What is an online community?
An online community is a group of people with a shared interest or motivation who meet up on the Internet to inspire, affirm, learn, grow, and form connections with each other. They are typically started by a creator or leader who, in turn, brings together members who join and participate.
Online communities are unique because they offer members the opportunity to connect with each other. Because members can build authentic relationships with each other, online communities are distinct from social media followings, email lists, or media websites.
In an online community, each new member who joins and contributes brings value to every other member. In contrast, with a social media following, an email list, or media website, the creator or influencer posts to their followers, their followers comment back to them, but followers don’t talk to each other.
What is online community building?
Online community building is how an online community builds relationships, contributions, and sharing between members. Typically, online community building is led by an individual who serves as the community leader or creator.
The best online communities are built on dedicated community platforms that make it easy for these community leaders and creators to set up and bring members together to build relationships with each other organized by topics, events, and even online courses.
Why build an online community?
An online community is the best way to bring people together to master a topic that’s important or interesting to them. An online community is the single most effective way for members of that community to build new skills, reinforce habits, and achieve results and transformation that would be difficult to get on their own.
For small- to medium-sized products and brands, online communities are also the best way for creators to learn what their customers care about and are motivated by, as well as what they need from the product or brand to reinforce their loyalty to it.
Benefits of online communities
Online communities aren’t bound by real-world restrictions like geography or timezone—and because of this, there’s often a greater diversity of participants who come together to master something interesting or important together.
The support of an online community also helps empower and inspire members to learn a new skill, build a new habit, or learn a topic they haven’t been able to master on their own. Members also find themselves progressing more quickly and making meaningful, lasting connections along the way.
Small- and medium-size business owners also find online communities incredibly helpful for gaining insights about their audience that in turn shape new product iterations and brand strategy.
Types of online communities
The different types of online communities include those organized around:
- A topic, interest, passion, or goal.
- A shared identity such as being a new mother or ex-pat.
- A shared appreciation for a particular person, book, show, or sports team.
- A shared location like a neighborhood or campus.
It’s typical to think of online communities as having hundreds or thousands of members. This was true in the era of online forums, the precursor to today’s much more sophisticated online communities.
Today, successful online communities start off small with as few as 30 members and aim to foster deeper relationships that then grow.
One more interesting trend is the emergence of a new type of online community: one that’s “mastering” a topic together. In this model, online communities merge with online courses to enable a more structured program that a group of people go through together.
Online community examples
Wanderful: This online community founded by Beth Santos is a place where women who travel solo can find resources and share their experiences abroad. The membership site offers different types of travelers different tiers of resources, including webinars, community deals, chapter events, mastermind groups, gig boards, and promotional opportunities while continuing to inspire more women to explore the world.
The Unemployable Initiative: Jerod Morris and Brian Clark’s online community combines a course with a supportive, positive community for freelance and solopreneurs aimed at helping them make seven figures. Members have access to webinars, accountability groups, and monthly Q&As with Clark, who also invites members of the community to share expertise about a certain industry.
Barista Exchange: This online community platform for baristas has a public forum for baristas to vent and ask for advice. It also offers a classifieds section to buy and sell equipment, a job board, blog posts that act as resources for community members, and specific groups for members to come together and swap tips.
Canine Performance: Training a dog isn’t the easiest job in the world. This site was created for passionate dog owners to have an accessible, supportive space to learn about dog training through online courses, virtual sessions, and webinars. Members can choose between different levels of membership, including a package for those who want direct chat support 24/7 with pro dog trainers.