If you’re wondering what a community is, or what community really means, you’re in the right place.
What does “community” really mean?
Here at Disciple, we work with a range of communities on a daily basis and we’ve noticed that many seem to be confused about what the term truly means.
The term has become a catchphrase for anything that involves a group of human beings coming together, so it’s no surprise people aren’t clear on its true definition.
Traditionally, the term referred to a group of people living in the same place. Historically, communities were formed based on where we lived; our village or neighborhood are good examples of this, but we’re no longer living in a time where the place or area we live in, is the only community we’re a part of.
The rise of technology has shifted our behavior. We’re now able to choose the communities we want to be a part of and use communities as spaces to express our identities. Communities can exist for different reasons and around different themes. They may be focused on meditation and yoga, on autism support, or on being a fan of a specific musician or artist.
Successful communities all have one thing in common: a clear purpose, but before we can truly examine the purpose of a community, we must first take a step back, to look at and understand the definition of what it means in today’s world.
The true meaning of “community”
There are hundreds of definitions. In fact, the dictionary defines community as any of the below.
Is it any wonder that people are confused?
Our definition, based on our experience is, a group of people existing in a place that shares; a purpose, a sense of belonging, and who communicate with each other.
So let’s break this down:
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 together – 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 helps you to decide how you’ll grow, what content you’ll create, and how you’ll communicate. Every element 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 a group. 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 forms the elements of identity. From the symbols and rituals of the Freemasons and church to army drinking songs or biker patches. This is created through distinct branding, inside jokes, expert knowledge, videos on specific topics, and unique visuals.
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 members. They feel that they have a voice and the right to be heard. They will naturally criticise, support, encourage, share, and contribute.
Why community matters
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 yours into a reality.
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 purpose, choice of platform (i.e. place), and to form our understanding of management in order to encourage belonging and communication.
Are Facebook Pages and Facebook 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 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.