What defines a community?

(Sarah Hawk) #1

I was on the panel for #CMGRHangout last weekend and the subject was Lessons from Veterans. You can watch the recording here if you're interested.

Something was discussed that particularly interested me and I'd be keen to hear your take on it.

If you watch the recording you'll see that I take issue with something that one of the other panelists said, which is that some platforms (eg LinkedIn or Facebook) are not 'community platforms'. It was said in a way that seemed to imply that as a result they are inferior. I hear that a lot and it frustrates me. If a community forms somewhere, doesn't that make it a community platform by definition? I think the other part of this argument that bothers me is that is feels segregationist. I belong to another group for CMs and I'm starting to see a lot of conversations about how it is all about social media these days, rather than community. I think what they mean is that a lot of people manage Facebook groups, which they don't consider to be pure 'community'. I'm not sure that we need to differentiate, because lessons can be learned from both.

I'm currently having a debate on Twitter with Jeff Attwood about whether comments on a blog site can be considered a community. I believe it can in some cases, depending on your definition of community. If people check into the same site religiously in order to interact with others, surely that is a community of sorts? Perhaps not an organised community, but does it have to be organised to fit the definition?

What are your thoughts?


(Tashina Combs) #2

I may be a bit biased here but, I do think that in the right context and with the right audience, comments on a blog can be a form of community. My readers are very engaged with both myself and each other. It's actually pretty amazing to see the same people consistently interacting in various ways. The majority of the engaged readers are also engaging with both myself and other followers on social media platforms as well. One reader of mine even created a Facebook group where they could connect further with other frequent commenters on my site and social channels. I am, of course, also a part of that group but have done nothing to grow it.

It's been very interesting to see it all develop and grow. I have also found that all the tactics used to grow any successful community also work equally well when it comes to creating a community around a blog. That all being said, my blog has very niche specific content. I think that is why it works.

(leahmouse) #3

Community is a concept notoriously difficult to define (I know, as I just wrote an essay on it, hehe). In some senses, there are really two schools of thought:

1) A community is a community if it has certain structures or features that we decide defines a community, e.g. membership, boundaries, interaction between members, sense of common destiny etc.

2) A community is a community if the people who are in it see themselves as part of a community, so it is created by the interactions between the members AND by the meaning those members give to those interactions.


I tend to lean towards (2), which means that we cannot really tell whether something is a community unless we ask the people in it. Just observing the features or the behaviour is not enough, we need to find out what meaning the participants give to their behaviours and experience.


I do think there is a difference between social media and community (although there are overlaps) and I think Vanessa Paech articulated that really well in this recent podcast https://soundcloud.com/cluetrainstation/venessa-paech and I also think that quite a few people try to bask in the warm glow that the term "community" gives off by giving blogs/commercial support sites / etc the name "community", when the people who are reading/commenting/using those sites would never feel themselves to be part of a community when they are doing so.


There are definitely communities on Facebook, especially in the closed groups. And there are a lot of personal networks (which some people call personal communities). And there is a lot of social media marketing. It's a platform which contains them all.

(Richard Millington) #4

For as long as I can remember, we've never been able to agree what a community is. I tried to tackle it here. I think we broadly fall into using one of 3 definitions. 

1) People who share a common interest

2) People who share a common interest + a designated place

3) People who share a common interest, +a designated place + build relationships with one another. 

I believe in the latter. So the place itself doesn't matter as long as there is place. Or, in short, it's probably the first time I've felt Jeff's wrong about something. 

(Olivier Le Pord) #5

It is all shades of grey to me with loose boundaries. I'd go back to the psy sense of community from Chavis and McMillan. I think not all social (virtual) interactions are signs of a community in their sense.

(Darren McKay) #6


I’d not consider blog comments a community in any real sense since the only mechanism for interaction is when a blog post is made.

If no blog posts are made user A has no means of communicating with user B (or user C etc).

Maybe I’m really saying that a blog is not a suitable platform to be the single home of a community, due to the reason above.

(tamara Parris) #7

I believe community is where ever a collection of people gather, regularly, to share and grow together.

Also - language terms are more inclusive to a collective entity - members saying “we” “ours” “us”

The actual physical or technical location might change - facebook group, linkedin group, blog post, twitter, live conference, meet up, the coffee shop or park.

Really - it is more about the same collection of like minded people congregating together over a period of time.

IMO “LinkedIn” is not a community it self; their platform/site houses various pods of communities.

(tamara Parris) #8

To further explain last point - I say “I belong to the EHS Professional Group; on LinkedIn

as appose to - in LinkedIn.

So IMO you are in or part of a community - but on a platform or website.

(Nick Emmett) #9

I think this is a really interesting subject, I wrote a couple of blog posts about in recent months and also have just covered this concept as part of the Feverbee online training. I thought it might be interesting to ask Google to define Community for me, here’s what it said (taken I believe from the Oxford English definition):smile:


  1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  2. the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.

I agree with @HAWK and @richard_millington in terms of it not mattering where the place is, as long as there’s a place. If people congregate somewhere to engage and get to know each other, helping each other out with challenges etc, then I’m happy it’s a community. Doesn’t matter if it’s on Lithium, Discourse, Facebook, LinkedIn or your local pub. :slight_smile:

(Sarah Hawk) #10

I’m definitely right behind the local pub idea.

(Steve Combs) #11

I ran across this definition of “discourse community” and thought I would add it to the list here…

James Porter defined the discourse community as: “A local and temporary constraining system, defined by a body of texts (or more generally, practices) that are unified by a common focus. A discourse community is a textual system with stated and unstated conventions, a vital history, mechanisms for wielding power, institutional hierarchies, vested interests, and so on.(Porter)” A discourse community is untied by a common interest. The interests of a discourse community can range from collecting stain glass art from Italy to special operations in the pentagon. Regardless of interest the participants of the discourse community need to have knowledge of the matter which the discourse observes. The standards to what qualifies as a discourse community have been argued. James P. Swales believes a discourse community must meet six standards before being considered a discourse community. These six defining characteristics are:

The community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals.

  • The community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.
  • The community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback.

  • The community utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims.

  • The community in addition to owning genres, it has acquired some specific lexis, or language.

  • The community has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discourse expertise

  • http://wiki.sdstate.edu/User:Nathan.Serfling/ENGL_201_S22/The_Analysis_of_Medical_Discourse_Community