Types of Communities – Different Purposes, Platforms, and Forms
Different types of communities serve different purposes, have different goals, and, of course, attract different people. If you’re thinking about starting an online community, there’s a lot of research you need to do first. By this, we mean more than just studying different community building and community engagement strategies.
Online communities can be categorized in a number of ways. There is a different number of types of communities depending on the criteria. To make things simpler, we have decided to categorize communities by purpose, platform, and form.
Types of Communities by Purpose
One of the most important criteria for the categorization of online communities is that of purpose. What is the goal of your community? Is it to spread the word about your brand, to entertain and educate people, or to make a change in the world around you?
Communities for Marketing a.k.a. Brand Communities
If you own a business and are interested in community marketing, this is the type of community for you. There are many different types of communities for marketing out there, but they all have the goal to maintain direct contact between the brand and its current and prospective users.
Communities for Education and Information
A number of communities have been built around the idea of educating people or spreading information. Educational communities are commonly used as an online alternative for or addition to traditional classes and lectures. A great example of these communities is Livemocha – a free language-learning platform that allows users to communicate with each other and with native speakers.
In this group of communities, we would also like to include communities created by news outlets, such as CNN’s Facebook page. These aren’t purely communities for information. Moreso, they are a blend of brand communities and informational communities. This is because they serve a double purpose – to keep their audience informed, but also to promote their brand.
Communities for Entertainment
This is by far one of the most common types of communities, largely because it’s usually not brands that start them, but regular people. From meme pages on Instagram to various Facebook groups and pages, communities for entertainment are everywhere.
This is not to say that brands don’t have their own entertainment communities. Just for Laughs Facebook page is a great example of this. Much like informational communities, these are also a blend with considerable elements of brand communities.
Communities for Activism
The last type of community we will discuss in this section are those with the purpose of making a change in the real world. Activist communities have always been a powerful gathering point for people with similar goals to make a difference in their immediate surroundings.
Activist communities are aplenty and take various forms. For example, the #metoo movement, which emerged in 2006 and gained significant popularity in 2017 was never officially an online community in the traditional sense. However, it still brought together thousands of people across the globe under the umbrella of fighting against sexual violence. If you’re thinking about starting an online activist community, Action Network is a great platform to do so.
These four types of communities are only some of the major ones. In reality, each community is different, and they usually represent a blend of two or more types.
Types of Communities by Platform
A much clearer distinction of different types of communities is by the platform they are on. Different platforms offer different tools and features that help you manage your community. Here are some of the most common ones.
Different Types of Communities on Facebook
There are two main types of communities on this social media platform – Facebook groups and Facebook pages. Even though they both belong to the same website, they offer different features depending on your needs.
Many successful brands resort to Facebook for their community marketing. Among these are Complex, Genius, and Polaroid. If you’re thinking about starting a Facebook community, make sure you read our guide to Facebook group rules.
Communities on Patreon
Patreon is a platform designed for different kinds of creators to earn by providing content to their supporters – patrons. As such, Patreon is not particularly popular among large brands but is one of the go-to community monetization solutions for individual creators. Some of the largest Patreon communities are owned by Youtuber Philip DeFranco, Chapo Trap House, and musician Amanda Palmer.
Are you thinking about starting your own Patreon community? Then make sure you get acquainted with their pricing system and their Lite, Pro, and Premium feature packages. If Patreon doesn’t seem to be the right fit for you, make sure you check out these Patreon alternatives.
Communities on Instagram
Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms right now. It’s no wonder many brands and individuals resort to it in order to create their online communities.
In form, Instagram communities are very similar to Facebook pages – the owner of the community posts content, while community members can comment on it, like it, or share it. Some of the most popular Instagram communities include Nike, National Geographic, and, of course, Instagram itself.
Communities on Other Platforms
There are so many online platforms for community building that it would simply be impossible to list them all. To keep things short, we’ve decided to outline two other major ones:
- Twitter. This social media platform has been around for a while, and it is still relevant in the world of community marketing. Brands such as Wendy’s, Denny’s, and Netflix are known for their witty tweets.
- Youtube. We’re all familiar with Youtube, and so are brands, creators, and influencers. As of recently, Youtube moved more towards a social media platform by allowing channels to create posts, aside from uploading videos. You’ve probably already heard of popular Youtube Channels such as Smosh, MrBeast, and Fine Bros Entertainment.
Of course, this list is far from final. There are many other community-building platforms that aren’t social media websites and apps at all. Some good examples include Podia, Vanilla Forums, and Slack.
Types of Communities by Form
The last categorization of types of communities we would like to talk about is by form. The form and shape of your online community could largely influence its ability to achieve the goal you set for it. Here are some of the major ones.
The word forum comes from Ancient Rome, where it denoted squares in the centers of cities where people would gather to buy and sell goods or discuss current affairs. Today, internet forums are not too different. They are discussion websites where people can talk about different things, events, products, and so on. Probably the biggest and most popular forum on the internet right now is Reddit. It has more than 138,000 active subforums, known as subreddits, which can all be considered online communities of their own.
Chat groups are pretty similar to forums in the sense that they focus on discussions between members. However, unlike forums, chat groups or chatrooms usually have another dimension to them. For example, Second Life and IMVU let you create your own avatar and enter the world of virtual reality and life simulation. Another difference between forums and chat rooms is that forums make searching for past posts and comments much easier.
Fan pages are among the most popular types of communities on the internet. Not every fan page has to necessarily bear the name of a fan page. Granted, some are – Facebook pages are a good example. Others, however, don’t really use the term “fan”, but rather “follower” or “subscriber”. Such are, for example, communities on YouTube and Instagram. One major characteristic of fan pages is that only the owner of the page can create new posts. Members, subscribers, fans, or followers can simply comment, like, or share them.
Of course, there are many online communities that merge together several different forms. For example, the forum Reddit also has its own chat rooms. Other communities, such as Facebook groups, are simply not that easy to categorize by form.
The Bottom Line
“Online community” is a very broad term that includes many different types of communities. Coming up with a comprehensive, meaningful, yet simple way to categorize them is borderline impossible. We tried our best to provide a clear overview of some of the most common types of communities and their most representative examples. If you’re planning to start your own online community, make sure you check out our community marketing guide, where you can learn how to launch and grow one successfully.