Online community – definition and meaning

An online community is a group of people who have a common interest and communicate through the Internet. They get together online through websites, discussion boards, instant messaging, email, etc., and pursue their interests over time. An online community is a network of individuals who communicate with one another online.

We also call it an Internet community. It is a virtual community, i.e., a social network of individuals who interact online.

‘Online,’ in this article, means ‘with an Internet connection.’

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an online community is:

“A group of people who use a particular internet service or belong to a particular group on the internet.”

Traditional vs. online community says that online communities are communities first and online second.

In fact, everybody is surrounded by communities all the time. For example, we live in a geographical community and work in a professional community.

Some of us worship in a temple with a religious community. Our friends represent a social community.

Put simply, wherever individuals share a common interest, there is a community.

Online communities today differ from previous ones in that the participants interact on the Internet. Community members did not interact online before because the Internet did not exist.

Online community - image explaining meaning
One huge difference between online communities and in the offline ones of the past is their geographical reach. Today, for example, an online community may have members from the US, UK, Japan, Australia, and Chile. In fact, members can be from anywhere in the world, as long as they have an Internet connection.

Joining an online community

If you want to join an online community, above all, you must have an Internet connection.

Typically, you must become a member via a specific website. You may also have to tick a box after reading a list of rules and regulations. Ticking the box means that you will comply with those rules.

In some online communities, you can choose to be a lurker or non-public participant. A lurker joins an online community but does not contribute. In other words, the lurker is a bystander or onlooker.

Lurkers contrast with public participants or posters, who openly express their opinions and beliefs.

Johanne Jacobs, a digital strategist, once said the following at a Community Manager Appreciation Day:

“Online communities are not just a random gathering. They’re a group of people who come together for a purpose.

Online community for brand promotion

Companies love online communities. They help promote their brands. They also help businesses keep track of what people are thinking and what the competition is doing.

In a VisionCritical article, Kelvin Claveria wrote that for the marketing executive, there are four types of online communities. There are social, support, advocate, and insight communities.

Below is a synopsis of Claveria’s description of the four types. He wrote about them from a marketing person’s point of view.

Social online community

Social communities include social networks like Instagram and Facebook. Twitter is also a social community.

Brands commonly use social communities as part of their marketing strategy. In fact, many companies use this type of community to find out what their rivals are doing.

According to a Social Media Examiner report, 93% of large companies use social communities, namely Facebook.

Support Online Community

Support communities enable participants to offer product tips to other customers. This type of community helps companies spend less on customer support.

In fact, more customers are getting answers to their queries at online communities, while fewer are using ‘customer support’ services.

Support communities provide a more structured way of gathering new ideas than social communities. This is because support communities allow brands to monitor service-and-product-related chats.

Eighty-one percent of large companies have a support community, according to Forrester Research.

Advocate Online Community

This is where brands mobilize their most loyal and passionate customers. This community, which we also call advocate marketing software, may reward members who write glowing testimonials.

Advocate communities are useful for positive word-of-mouth promotion.

Insight Online Community

Brand managers carefully select customers for this group. The community consists of consumers who maintain a long-term relationship with the brand.

In other words, it is a community for lifelong supporters of a brand.

Regarding this type of online community, Claveria wrote: “These communities allow companies to gather continuous, high-quality feedback from engaged stakeholders like customers, partners or employees.”

Video – what is an online community?

In this Outdesk Interactive video, Ashley Brookes explains what online communities are. Ms. Brookes is Senior Brand and Content Manager at HootSuite.

She begins by explaining that it is human nature to communicate with like-minded people to seek out information.