?

How do you build an intentional online community that is healthy, inclusive, and effective?

Let’s start from the beginning – what is an online community, specifically? An online community is a group of people online held together by common threads of shared values or interests. They can take many forms.

  • They can be public followers of the same page (think brand, artist, or business)
  • They can be a private LinkedIn or Facebook group, or a private online forum
  • A community can form out of an idea. A perfect example of this is #BlackLivesMatter, which is a large and growing community. People participating in this community find information, share content, and educate each other in real-time

The key with communities is that they fulfill some kind of human need. Humans all share a basic set of needs – shelter, food, water, clothing, love, self-actualization; and communities tap in to those human needs. For a more in-depth explanation of the hierarchy of human needs developed by  Abraham Maslow, check out https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201205/our-hierarchy-needs

The bottom line is that as humans, we are social beings and we like to form into groups. And that is the driving force behind all social media networks today!

Why should you care?

Why? Why are communities useful? A perfect example is of Black Lives Matter which is propelling forward real change in cities and government. Online communities can be useful in many different ways – creating social change, growing businesses, and even growing interests and hobbies.

One way that online communities are useful is to optimize the experience of the group from a user-experience perspective. Instead of communicating with the general public, members of a community are already up-to-speed on a shared set of values and information, making the group more effective in solving problems, creating resources, and supporting each other.

Want an IRL example of an optimized experience? Let’s say we go to a baseball game. When you go to a baseball game, you expect certain things. Baseball games have: a distinct set of food, the 7th inning stretch, baseball players, and the rules of the game. Many fans will be wearing baseball jerseys and carry gloves with them in case of fly balls. Everyone knows how the scoring works and what job the umpires have. If you don’t know what is happening in this community – you can ask and someone will tell you!

If you wanted to learn more about baseball, you could reasonably expect to go to a baseball game and learn from and with other fans of the game. Now, if you wanted to learn about baseball, but instead you went to the grocery store and started asking a clerk about baseball – that would probably not be the best approach.

Communities with distinctive values, culture, and shared knowledge are places of collective value. This is why they are so important, for the people in them and the people who are trying to FIND them.

The Power of Online Communities

Online communities have become so powerful, because it has only been a few decades that they have been around and yet they have flourished outside the confines of physical location. In a time before the internet, if you were a fan of a specific book series, but no one in your physical community liked the books and had no interest in talking about the characters and storyline, well you’d either have to get in a car and find a community in another place or be content with being a community of one.

What are you doing to create a community right now? We’d love to hear about how you’re navigating the world of social media right now. Next week we’ll dive into the tools that can be helpful in creating your community.

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