Gaining a clear understanding of what a community is, why you want yours to exist and why people should be members will make it far easier to make your ultimate community into a reality.
Communities exist for different reasons and around different themes. They may be focused on meditation and yoga, on autism support or on being a Rolling Stones fan. These successful communities all have one thing in common: a clear purpose. Examining the purposes of these communities requires a step back, to look at and understand the definition of community.
The meaning of “Community”
There are a hundred definitions of community, but we’re going to use this one:
A group of people existing in a place that shares; a purpose, a sense of belonging and communicate with each other.
With this definition, we have the idea of a place – physical or virtual, a purpose – that could be an interest, lifestyle or brand, belonging – i.e. they feel like a member of the community, communication – that is that they must communicate and interact with the community to be part of it. A community has to have a clearly defined sense of place. It’s a “where” -where we meet physically, where we meet online, where we go to find out about. Part of the community’s identity is the concept of that place.
This should be something you will have in mind to shape your community. There will be a common point of interest that draws members to this community – purpose. For example, this can be a hobby such as vegan cooking. If you want to build a community around this, there is the opportunity to create recipes, find out new techniques and encourage members to try new recipes. Defining a purpose for your community helps you to decide how you’ll grow, what content you’ll create, and how you’ll communicate. Every element of the community is shaped by its purpose. It also allows you to clarify what you want out of the community as the host.
This is the idea of feeling as if you are a member or have been accepted into the community. It gives a feeling of being special – an outsider and insider, or them and us, feel. There is a deep emotional need to belong and to be a member of something bigger. Communities meet those needs by becoming part of our wider identity, that means that a community naturally has the elements of identity. From the symbols and rituals of the Freemasons and church, to army drinking songs or biker patches. In online communities, this is created through distinct branding, inside jokes, expert knowledge, unique visuals etc.
Two-way communication is at the heart of community. The community is not one way, it acts as a member channel to the host/brand, and also between other community members. They feel that they have a voice and the right to be heard. They will naturally criticise, support, encourage, share, and contribute.
So going back to our original definition of a group of people existing in a place that shares; a purpose, a sense of belonging, and communicate with each other. We can use this to examine elements, such as community purpose, choice of platform (i.e. place) and to form our understanding of community management in order to encourage belonging and communication.
Are Facebook pages and groups a community?
At Disciple, we tend to think that Facebook groups and pages only partially form communities. However, there are different views on this and the definition of a community isn’t black and white. After all, a group about Startup Marketing on Facebook has a purpose and allows members to communicate by posting or commenting. But do members feel a sense of belonging and is there a feeling of place if it’s on the Facebook platform? Another wider question is about the ownership of the community, especially with limited branding and when pages now have to pay Facebook if they want content views.