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Learn the basics of community

What defines a community?

Community is a vague term, which has been used more and more in web2 and web3 contexts alike. Since the advent of Web3, the term community was increasingly used to describe the social media presence of companies and brands. While the term itself can have varying definitions depending on the circumstances, there are some clear distinctions which define a community.

The following phrase can be regarded as a very basic definition of the term community:

“A community is a segment of people who form relationships because of shared goals, interests, and experiences.”

Most communities are hybrids

Through this definition some prominent examples of communities like sports-, hobby- or gaming communities comprised of people who share a common interest can easily be identified. Examples for goal-driven communities could be education-, career-, or Ideation-communities like Pinterest, Wikipedia, or certain Facebook groups. Travel- or health-related communities can be categorized as experience-driven. However, the boundaries between goal-, interest- and experience-driven communities are oftentimes blurred, meaning that many communities can be assigned to multiple categories at once. For instance, music-communities can be categorized as experience- as well as interest-driven at the same time. Most communities are in fact hybrid communities which share multiple factors.

Community vs Network vs Audience

Community vs Network vs Audience

The relationships between members of a community (also known as member-to-member relationships) are what differentiate a community from an audience or a network. Audiences are being targeted by companies, brands, or other similar entities in a uni- or bidirectional fashion without any interaction amongst the members themselves. If we are very precise, this definition of an audience is not correct as the strict definition only sees a unidirectional interaction. When having bidirectional communication, we are usually speaking of a network but for our purpose and for simplicity we are only differentiating between community and audience for now. This lack of member-to-member relationships is why audiences – in contrast to communities – do not require proper community management efforts. The community manager is the head of the community and focuses primarily on dialogue, moderation, and support.

Why you want to establish a community

The reasons as to why it makes sense to establish a community are plentiful. However, the goal of communities are always connected to the creator of the community itself – be it a company, a brand or another type of entity. In the case of a brand- or company-based community financial incentives are the most likely reasons for the community’s establishment, whereas communities created by a bunch of individuals is oftentimes more centered around social interactions like support or fun. Communities created by individuals are also referred to as self-created communities. Typically, self-created communities don’t adhere to a certain set of rules and are usually open to the public and thus are much harder to handle and they don’t follow specific rules and are hard to handle.

As the name implies, open communities are open to the public, meaning that basically anyone is free to join them (although some open communities still have some form of limitations), whereas closed communities restrict access to the community in some way. A potential downside of open communities next to the aforementioned difficulties in managing and handling the community is the lack of member-to-member engagement. On the other hand, open communities oftentimes have superior SEO performance over closed community as their bigger audience helps them to appear more often in search engines and through social media.

Sense of community

David McMillan and David Chavis came up with an alternative definition of the community term in 1986 referring to a “sense of community” in their definition as:

„a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to being together.” 

According to McMillan and Chavis four major factors influence said sense of community:  

Four Layers of Community

Membership

Membership describes the feeling of belonging or a sense of personal relatedness. It consists of five attributes:  

Boundaries describes how people become members and what are boundaries that keep other people out.

Emotional safety is what is created by setting boundaries, including the right people, and creating a feeling of trust and safety.

A sense of belonging and identification is created by members feeling like they fit in, and they are in “their community”.

Personal investment is what connects members to a community as they might make sacrifices to the community and give without necessarily taking. 

A common symbol system or a specific language creates a sense of community.  

Influence

Influence works as a two-way street. On the one hand, members want to feel like they’re able to influence the community and on the other hand, the community itself should also exert a certain amount of influence over its members. Oftentimes, people who acknowledge others’ needs, values and opinions and treat them respectfully are among the most influential members of a group whereas people actively trying to force their influence over others end up less influential in many cases. A community requires an environment where members feel like what they say is relevant and matters as others listen to them and take them seriously. For a community to have influence over its members, it needs to provide them with value that the members do not want to lose. 

Integration & Fulfillment

The integration and fulfillment of needs means, that members joining a community get what they initially hoped for. Therefore, a community is functional if it solves a problem for its members or gives them a feeling of time well spent. This can be reached in many different ways. A community should always care to understand what its members are looking for and what their sentiment is. Thereby it becomes possible to optimize the community and define how it can best serve its members. 

Emotional connection

A shared emotional connection is something like a joint story or history. A shared experience creates the belief that in the future there will be more shared experiences which further increase the emotional connection of members. These shared experiences can be many things but one of the strongest are crisis situations. A strong emotional bond is created by community-members who have been living through a moment of crisis together. The factor of shared emotional connection is believed to be the “definitive element for true community”.  

Thinking about these four factors and their inherent meanings, one can conclude that any group of people has the potential to become a community. However, a large percentage of groups that call themselves communities aren’t in fact real communities ironically. Too many companies like to refer to their customer base as a community although they only use it as a marketing term. Oftentimes, this is due to a lack of knowledge but also because of ignorance or other priorities. 

Without a doubt, a true community can be incredibly strong and have a mutualpositive impact on both its members as well as its initiators and leaders. Sometimes, communities form by accident but there are ways to define, build and create a true community intentionally as well. A true community does make a difference and it is proven that communities create massive additional value on a variety of levels and layers.  

If you want to find out how we at TIVAN Consulting can help you to build a true, organic and sustainable community, get in touch with us! 

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