An online community, also called an internet community or web community, is a virtual community whose members interact with each other primarily via the Internet. For many, online communities may feel like home, consisting of a "family of invisible friends". Those who wish to be a part of an online community usually have to become a member via a specific site and thereby gain access to specific content or links. An online community can act as an information system where members can post, comment on discussions, give advice or collaborate. Commonly, people communicate through social networking sites, chat rooms, forums, e-mail lists and discussion boards. People may also join online communities through video games, blogs and virtual worlds. The rise in popularity of Web 2.0 websites has allowed for easier real-time communication and ability to connect to others as well as producing new ways for information to be exchanged.
The idea of a community is not a new concept. On the telephone, in ham radio and in the online world, social interactions no longer have to be based on proximity; instead they can literally be with anyone anywhere. The study of communities has had to adapt along with the new technologies. Many researchers have used ethnography to attempt to understand what people do in online spaces, how they express themselves, what motivates them, how they govern themselves, what attracts them, and why some people prefer to observe rather than participate. Online communities can congregate around a shared interest and can be spread across multiple websites.
Some signs of community are:
- Content: articles, information, and news about a topic of interest to a group of people.
- Forums or newsgroups and email: so that community members can communicate in delayed fashion.
- Chat and instant messaging: so that community members can communicate more immediately.
F.A.Q about Communities
What are Community Platforms?
Community Platforms manage the process of creating and maintaining a space for productive discussion among community members. Members can share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. This process is sometimes referred to as "community engagement."
Key Use Cases for Community Platforms
- Support community for self-help and peer or expert advice
- Private social networking
- Gauge customer satisfaction
- Identify customer advocates
- Increase customer/employee engagement
- Distribute community news and updates
- Generate content with programs like community blogging
Mature communities deliver business value in a variety of ways. They increase engagement, address support issues and pain points, measure satisfaction, and build stronger relationships. Platforms may support external communities, internal communities, or both. These benefits apply to both customer and employee communities.
There are different types of community platforms, including open source options for community managers who want to develop their own platform. Some SMB-focused community platforms focus on one aspect of community, like Q&A, ideation, or link sharing. Enterprise-grade community platforms are more feature-rich. They might include complex, hierarchal capabilities like multi-tiered advocacy programs with moderator permissions.
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Community Platform
It is important to consider whether membership will be explicit and exclusive so that the community is open to registered members only.
In order to determine how employees or customers are likely to engage with a community platform, some community managers set up a free community platform or private social network group to run a testing phase.
Community Platforms vs. Help Desk Software, CMS, and Collaboration Tools
Community management tools have some overlap with help desk software, which often includes community features like Q&A for self-help. Some community platforms integrate with help desk systems.
There is also overlap with content management systems (CMS), especially in heavily moderated external communities, where posts/articles by advocates and experts might be promoted and shared elsewhere.
Some community platforms, especially for internal communities, may overlap with collaboration tools as well. Collaboration tools tend to be more focused on one-on-one interactions between users, and on getting projects done (via file sharing, etc.). Community interactions are more often one-to-many and focused on help, general engagement, feedback, and ideation.
Gamification is a strategy in which points, rules, and competition are used to increase engagement. Some community platforms use game dynamics to incentivize and reward member participation.
Moderation is a system for controlling potential abuse of the community platform. Moderation is important because fear of defamation is one of the biggest obstacles to creating an external community. For some companies promoting the voice of the customer feels risky.
There are two approaches to moderation: curating users (like restricting membership or blocking/reporting certain members) or curating content.
Most community platforms allow administrators to act as moderators. Some have more advanced hierarchical systems for moderation. These allow administrators to grant certain members moderator permissions.
Content curation includes restricting content access, removing content, editing content, or responding to content. This is often a top-down reaction to member contributions. It can also involve broader community participation such as voting on, rating and reporting content.
There are many providers of collaboration software spanning a wide range of capabilities from very inexpensive products designed for small teams, to highly sophisticated enterprise products. Enterprise-level systems cost in the region of $100 per user per month, with price breaks for high numbers of users.