There is tremendous value in building an online community, from developing camaraderie and support between like-minded professionals to helping companies build better products. By growing a thriving community, companies can benefit from greater user engagement, improved customer sentiment and retention, and even leads on new prospective customers.
Determining what kind of community you want to cultivate is a critical initial step for community leaders looking to start or grow a community. There are two main types of community:
In this article, we’ll delve further into both types of communities and offer tips for managing them.
Before we explore the two community types in depth, here’s a quick overview of what sets a community of practice apart from a community of product.
|Community of Practice||Community of Product|
|What is it?||Where people go to discuss and collaborate on a specific topic or domain||Where people go to learn more and exchange best practices about a specific product|
|Why build one?||Directly contribute to and further your industry||Deepen user understanding and adoption of your offerings|
|Better position your company as an expert in the space||Directly engage product users who have questions and feedback|
|Improve perceptions of your company’s brand||Improve perceptions of your company’s products and services|
|Who is in each?||Practitioners (either professional or recreational) who engage in or are interested in the topic or domain||People using or interested in using a company's solution|
|Where do members meet?||Virtually on a communication platform such as Slack or Discord or in person through meetups and events||Virtually on a communication platform such as Slack, Discord, Discourse or Khoros that is often branded or owned by the product’s company|
Now let’s do a deep dive into the two community types.
A community of practice is built for people who collaborate around a specific topic or domain (e.g., software engineering, accounting) and have discussions in order to improve their skills, learn more, and contribute to a shared goal.
Examples of communities of practice include professional associations, guilds, learning networks, thematic groups, and technical clubs. Here at Common Room, we operate a community of practice called Uncommon. Uncommon is a place for community leaders to come together and share best practices for growing and managing a community.
Another great example of a community of practice is the dbt Community operated by dbt Labs, where community members can find and contribute to analytics engineering best practices.
An organization will build or support a community of practice to facilitate discussions around a topic broader than its specific offering. Communities of practice allow you to:
By supporting members in learning a new skill (e.g., data enablement) or in contributing to an idea (e.g., an open source project), an organization with relevant offerings will also benefit in return. A community of practice gives you a broader reach to engage with anyone in your industry vs. just the people already using your product.
Your organization can leverage a community of practice to promote thought leadership by positioning your company or solutions alongside cutting-edge new ideas. You can also use it to identify new prospects and better understand their areas of need, and increase affinity by demonstrating its active involvement in a particular space.
Members of a community of practice are often direct practitioners (either professional or recreational) who engage in or are interested in the domain. These individuals show up to ask questions, educate one another, and share tips or advice.
It’s common for a community of practice to have (or invite) subject matter experts who are well respected in their field and can share particularly valuable insights or nuggets of information.
Given today’s explosion of digital channels, community of practice are often found online. Virtual meeting places could be gated channels that require access to join (via application, credentials, subscription, certification, or a simple request) or they can be public content channels that are free and open to everyone who abides by the rules.
Discord and Slack are popular platforms where members can meet virtually and communicate as are social sites and forums like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Reddit. Meetup and Bevy are favorite options for people meeting through events, both in-person and digital.
Hosting a platform where members can hold discussions (like Discord or Slack) is just the first step in building a community of practice. For it to blossom, community leaders must take intentional steps to ensure it's a well-managed, safe space where everyone feels like they can contribute or ask questions.
From there, leaders can build engagement and their membership by hosting events with thought leaders, SMEs, and influencers, as well as producing workshops and conventions where members can continue to advance their knowledge.
For more resources on starting, or seeding, a community, check out our “How to seed your community” content collection.
A community of product is centered on helping individuals understand and use a particular product in a better, more efficient, or more innovative way. It’s common to see communities grow around software products, with Asana, Atlassian, and Webflow all building and nurturing communities around their solutions.
A community of product will share product how-to guides and best practices as well as keep members up to speed on the latest news and releases from the company. Most importantly, it brings users together to help each other learn about and share tips for using a company’s offering.
An organization will host a community of product to promote discussion about their solutions. Communities of product allow you to:
Companies can use a community of product to collect feedback for building better solutions, understand top discussion topics to inform educational content creation, and identify and engage new sales leads.
A community of product can also be used as a low-cost customer support structure, as members often provide peer-to-peer product support. And by having company representatives actively engaging with and listening to community members, a company can build brand trust and affinity.
Members of a community of product are the people using or interested in using a compay’s solution.
Within your community, you’ll have a range of expertise and experience, from newbies looking for tips on getting started to product experts with deep technical knowledge (and questions). You’ll want members from your team participating in the community to help all of these members find the support they’re looking for and have a great experience. This includes the community and customer success teams as well as the product and dev teams who can converse about the product at both a high-level and in technical detail.
Like in a community of practice, members of a community of product typically link up online using any or all of the channels and methods for joining a community of practice listed above (e.g., Slack, Discord, Reddit).
Since a community of product is, by definition, centered around a product, the channels where members meet might be branded (owned and operated by the product’s company), or unbranded (owned and operated by users and fans of the product). Common branded or owned channel in communities of product include Discourse, GitHub, and Khoros.
Community leaders must take care when building a community of product as it can seem self-serving when treated like a marketing channel. Ensure that you’re centering the needs and experience of your members through your programs and the content that you share with the community.
You can also give back to the community through benefits like exclusive access, discounts, opportunities for career development, priority support, swag, and invites to special events and demos. In this way, they are bringing value to community members, the same way community members bring value to the company through their feedback.
For more recommendations on how to grow an impactful, thriving community check out the blog: “Best practice for growing your community.”
Whether building a community of practice or a community of product, community leaders should consider leveraging a community growth platform to manage and mature their community.
Common Room is an intelligent community growth platform that helps teams understand, activate, and scale their community. It allows community managers and leaders to get a holistic view of members—and their activities—across all community channels.
Leaders overseeing a community of practice can use Common Room to stay on top of conversations and automate workflows to eliminate arduous manual tasks—like welcoming new members to the community or following up with members who have gone inactive. Managers building a community of product can use it to gauge sentiment around a new feature or update and to understand the trending topics that matter most to members.