The six types of online communities you should know about

Businesses are increasingly understanding that their audiences, customers and clients are their most important asset, and utilizing online communities to engage, nurture and reward them. There are many B2C brands doing this incredibly well, and B2B is not far behind.

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Generally speaking, online communities bring together networks of customers, experts and partners to connect, to share expertise and create conversation and collaboration, in an owned online space.

But of course, one size does not fit all. Working with an innovative community provider gives you more possibilities to tailor an online community to your brand. Here are six of the most important community formats you can consider to grow your business.

  1. Knowledge and learning communities
  2. Expert networks and advisory communities
  3. Event communities
  4. Membership communities
  5. Brand communities
  6. Communities of action

Knowledge and learning communities

For brands that center on knowledge-sharing and learning, this kind of online community can help connect to a wider audience and enhance a brand’s voice and authority in their sector. Using a trusted online platform, brands can share insights, behind-the-scenes looks at research, and other exclusive content. Zapnito features such as e-learning courses enable brands to deliver their content through a guided learning experience with a completion certification.

Academic and educational publisher Springer Nature has over 35 active online communities focusing on its publication titles. These include communities for ecology, cancer research, biopharma, and sustainability. The communities help to unite researchers, students, teachers, and professionals around the world, with exclusive content from Springer Nature’s editors, and researchers sharing the stories behind their work.

Meanwhile, Wilmington Healthcare's OnMedica community provides GPs and specialists with up-to-date educational content and opportunities to share and collaborate. A unique verification process ensures that only doctors registered with the UK’s General Medical Council are permitted full access to the site. This ensures discussions and knowledge sharing can be trusted. The community has fast become a leading independent environment for doctors, packed with clinical reference material and expertise, education, news, views, and comments.

Expert networks and advisory communities

Expert networks and advisory communities are particularly well suited for businesses that provide dynamic insights. Professional services firms, membership organizations and more, can use their expert networks to showcase the expertise and experience of their consultants and advisors, and to engage in conversations with customers and prospects about the challenges they are facing. It also provides members with more efficient networking and collaboration opportunities.

An experts-on-demand model acts like a match-maker service that connects a user's requirements with the exact people who can help. It offers a way for business leaders to connect with recognized and experienced experts in a wide range of areas, to work on short projects, or for individual consultations. Lifelabs expert profiles showcases thought leadership and video content to allow members to find the life coach that is right for them, and the Millennial Lift Tribe connects Millennials who are passionate about self-development with the coaches that can guide them.

Event communities

Event organizers are well-versed with the need to go digital in the lockdown era, as a way to build resilience and continuity into operations. In-person events simply aren’t possible in the volume or format available before, unfortunately, it seems, for some time to come. Online communities can facilitate virtual events as well as hybrid offerings once in-person events can return.

Online event communities work when they create genuinely expert content from and for speakers and peers, that connects, engages and grows the event community 365/24/7. Outside of the event itself, speakers and sponsors can deliver value through video panels, thought leadership, webinars, conversations and Q&A.

Mark Allen Groups 11th Global Drug Delivery & Formulation Summit, the IFT’s Shift20 and simplycommunicate’s simplyIC Live event are all great examples of event organizers that have curated a 365-day community where they maintain relationships with delegates, punctuated by live virtual events once or twice a year.

Membership communities

Connecting people is what communities do best. Enabling people to come together, discover new experts, challenge one another, and collaborate is the essence of any form of network, virtual or otherwise. This is at the core of what membership organizations, societies, and associations set out to achieve. Online communities can help them meet that goal, pulling together groups of people from different businesses, industries, and countries in a single, owned space. The Points of Light community by the Community for Employee Civic Engagement unites similar-minded professionals for collective knowledge sharing. Similarly, Wiley’s Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) community brings together members interested in molecular life sciences.

Winmark's Global C-Suite community supports business leaders to improve the governance, performance, and sustainability of their organizations. Their professional member networks provide a space for C-Suite leaders to meet, share knowledge, network, and promote best practices.

Additionally, at a time when networking can be challenging but opportunities to connect online are so accessible, online communities provide the ideal solution to distant audiences and fragmented channels. Take, for example, the Oystercatchers Club, an invite-only membership platform, set-up by Centaur (now Xeim). Premium marketing agencies join this club to showcase their work to leading CMOs and engage in conversations and events.

Brand communities

The success of leading industry brands can be attributed to the trust and authentic relationships they build with their customers. To become a growing, sustainable, market-leading organization, you need to hone in on what your customers require, desire and their concerns and challenges. 

Online communities can help you achieve this by delivering deeper audience engagement and showcasing your brand’s expertise. Springer Nature, for example, uses its communities to become the “go-to resource for trusted expertise in the scientific industry.”

Salesforce’s community of nearly 2 million members have been critical to its success, and IT Pack has the same aim within the IT sector, through a dedication to developing the next generation of IT leaders and CIOs within its online community that amplifies its content and live events.

Communities of action

Combine all of the above with a collective mission to change the world and you’ve got a supercharged community of members united with a common vision. Online communities are the ideal places to foster ideas, troubleshoot challenges, collaborate, communicate with different experts, and ultimately deliver impact on a grand scale.

The WildHub online community is a prime example of this in action. It has grown into a global platform of over 1,000 users across 80 counties since launching at the start of 2020’s lockdown. The online community enables conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts to share knowledge and insights that will improve conservation projects and save more wildlife. This has become all the more critical at a time when traveling and meeting in person is limited.

More variations
Of course, there are always further variations on offer and that’s one of the joys of having an online community - it becomes a developing, living entity that can evolve as its members’ needs and society changes. There’s even talk out there about building ‘digital parks’ that serve as truly open digital spaces for spontaneous meetings between individuals who wouldn’t usually cross paths. The jury is still out on the ultimate value of one of these.

Bringing people together

As we’ve seen then, one size does not fit all when it comes to communities. So why not utilize elements of all of these variations? The Oystercatchers Club for example is a membership platform but it is also a marketplace for brands to identify top agencies and for creators to promote their work. Winmark’s membership community is also a content marketing site where their trusted experts can showcase targeted insights and latest research. Online communities are often a hybrid - the beauty is that they can be multidimensional and dynamic.

At a time of ongoing uncertainty, lockdowns, and the need for reliable information, a digital solution is needed to bring people together, share values, and exchange trusted relevant information. An online community will be the necessary glue that connects all of your most important stakeholders with one another.

If you would like to learn more about the value and benefits of online communities, we’d be more than happy to give you a quick call at your convenience. Email us at contact@zapnito.com and we’ll be glad to help.

Max Inchcoombe

Marketing Manager, Zapnito

Into my third year at Zapnito now, some of my responsibilities include email marketing, running the social media accounts, site/community reporting, event organising and sales assistance. If you have any questions for me on Zapnito or what we do, I'll be happy to help!

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