Online Community Definition: A Complete Overview - Best Practices, Trends, Examples, & Platforms

Have you ever found solace in a group of strangers on the internet, connected by a shared interest or common goal? From fitness enthusiasts sharing workout routines to technology enthusiasts discussing the latest gadgets, these are examples of online communities.

What you'll learn in this article:

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Have you ever found solace in a group of strangers on the internet, connected by a shared interest or common goal?

From fitness enthusiasts sharing workout routines to technology enthusiasts discussing the latest gadgets, these are examples of online communities – powerful platforms that facilitate real-time interaction, collaboration, and support among individuals across the globe. This is the essence of the “online community definition.”

What we will explore together:

  • Breaking down the online community definition in its simplest terms, and then diving into the exciting predictions made by industry experts about the online community trends we can expect to see by 2024.
  • Introducing 10 real-world examples of thriving online communities, showcasing their various types and how they've been successful.
  • Sharing the 8 best practices that successful online communities utilize to create meaningful engagement and growth among their members.

What is the Meaning of Online Community?

At Disco, we simply define an online community, also known as an internet community, as a collective group of individuals linked through digital platforms, with a common interest, objective, or experience. These digital environments, whether a Facebook group or online community dedicated forums, empower individuals to interact beyond geographical limits.

The community moderator plays a pivotal role in fostering meaningful dialogue and connections, as well as online community building, beyond just generating content and entertaining members. Members of a virtual community can vary, from passive observers to active contributors who participate in discussions and activities.

The advent of blogs and chat rooms revolutionized online content creation by enabling user-generated content and real-time group communication, contributing to the widespread development of online communities. Forums, a core component of these communities, arrange content and foster structured, ongoing engagement around mutual interests.

The Future Looks Bright: Online Community Trends 2024

The future of online communities looks bright, with emerging technologies and business models poised to transform the way we interact online. AI is anticipated to improve human connection by working alongside human interactions to enhance the efficiency and capabilities of social media platforms, enabling the management of social media activities on a larger scale while still preserving a personalized approach.

Furthermore, anticipated new business models in the future may encompass Online Community Platforms, integrating Web 3.0 and Community-Based Marketing (CBM), the emergence of Skill-Building Communities, and other Innovative Business Models that engage customers as active participants.

Commerce integration will significantly impact the shopping experience, emphasizing social support, community trust, and social presence. It will also allow support teams to analyze customer journeys and influence user engagement, ultimately helping businesses command price premiums and reduce price sensitivity.

Anticipated trends encompass:

  • The emergence of intimate niche groups
  • Hyper-personalized member experience powered by AI
  • The transition from social media to dedicated community platforms
  • Collaborative product development and business initiatives by community members
  • Online community as the go-to-market strategy that works
  • Swift overall expansion

10 Real-World Examples of Successful Online Communities Powered by Disco

Different types of online communities are best grasped through real-world examples. From accelerator programs, and social network communities to support and branded communities, these communities showcase the power of online community engagement and support.

Learning Communities: Virtual Academies, Certification, and Upskilling Programs

Learning communities form a significant portion of online communities, acting as platforms for knowledge sharing and skill development. They are essentially digital spaces where individuals come together to learn from each other and share their expertise.

These online communities dedicated to learning can be focused on a wide range of topics, from professional skills development to academic subjects, hobbies, and more. They are characterized by the active participation of its members who contribute to the collective knowledge of the community, thereby fostering a culture of continuous learning and development.

These online communities with examples include:

Virtual Academies

Virtual academies are online learning platforms that offer comprehensive courses in various fields. They are designed to provide a structured learning experience, similar to a traditional classroom, but with the added flexibility of being able to learn at one's own pace and comfort.

These online communities often offer a wide range of courses, from academic subjects to professional skills development and personal interest topics. They utilize interactive learning tools, such as video lessons, quizzes, assignments, and discussion forums, to deliver course content and facilitate student interaction.

Best Example:

AltMBA is an intensive, four-week online workshop designed by Seth Godin for high-performing individuals who want to level up and lead. This transformative educational experience pushes students to grow more in a month than most do in years, as they engage with curated content, challenging assignments, and a dedicated peer group.

Disco has played a crucial role in streamlining AltMBA's operations and managing its thriving community. Through its AI-powered automation and deep Slack integration, Disco has enhanced the efficiency and interactivity of AltMBA's online learning platform.

Upskilling Programs

Upskilling programs are prominent online community examples. These programs offer targeted training such as Bootcamps designed to help members enhance their professional skills and competencies. They focus on providing the necessary tools and knowledge for individuals to advance in their current roles or transition into new areas of expertise.

This could range from learning new software tools, gaining leadership skills, or understanding new industry practices. The goal of these programs is not only to improve individual capabilities but also to keep the community as a whole competitive and current in an ever-evolving professional landscape.

Best Example:

Eskwelabs is a shining example of an upskilling program within the online community landscape. Their mission is to upskill the world, and they have developed a robust platform to make this lofty goal a reality.

Eskwelabs provides data education for the future of work, offering a variety of courses and programs that equip individuals with the skills they need to thrive in the digital age. They are committed to making education accessible and relevant, fostering a community of lifelong learners who are ready to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

Certification Programs

Another key aspect of online communities, provide members with the opportunity to gain recognized qualifications in their chosen fields, thereby boosting their career prospects. In essence, certification programs are structured learning paths that lead to an official recognition of skills and knowledge in a specific area.

They are typically designed by industry experts and authoritative bodies and often include a mix of theory and practical exercises to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Upon completion of the program, participants usually undergo an assessment, and if successful, they receive a certificate validating their proficiency. This certificate can then be used as a tangible proof of expertise, enhancing the individual's professional credibility and employability.

Best Example:

Hyper Island is an excellent example of an online community offering certification programs. As a global learning provider, Hyper Island empowers both individuals and businesses to grow through transformative learning experiences.

Their certification programs are designed to equip participants with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in the digital world. These programs cover a wide range of topics, including digital marketing, design thinking, and business transformation, among others.

Each program is structured to provide a comprehensive understanding of the subject, combining theoretical knowledge with practical application. Upon completion, participants receive a certificate that validates their expertise, enhancing their professional credibility and employability.

Startup Accelerator Incubator Programs

Startup Accelerator Incubator Programs are another vibrant type of virtual community. These platforms provide budding entrepreneurs with the necessary resources, mentorship, and networks to kick-start their businesses.

Members of these virtual communities often participate in intensive, time-limited programs that include workshops, pitch sessions, and networking events. These programs not only provide startups with a solid foundation but also build meaningful relationships, and foster a sense of community among the participants, as they navigate the challenging journey of entrepreneurship together.

Best Example:

YSpace is an exemplary model of a startup accelerator incubator program within the online community landscape. As an innovation hub from York University, YSpace supports startups, builds great companies, and drives social and economic growth by providing a vibrant physical and virtual ecosystem.

They offer a wealth of resources for budding entrepreneurs, including mentorship, workshops, and networking events, all designed to help startups scale and succeed.

YSpace has also successfully integrated Disco's accelerator software into their operations. Disco's AI-powered automation and deep Slack integration have streamlined YSpace's community management, promoting more efficient and interactive communication among members.

This has allowed YSpace to focus on its core mission of nurturing startups, while Disco handles the technical aspects of maintaining a vibrant and engaged online community.

Social Impact Communities and Professional Associations

Social Impact Communities and Professional Associations represent a unique subset of online communities, focused on creating positive societal change. These communities bring together individuals and organizations committed to addressing various social, environmental, and economic issues.

Members collaborate, share resources, and exchange ideas in online spaces, all with the common goal of making a difference. They can be centered around various causes, from climate change and sustainability to social justice and education. By leveraging the power of collective action and digital connectivity, social impact communities amplify their impact and drive meaningful change on a global scale.

Best Examples:

Gender Inequality - Female Founders is a dynamic social community that champions the representation and success of women in the entrepreneurial space. Committed to fostering an empowering environment for women to flourish as entrepreneurs, the community offers a platform for networking, mentorship, and resources.

Their social mission is to break down gender barriers in entrepreneurship and create a more inclusive startup ecosystem. In partnership with Disco, they have been able to streamline their operations and enhance their community engagement, further propelling their mission to uplift female entrepreneurs.

Inclusivity - Blackademic is a vibrant online community that aims to promote inclusiveness and diversity in academic spaces. Founded by Dr. Danielle Moss, Blackademic seeks to dismantle systemic barriers that hinder the progress of Black academics.

Through a variety of programs, mentorship opportunities, and resources, Blackademic provides a supportive platform for Black scholars to thrive. They are committed to fostering an empowering environment where Black academics can engage, learn, and contribute to the collective knowledge of the community.

Environment - Learn Biomimicry is another social community dedicated to teaching Biomimicry, a design discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies. Learn Biomimicry aims to inspire, educate, and support people to create a more sustainable and desirable future by learning from nature.

They have effectively scaled their operations using Disco's platform. With Disco's robust set of tools, Learn Biomimicry has been able to streamline its community management, automate its workflows, and enhance its user engagement.

Brand-Centric or Customer Communities

Brand-centric or Customer Communities serve as digital spaces where customers, fans, and advocates of a particular brand converge. These online communities are typically fostered by businesses to cultivate a deeper relationship with their customers, promote customer loyalty, and gather invaluable insights.

Members of these communities often share experiences, discuss products, provide feedback, and even contribute to product development or marketing initiatives. This direct line of communication between the brand and its customers not only enhances the customer experience but also provides businesses with a wealth of real-time feedback and data.

Ultimately, brand-centric communities serve as a powerful tool for businesses to engage with their customers on a more personal level, building a sense of belonging and loyalty that extends beyond the transactional relationship.

Best Examples:

Thrive by Disco is a fantastic example of a customer community. This platform is dedicated to aiding community leaders, moderators, managers, and builders in their mission to manage, build, nurture, and grow online communities.

Want to join a community of like-minded people in the learning ecosystem? Sign up for free and start thriving, sharing, and networking today!

Dribbble, a vibrant example of a brand-centric online community, is a platform where designers globally can showcase their work, receive feedback, and connect with peers. Dribbble utilizes cohort-based learning, grouping members into smaller teams with shared interests or goals, to foster collaborative learning experiences.

This approach not only enhances community engagement but also empowers members to continually upgrade their skills and expand their knowledge, aligning perfectly with Dribbble's mission of individual and community growth among designers.

Slack Communities

Slack Communities cater to a variety of needs, from corporate training and customer engagement to geographically and interest-based groups, and learning communities. These communities foster collaboration, knowledge sharing, customer interaction, local connections, and academic discussions, demonstrating the versatility of Slack as a tool for building diverse online communities.

Best Example:

Porch Community Canada is a remarkable online community that serves as a safe space for immigrants in Canada. Founded by Neil Weitzman, Porch was born out of numerous discussions with dozens of immigrant professionals.

The platform embodies the spirit of a traditional Canadian porch, a place of gathering where advice is shared, experiences are exchanged, and support is offered without judgment. It's a community driven by the shared goal of helping each other succeed, underpinning the belief that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Want to dig deeper into other online community examples? Here's a complete compilation.

8 Best Practices for Building Successful Online Communities

Successful online communities tend to follow best practices to thrive. Learn what are these best practices and how to apply them in your own community.

Engaged online community members participating in discussions

Hiring a Competent Community Manager

Hiring a Community Manager is a vital best practice for successful online communities. The right Community Manager can be a game-changer, serving as the bridge between the community and the organization, fostering engagement, and nurturing a positive and inclusive environment.

They are responsible for setting the tone, nurturing relationships, and driving the community's strategic direction. With the ideal candidate at the helm, communities can see their success double, as a skilled Community Manager can effectively leverage the collective knowledge, enthusiasm, and commitment of community members, thereby fueling growth and engagement.

Therefore, investing time and resources in hiring a competent Community Manager is crucial for the thriving success of online communities. Dig deeper into the role of a community manager in your business.

Creating a Community Management Strategy

Creating a community management strategy is an essential step in building a successful online community. This involves setting clear objectives and understanding the purpose of your community. You need to identify what you want to achieve, whether it's to provide a platform for customer support, facilitate learning, foster networking, or build brand loyalty.

Defining these goals upfront helps guide your community-building efforts and ensures you stay focused on what's important. Remember, every action you take should align with these objectives and contribute to the overall mission of your community. This strategic approach ensures that your online community is purpose-driven and goal-oriented, paving the way for meaningful engagement and sustained growth.

Setting up Community Engagement OKRs

Managing an online community isn't just about overseeing operations; it's about fostering active engagement among members. To truly grow and thrive, online communities need to go beyond management and focus on creating meaningful interactions.

This is where Community Engagement Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) come into play. By setting up Community Engagement OKRs, you can track the effectiveness of your engagement strategies and measure your progress toward achieving your community goals.

These OKRs serve as a roadmap, guiding your actions toward fostering a more engaged and active community. They help ensure that your community engagement plans are not only implemented but are also achieving the desired results in terms of member participation and interaction.

Personalizing Onboarding Experience

Every thriving community knows the importance of a personalized onboarding process. The onboarding experience is the first impression new members have of your community, and as such, it plays a pivotal role in shaping their perception and future engagement.

Personalized onboarding helps new members feel welcomed, valued, and understood. It gives them a clear understanding of the community's purpose, norms, and expectations, which in turn, fosters a sense of belonging and encourages active participation. By creating a customized onboarding process, you not only enhance the member experience but also set the stage for a vibrant, engaged, and thriving community.

Utilizing Community Analytics

Utilizing Community Analytics is crucial in making informed and data-driven decisions that directly impact the growth and success of online communities. These analytics provide valuable insights into member behavior, engagement levels, and content performance, among other things.

By interpreting this data, community managers can identify what's working and what's not, and subsequently, refine their strategies to optimize engagement and foster growth. Whether it's understanding peak activity times, identifying trending topics, or tracking member retention, community analytics serve as a vital tool in measuring the community's health and guiding its future direction.

Building a Community Website

Building a community website is a strategic move for any organization looking to promote their community in public, generate leads, and invite a pool of audience to join their online community. Moreover, it helps to showcase the learning experiences offered by your online community. By doing so, this can attract the right members to join your community.

Disco Studios offers the perfect solution for creating a customized community website that aligns with your brand and caters to your members' needs.

A testament to their success is the 'Practical Utopias' community website, a learning platform created for renowned author and environmentalist, Margaret Atwood. This successful implementation underscores the transformative potential of Disco Studios in revolutionizing the way we build and engage with online communities.

Educating Oneself about Online Community Building

As we navigate the digital age, it's more important than ever to harness the power of education, especially when it comes to community building. The internet is a treasure trove of free resources that can provide invaluable insights and knowledge.

One such resource is the Community Playbook created by Disco. Compiled with the collective wisdom of industry experts, it offers a comprehensive guide to building and nurturing successful online communities. The playbook talks about the Community Flywheel, the Community's Blueprint of Success, the Member Growth Journey, and many more!

Don't miss this golden opportunity to educate yourself – download the Community Playbook for free and start your journey towards becoming a community-building expert.

Selecting the Perfect-Fit Online Community Platform

Selecting the right online community platform is an essential step in building a thriving online community. The platform you choose can significantly influence the engagement, growth, and overall success of your community.

Making a hasty decision based solely on cost or lack of research can lead to a poor fit that hinders your community's potential. It can result in limited functionality, poor user experience, and ultimately, lower engagement levels.

Hence, it is crucial to consider the key features that a modern community platform should offer to ensure it aligns with your community's needs and goals. The five big features to look for in a community platform are:

  • Automation: This feature allows for streamlined operations and efficient management of tasks, freeing up time for community managers to focus on engagement and growth strategies.
  • Integration: The ability to integrate with other tools and platforms is crucial for a seamless user experience and efficient data management.
  • Engagement: A platform that offers engagement tools, such as interactive content and gamification, can significantly enhance member participation and satisfaction.
  • Scalability: As your community grows, your platform should be able to accommodate this growth without compromising on performance or user experience.
  • Affordability: While cost should not be the only determining factor, the platform should offer good value for money, providing robust features and functionality at a reasonable price.
Supercharge Your Learning Community

A step-by-step guide to build and grow a thriving learning community.

The Learning Community Playbook by Disco

Disco: The Most Powerful All-In-One Community Platform for Every Online Community

Disco is a powerful all-in-one community platform that has revolutionized online community management with its modern operating system powered by the five big features for successful community management.

Disco has earned the trust of the world's top communities, including AltMBA, Eskwelabs, Hyper Island, YSpace, Female Founders, Blackademic, Learn Biomimicry, and Dribbble, serving as the backbone of their successful online engagement. Further establishing its credibility, Disco was honored with two prestigious awards in 2023, cementing its position as a leader in the field of online community platforms.

Don't miss this chance to begin your thriving community with Disco's 14-day free trial and a product tour if you want to experience the platform firsthand without signing up!

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The Learning Community Playbook by Disco

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