The difference between online communities and social networks

The difference between online communities and social networks
Author: Catherine Shpileuskaya | 21 Nov 2012

 The same is true in relation to communication by means of internet. Putting aside messengers, email and chats, I would like to draw your attention to more complex tools – social networks and online communities, namely the difference between these notions. Let’s have a closer look at them.

 A social network is the environment where mainly pre-established interpersonal relationships are maintained: we add the people we know to our friend lists, we communicate with them, share photos and videos, congratulate each other on important dates and events and so on. There are normally no requirements put forth to the members, all you need to have a social network account is a couple of friends to communicate with. Social networks may involve people from all over the world, binding them all with multi-level connections like Facebook or LinkedIn. Communication on social networks if highly personalised: people share a lot of personal information; they often know each other in person, not online only, connections are often vivid for other users.

 An online community is quite a different thing. People who join this or that community usually share the same purpose, interest or have something other in common. An online community can be created to gather people around a certain product, brand, social formation (church, club, etc.), hobby or way of life. The users rarely know each other in person, at least before they start communication on the portal. Those who join communities are not looking for communication with their friends; they are looking for communication on a certain subject, collaboration, help and advice. They have some goal that brings them to communities.

 In fact, a social network can be considered a higher development stage of a community. Facebook was initially formed by communities of colleges and universities; LinkedIn – by communities of employees of companies and professional societies. Later these two giants grew into world-wide social networks when members of the initial communities started expending their circles, building relationships. So roughly we can call community to be the basis and social network – the superstructure. Later I’m going to pay more attention to this question.

Comparing online communities and social networks

Communities created for marketing purposes require a lot of attention from their owners and managers. For an online community to prosper and perform its functions (lead generation, brand popularization, customer loyalty enhancement, and so on) the people who organise the community should dedicate huge efforts to attract their target audience, make them stay and become active members.  Community life should be constantly supported and spiced up by dedicated leaders who know how to engage the audience into non-intrusive conversation, especially if the community is created for a still unknown product, new idea or small group. But we have already touched upon the problem of managing communities in a previous post.

So, having outlined the major differences between a social network and an online community, I hope you will make the right choice and reinforce your marketing efforts with a tool that corresponds to your needs like nothing else.