Everyone everywhere is looking for community. Sometimes community is found in person. Other times it’s found elsewhere. One of the most prominent alternative places to find community is online. So what is an online community? Let’s find out!
In this article, we’ll cover:
- The definition of an online community
- Online communities vs. social networks
- Community building vs. audience building
- Creating space for people to connect
The definition of an online community
An online community is simply a group of people coming together for a common purpose, interest, or vision, and doing so via the internet. Online communities typically use chat rooms, mailing lists, and forums as their primary mode of interaction.
Online communities tend to form around hobbies, special interests, creators, influencers, or even companies and their products. They take many forms and express themselves in a multitude of ways. While many virtual communities stay online-only, some have in-person events and elements as well.
The thing that differentiates online vs. local communities is the primary mode of engagement. Local communities focus membership around a geographic area, where anyone from any location can participate in a community that’s based online.
Online communities vs. social networks
Social networks have dominated the space around connecting online, but they differ from what we’d consider an online community. To start, social networks have some sense of personal gravity about them. The people you’re connected with on social networks are often local friends, classmates, or family members, where online communities are usually made up of people who don’t know one another, at least initially.
Another way social networks differ is how community connection plays a role. Social networks are typically based on a loose idea of connection. You’re broadcasting thoughts, feelings, and experiences of your life, and others are responding to it. There’s a sense of connection, but it’s more passive in nature. An online community is built intentionally with a specific purpose and strategy to help people connect. As a result, there are typically more ways to get deeply involved with a virtual community beyond only sharing information.
Lastly, social networks are massive and often don’t foster authentic connection. People typically post the highlight reel of their lives on social media. With an online community, community leaders strive to create a space where people can truly connect around the purpose of the community’s existence. In this intentionally crafted and curated environment, authentic relationships can start to form.
Social media, in essence, is like traditional mass media. You broadcast, others listen and can react to it. Communities are much different in that they are like local clubs. People do share information, but interactions are based on the relationships the community’s members build around its purpose.
Community building vs. audience building
Online communities also take a different approach toward how they’re built. Social networks and businesses have traditionally focused on building an audience. Richard Millington of Feverbee has an excellent resource describing the difference between an audience and a community.
To summarize a few important points:
- A community is long term, where an audience is short term
- A community prioritizes slow growth, where an audience aims for fast growth
- A community fosters stimulating discussions, where an audience is reactive to questions
- A community builds relationships with individuals, where an audience broadcasts information to the whole group
If you’re looking to build a community, keeping these differences in mind is important, as it’s easy to drift into building a following over an engaged community.
Creating space for people to connect
An online community can exist in many different shapes or forms. However, a successful online community creates space for its members to connect. Connection is the basis of any community, no matter where it’s located. People can find a place of belonging through an online community, potentially in a facet of their lives where they don’t have friends locally with the same interests.
To create a space to connect, it must be a safe space. People connect by sharing what they honestly think, feel, or desire. This is why moderation tools are one crucial feature of any online community. Moderation relies on a set of community principles to help foster this kind of discussion. Moderators review the posts shared in a community, and remove those detrimental to maintaining that safe space. Anything that doesn’t contribute to the broader health of the community is redirected or removed.
Having a space to connect also focuses on building relationships over engaging in transactions. A community’s purpose is centered on how it benefits the people involved in it. If you approach community building with what you or your business can get out of it as the primary motivator, the amount of success you’ll see in your community will be limited.
It’s been quite a journey since our seed foundation in 2012 and the launch of Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Incorporated. In that time, the company has grown from 4 to 54 people, from $0 to over $10 million per year in revenue, and from 0 to 31,000 Discourse instances. You might say we’re a ten year overnight success.
We’re honored to cultivate the long-term relationship between Chris Paik at Pace, who has been gracefully following along with us since the earliest days, and the enduring warmth and empathy of Josh Kopelman at First Round. They understand that Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Incorporated sits at the unique intersection of …
- remaining uncompromisingly open source
- completely committed to a remote-first view of work
- gently but firmly encouraging people in a just-in-time manner to be their best online selves
- being the easiest, most frictionless, simplest.. dare I say.. funnest.. way of getting things done with other people on the internet 🎉
There was a steady drumbeat of potential investors who kept approaching us as we grew, but it never felt like a solid fit, particularly with the uncertainty around the global pandemic. But with Chris and Josh, we felt they truly understood the long-term vision of what we set out to achieve at Discourse, and the unique path of a remote-first, open source company.
We’re thrilled to use these funds to advance Discourse on multiple fronts at once, to reach totally new audiences, and to keep improving and refining Discourse so it continues to be the best open source teamwork solution for groups of any size. We love working on Discourse, and these funds put fresh winds in our sails and spring in our stride.
This investment also means you can be confident that Discourse isn’t going anywhere. You can build on top of the Discourse platform and enjoy not only the well understood contract of 100% open source software, but also the support of a large, incredibly talented team galvanized by the idea of making online work just a little bit easier and just a little bit more fun every single day.
Speaking of, we are hiring on every team, including the executive team, at Discourse. If the idea of what we’re building resonates with you – if you’d like to work on an open source project that touches millions of people all around the world – if you want to change the world, at least our little part of it, for the better .. don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’d love to talk to you about how to build not just a great product, but also a great company, together. We can’t do it without you!
Thank you so much for your support over the years, whether it was simply using Discourse, spreading the word about Discourse, running your own Discourse instance, contributing feedback on Meta, or adding to our open source repositories. Here’s to the next decade of online Discourse with you. 🍻
Every day, customers are building, growing, and running successful communities powered by Discourse. Today, we’re highlighting one of them.
Who are UiPath?
UiPath, a leading enterprise automation software company, is on a mission to provide a robot for every person. It streamlines processes, uncovers efficiencies, and provides insights, making the path to digital transformation fast and cost-effective.
Growth and the Need to Scale
After launching UiPath Academy’s free courses in 2015, the company’s growth accelerated, yielding more users asking questions and needing support. The following year, they focused on creating a place where these users could connect and receive the support they needed from a newly sparked community. UiPath found themselves looking for a modern platform with the customization capabilities needed to best serve their customers and partners.
Discourse can help improve your support customer experience. Find out how!
Launching a Community with Discourse
In 2016, UiPath partnered with Discourse to launch a brand new forum in correlation with releasing the free version of their automation suite. UiPath chose Discourse because they were looking for an open-source community tool that could provide them with instant and continuous user feedback on their products, outsource free-tier support and bug reporting, and boost search rankings through user-generated content. Part of their desire was to work with a platform allowing full customization flexibility and a fast moving roadmap, which Discourse offers.
With Discourse’s focus on civilized discussion, UiPath was able to nurture and scale their community, get direct and immediate feedback on their product, and grow their support capabilities – all in one place.
In 2018, 70% of all UiPath’s web traffic went between their Discourse community and public-facing documentation. UiPath has rewarded and empowered over 60 MVPs from their community for their outstanding contributions and evangelism around the platform. The community’s growth also led to the development of local chapter events, where UiPath raised up chapter leaders to run local meetups, extending the global reach of the forum into multiple cities around the world.
We’re thrilled to continue partnering with UiPath to help their community thrive. Want to join in the fun? Start a free trial today!