An Online Community is a community that forms on the Internet, where members interact using social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Youtube. I previously wrote a blog regarding social media entitled: What is Social Media? (4 March 2017). They also share information and content within forums, email groups and even within the comments sections of for example: blog posts and news articles. The members of online communities tend to (more often than not) talk about the same things they do with their friends, families and neighbors. However, many of the times people join online communities is because the people they know at home, may not share the same passions they do on a particular topic, product or idea. It also gives members the opportunity to play mentor, by offering tips and advice to other members. Communities of Practice (CoPs) are groups of people who share a common concern or passion for something that they do and learn of ways on how to do it better – they also interact on a regular basis. A more advanced definition: CoPs are formed by those people who engage in a process of ‘collective learning’ in a shared domain of Human endeavor. For example, these include: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school yard and a gathering of new managers helping each other cope. CoPs include three crucial characteristics: the domain, the community and the practice. The Domain is a community that is not simply a club of friends, but a community that has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. The Community: while pursuing the interesting in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other out and share information. This builds relationships and enables them to learn from one another. The Practice: members of a community of practice are the practitioners. They develop a shared repository of experiences, stories, tools and ways of addressing issues and recurring problems – this could also be known as a shared practice. Developing this takes time – and prolonged sustained interaction. If an online community has gathered together with the goal of helping each other learn about a specific topic, then this group becomes a CoP.
Online Communities and CoPs can benefit companies in numerous ways, including: generating new knowledge while encouraging skill development, using information gained from knowledge management to drive strategy, transferring information across different departments within a company that can be used to determine the best practices (better ways of doing things) and initializing new lines of business that can lead to the development of both new products and services. CoPs for example can have a very positive impact on company productivity. They can facilitate rapid responses to customer needs and problems, can lead to the decrease in the learning curve for new employees and can help companies to recruit and retain talented individuals. CoPs do however, have potential downsides – these include: requiring a lot of time to set up and maintain. Strong leadership is required to ensure that information and content is properly shared among all of the members with the group’s goals and rules easy to access and understand. Company management need to also agree on what is an appropriate amount of time to dedicate. Both Online Communities and CoPs can become so large so quickly in regards to members – that there is always the risk that they may lose their effectiveness. For example, an online community that boasts over 4000 members, may find that their social media pages could become a haven for unwanted advertising, spam and trolling. The purpose of the group could be lost – and these groups within companies are not immune and could face the same problem.
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List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Ryan Dewitt. (n.d.). Six Ways to Make your Online Community Interesting [Digital visualization]. Retrieved from http://ryandewitt.com/online-communities/6-ways-to-make-your-online-community-interesting/
Figure 2. Communities & Collaboration. (2010). Communities of Practice [Digital visualization]. Retrieved from http://www.stephendale.com/2010/12/28/communities-of-practice-leading-the-way-in-public-service-improvement/