Understanding Online Communities – What types of online communities are there – Part 2 (Model: typology)

large__308357541I think that is it almost impossible to create a complete typology that represents the enormous amount of different types of communities. Besides that, existing communities evolve constantly and new types of communities continue to arise. Categorizing online communities will be an on-going process. Though, I decided to develop an own model that categorizes online communities.

My goal was to build some kind of consensus among existing typologies. Besides, it is important to note that an online community can have several elements of other types of communities. There is, just as with the definition of online communities, no single correct classification for this concept.

My model/typology is inspired by some of the elements of existing typologies that I described already. To be precise: *1 in the figure by Porter’s typology, *2) by Richard Howard’s typology, *3) by Ben Yahia’s Typology and *4) by Richard Millington and Armstrong & Hagel. As one can see in the model, a distinction between external and internal company-initiated communities is included as well. I believe this is an important classification. The primary purpose of an internal company-initiated community is to improve knowledge sharing, cross-departmental collaboration and corporation communication.

Internal communities are typically used within “large organisations where there may be a significant proportion of knowledge workers who are distributed across multiple locations” (Ashenden 11). The community tool “Yammer” is a widely used example of a platform that is used by companies for this purpose.  For the aim of my research, I will from now on only focus on external company-initiated communities the light-blue highlighted parts in the figure), also known as ‘brand communities’.

Model: Typology

Explanation of the model

I decided to classify the member-initiated communities into six types: community of interest (example: MyGarden.com, an online community for passionate gardeners), community of relations (example: PrisonerLife.com, a community where prisoners get an opportunity to communicate with the world and their families and friends), community of practice (example: TeachersConnecting.com, a vibrant and successful community for teachers), community of transaction (example: Amazon.com, which has a recommendation centre completely built upon customer profiles), community of action (example: GamersVoice.com, an active community where anti-video games policies and media is tackled) and a community of circumstance (example: Mumsnet.com, an online community where parents can  pool knowledge, advice and support). It is important to note that an online community can be a combination of several elements of the different above-mentioned types.

I believe that any online community can be classified based on the different sections in my model and classifying your online community in just one type (for example by saying “our community is a community of interest”) will not give an accurate and comprehensive view. When describing Dell’s online community Ideastorm (for a complete case study on this online community see my upcoming posts) based on my model, it can be seen is a commercial, external, direct, branded community. It would be classified as a community that is focused on the brand and its products, in specific, on ideation and innovation. Organizations that decide to build an online community that is not focused on their brand and products but on other topics, often decide to create a community that is focused on one of the other community types (e.g. interest, relations, practice, action etc.) An example of this is Harper Collins’ Inkpop community, which will be described in more detail in a later post.

My typology can help nonprofits in their process of deciding what kind of online community would best serve their intention.

In the next post iI will discuss what companies are doing today with online communities.

Until next time,

Anne-Sophie Gaspersz

Photo credit: pascal.charest via photopin cc

Photography: pascal.charest

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