What is an Online Community? Why Every Business Needs One

Dori Gray

As the world becomes increasingly digital, businesses are realizing the value of online communities for both internal and external purposes. But if you're not familiar with the concept, you might be wondering: what exactly is an online community? Simply put, it's a digital platform where customers, clients, or employees can interact, share knowledge, and collaborate, making it a vital tool for organizations of all sizes.

In this article, we'll provide a detailed overview of online communities, including what defines an online community, the different types of online communities and example platforms, how online communities benefit organizations, and how to start and grow your own online community. Let’s get started.

What is an Online Community?

An online community is a virtual space where people with shared interests, goals, or experiences can connect, interact, and collaborate. These digital communities can be hosted on various platforms, such as social online communities, forums, or dedicated customer community software solutions like Higher Logic, Khoros, Salesforce Experience Cloud (previously known as Salesforce Community Cloud), and Verint. 

Internally these communities are often used for knowledge sharing, problem-solving, and idea generation. Externally they are commonly used for customer support, market research, and networking.

What are the Benefits of Building an Online Community?

Building an online community offers numerous benefits for organizations, including:

  1. Increased customer engagement and loyalty: Online communities provide a platform for customers to interact with your brand and each other, fostering a sense of belonging and loyalty.
  2. Improved customer support: Communities enable customers to find answers to their questions and solve problems collaboratively, reducing the burden on your support team.
  3. Valuable insights and feedback: By monitoring community discussions, you can gain valuable insights into your customers' needs, preferences, and pain points, helping you improve your products and services.
  4. Enhanced brand awareness and reputation: An active and engaged community can help spread positive word-of-mouth about your brand, attracting new customers and enhancing your reputation.
  5. Increased employee collaboration and productivity: Internal communities facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration among employees, leading to increased productivity and innovation.
  6. Cost-effective marketing and research: Online communities provide a cost-effective way to conduct market research, gather feedback, and promote your products or services.

Increased website traffic and SEO: A thriving community can drive traffic to your website and improve your search engine rankings, as user-generated content is highly valued by search engines.

Organizations of all sizes own and manage online communities for two primary business uses:

Internal Online Communities

Internal online communities, also known as digital workplaces and employee experience platforms; serve as a company’s modern intranet, knowledge management hub, and collaborative platform for their employees. An internal community revolutionizes how employees connect and collaborate and will evolve with your organization.

Why Do Businesses Need an Internal Online Community?

For years businesses have realized the value of having a collaborative tool available to their employees. Retaining legacy information as people change roles, crowdsourcing decisions, and knowledge-sharing, are vital to the growth of any organization. Empowering employees with an integrated hub that enables collaboration beyond a physical office space improves productivity and overall satisfaction.

Typically Corporate Communications, Information Technology (IT), or Human Resources (HR) own the internal community platform. These communities are often part of the company’s digital workplace or productivity strategy to help modernize how employees work.

External Online Communities

Businesses also implement externally-facing collaborative platforms (customer communities) in order to better interact with their customers and partners. External online communities provide two-way conversations for product marketing, customer support, and partner engagement to build brand loyalty.

Externally facing communities go beyond traditional customer service, enabling businesses to connect with their customers and prospects in real-time. With a customer community, businesses can improve call deflection rates, reduce overall support costs and drive sales while significantly increasing customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

Why Do Businesses Need an External Online Community?

Now more than ever, brands and organizations are looking for innovative ways to engage their customers and partners. This provides companies with a competitive edge by improving how they can connect, communicate and collaborate with their consumers. Customer communities allow organizations and brands to enable their own customers and partners with the power to help themselves. Customers are also able to interact with other community members who have the same questions they do, or perhaps additional insight around a product or topic.

How to Start an Online Community

Starting an online community can be a big business initiative, but with the right strategy and support, it can be a rewarding experience for both your organization and your community members. Here are some key steps to get started:

  1. Define your community's purpose and goals
  2. Evaluating community platforms, such as Higher Logic, Khoros, Salesforce Experience Cloud, or Verint
  3. Develop a content strategy and engagement plan
  4. Promote your community and attract members
  5. Encourage participation and foster a sense of belonging
  6. Monitor and measure your community's success

At Social Edge, we specialize in online community consulting and can help your organization navigate the process of starting, launching, and growing your online community. Our team of experts will work with you to develop a community strategy that aligns with your business objectives and ensures the success of your digital community.

Whether you're looking to build an internal community to improve employee collaboration or an online customer community to increase customer engagement and support, Social Edge has the experience and expertise to guide you every step of the way. Contact Social Edge Consulting today to book a discovery call and learn how we can help you harness the power of online communities for your business.

Frequently Asked Questions about Online Communities

What is an example of an online community?

Examples of online communities include social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, forums like Reddit and Quora, and dedicated community platforms built on software like Higher Logic or Khoros.

What are the types of online communities?

There are several types of online communities, including:

  1. Social communities
  2. Support communities
  3. Knowledge-sharing communities
  4. Networking communities
  5. Advocacy communities
  6. Branded online communities

What can you do in an online community?

In an online community, members can:

  1. Connect with like-minded individuals
  2. Share knowledge and experiences
  3. Seek and provide support
  4. Collaborate on projects and ideas
  5. Engage in discussions and debates
  6. Access exclusive content and resources
  7. Participate in events and webinars

What is a brand community?

A branded online community is a professional network that brings people together around a shared, organization-based experience to facilitate expansive online collaboration and growth. This type of community is used by organizations to connect their members, customers, employees, and partners.

Branded online communities play a key role in the customer or member experience by breaking down traditional one-way exchanges of information and opening up communication to deliver increased value. These communities can be private (gated by a login or invite-only), public and searchable, or hybrid with some public elements but requiring a login for full use.

What is the most popular online community?

Facebook is currently the most popular online community, with over 2.8 billion monthly active users worldwide.

What is an online community called?

Online communities are also known as virtual communities, digital communities, or web communities.

What is the most successful online community?

The success of an online community can be measured in various ways, such as member engagement, growth, and impact. Some of the most successful online communities include Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, and GitHub.

Is Instagram an online community?

Yes, Instagram is an online community that focuses on sharing photos and videos, allowing users to connect with friends, family, and interests.

What is the number one use of online communities?

The primary use of online communities varies depending on the type of community and its purpose. However, knowledge sharing and collaboration are often cited as the most common uses of online communities.