Architecting Community


In our previous post, What Is Community?, we defined community and got you excited to learn how to architect your own community.

In this post, we tell you exactly how we think you should go about architecting your awesome community.



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Architecting Your Community

You are the experience architect for your community. It’s up to you to create a welcoming place, filled with cool tools people can use to do the things they do when they’re together: tell each other stories, yack, connect, and support each other.

But what kind of community do you hope to design? Physical communities are divided into many categories: urban, suburban, or rural; or neighborhoods, clubs and associations. Some, like the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC),[1] enumerate an even larger set of intentional community types that are created because people consciously choose to create them rather than, for example, moving into a neighborhood or apartment building because they can afford the rent.

We are drawn to the concept of intentional communities when thinking about online communities be­cause to us, that’s what they are: intentional online gatherings of people with sim­ilar goals and values.

A real-world intentional community is a group of people choosing to live in close proximity because they share a common need, belief, or desire, and who have an intent to share resources. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision and are often part of an alternative society, for example, a monastery or commune.

The people in online communities share the idea of intentionality with these offline communities. They aren’t thrown together by an accident of proximity, such as sharing a birth year (high school) or a locality (apartment building). Although people in such situations may find community with those geograph­ically close to them, they usually did not actively choose to be a part of a particular real-world community. People in online communities intend to be together; they take action to join a community that reflects their interests and passions, and stay intentionally.

There is such commonality with offline intentional communities that elements of FIC’s mission state­ment[2] might form a good starting place for your company community’s mission. Here are these elements trans­formed and adapted for online communities:

  • To embrace the diversity that exists among community members
  • To build cooperative spirit within and among community members
  • To facilitate exchange of information, skills, and economic support
  • To serve as a reference source for those seeking information about our products
  • To support education, research, archives, and publishing about our products
  • To increase global awareness about our products

Like offline communities, online communities also tend to fall into categories, and one could argue that as many types of communities as there are offline, there that many and more online. And like lots of concepts we’ve examined in this blog, every pundit has his or her list. Here’s a short list of categories of communities to consider along with examples for each type:

  1. Social/Leisure – Communities where people come together socially to talk about games, sports, TV, music. Also included are emotional support communities who exist to help people who are who are living through similar challenges such as loss, disease, addiction, or financial circumstances. Examples:
    1. Sports team sites (I Am A Trail Blazers Fan[3])
    2. TV show sites (Screen Rant[4])
    3. disease support groups such as the Crohn’s Disease Support Group[5]
  2. Place/Circumstance – Communities brought together by external events and situations such as geographic proximity or a common life experience or position, such as being alumni of a particular school, or members of religious or self-help organizations. Also included in this category are communities defined by age, gender, race, or nationality. Examples:
    1. DukeConnect[6]
    2. Mayo Clinic[7]
    3. The Twin Cities Online[8]
  3. Interest/Purpose – Communities of people who share the same interest or passion or a common set of objectives. Charities, political parties and unions can form communities driven by purpose as can people who like shopping, investing, playing games, making music, or taking a class. Members of a fan club, hobby group, or professional organization, amateur woodworkers, and parents are other examples of people who might belong to communities of interest. Examples:
    1. Social Media Breakfast,[9]
    2. Prince.org[10]
  4. Action/Collaboration – Communities of people trying to bring about change, whether it be political, social, religious, technological, or environmental. Members’ bias is toward action in solving real-world problems. Self-improvement communities fall into this category along with job clubs and referral networks. Collaborative communities such as the Linux, AJAX, or Java communities where members actually build software together are good examples. Another example is innovation and ideation communities, especially within the enterprise, where members solve problems, improve products, and are bound by a common goal. Most customer relations and support communities also fall into this category. Examples:
    1. LinuxQuestions.org [11]
    2. Pepsi Refresh Project [12]
    3. GE: Ecomagination Challenge [13]
  5. Practice – Communities of people who are in the same profession, undertake the same activities, or who pursue the same vocation or avocation. These communities are distinguished from communities of interest by the degree of dedication they exhibit. For example, amateur airplane pilots may exhibit more dedication than hobbyists who enjoy scrapbooking. Example:
    1. Nursing Community Center[14]

In addition to these categories of communities, Rob Howard of enterprise collaboration software company Telligent outlined styles of communities in a post[15] on Mashable:

  • Direct Community: These are communities owned and managed by a company typically running proprietary community and enterprise collaboration software solutions. Examples include the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s community website, Starbucks’ blog, or Dell’s support community. The organization is responsible for running and managing the community and benefits from rich data and user profiles created within that community. These also would include private B2B and internal employee-targeted communities.
  • Managed Community: These are communities started and managed by the organization, but run on consumer-facing social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Examples here include the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s Facebook Page, Starbucks’ Flickr group pool, or Dell’s presence on Twitter. The organization is responsible for running and managing the community, but does not necessarily benefit from the rich data and user profiles created within the community. Typically, the facilitator of the community (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) benefits the most from the underlying data.
  • Participating Community: These are communities started and managed by individuals or groups of users, typically on consumer-facing social networking sites, but sometimes also with proprietary software. An example here would be a fan site for Microsoft’s Xbox or an independent Porsche enthusiast group. Typically the organization whose products or services are the topic of discussion can participate, but has no authority or access to the data created within the community.

It’s obvious that all these qualities of communities can be, and often are, combined in a single site. If you decide to create your own community site rather than using a third party site like Facebook, you should consider all of these aspects.


Architecting Community is the 157th in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). We’ve been doing this since 2011 and we’re just past page 396. At this rate it’ll still be a while before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at bit.ly/OrderBeAPerson and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 6WXG8ABP2Infinite Pipeline book cover

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[1] Fellowship for Intentional Community: bit.ly/aaicT9

[2] FIC’s mission statement: bit.ly/dlH7Fi

[3] I Am A Trail Blazers Fan: bit.ly/pG2sGK

[4] Screen Rant bit.ly/ruSzsF

[5] Crohn’s Disease Support Group: bit.ly/aDvyMR

[6] DukeConnect: bit.ly/pLHUqI

[7] Mayo Clinic Community: bit.ly/oTd4JN

[8] The Twin Cities Online: bit.ly/r2jX17

[9] Social Media Breakfast: bit.ly/r3Gaa0

[10] Prince.org: bit.ly/npd3r2

[11] LinuxQuestions.org: bit.ly/oC0zy1

[12] Pepsi Refresh Project: pep.si/od3R4V

[13] GE: Ecomagination Challenge: bit.ly/pTbqna

[14] Nursing Community Center: bit.ly/qPXAH7

[15] Mashable’s How Businesses can Harness the Power of Online Communities on.mash.to/pmqSFN

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About NextPhase Selling

Social Media Performance Group is a premier enterprise social media consulting company that offers a unique approach to integrating social media into the enterprise — forget about the tools, it's all about the strategy! Rather than focusing on the tactics (do this or that on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube), first we work with you and your senior leadership to comprehend your corporate strategy. Once we understand your strategic objectives and goals, we show you how a comprehensive social media strategy can integrate with and support your corporate strategy. We take an enterprise-wide view based on our unique Enterprise Social Media Framework, which maps social media to all appropriate touchpoints in your enterprise. We go beyond the obvious quick hits — sales and marketing — and help you achieve social-media-driven results in areas such as product development, customer service, and employee engagement and retention. As a result, social media is not just bolted on; it is integrated with, and provides support for, your company's existing strategy and operations, yielding unprecedented results.
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2 Responses to Architecting Community

  1. Brilliant assessment and breakdown of involvement and explanation of motivations to join an online community for those who wish to start their own online network. I started an online community of passionate homeopaths from around the world to commune, share, and educate in 2009. It takes constant creativity to keep a community alive and growing.

  2. Thanks, Debby! It’s good to know this resonates with a community manager like you. Any tips you’d like to send my way?

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