Originally published on January 5, 2016

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Much of my work in the field of knowledge management has involved communities. I haven’t spent much time trying to define types of communities, or coining new terminology (e.g., “Community of X”). At their core, most communities are similar, not different.

However, there are times when it is helpful to classify them:

  1. List communities in a directory to make it easier for users to find ones to join by tagging each community with one or more types
  2. Group communities by types to better understand the landscape and how communities are being used in the organization
  3. Suggest different approaches for each type of community to improve their effectiveness

Two types that have traditionally been described are Communities of Interest (CoIs) and Communities of Practice (CoPs). Other types I have seen include Communities of:

  • Action
  • Circumstance
  • Concern
  • Inquiry
  • Intent
  • Passion
  • Position
  • Place
  • Purpose

Richard Millington defines five Different Types Of Communities:

  1. Interest. Communities of people who share the same interest or passion.
  2. Action. Communities of people trying to bring about change.
  3. Place. Communities of people brought together by geographic boundaries.
  4. Practice. Communities of people in the same profession or undertake the same activities.
  5. Circumstance. Communities of people brought together by external events/situations.

Applying the frequently-used concept of N Cs of Topic X, I once defined five types of communities:

  1. Content-driven
  2. Communicative
  3. Collaborative
  4. Conversational
  5. Comprehensive

These had no long-term value, but were helpful in sorting out a large number of different uses of the word “community.” This ultimately led me to write the Communities Manifesto: 10 Principles for Successful Communities in which I defined five different types:

Types of Communities

Types can be used for describing communities, creating a community directory, and helping users readily navigate to the communities which interest them. Here are five categories which can be used to describe and organize communities: TRAIL — Topic, Role, Audience, Industry, Location

  1. Topic (e.g., Enterprise Applications, Cloud Computing)
  2. Role (e.g., Project Management, Software Development)
  3. Audience (e.g., Recruits, Women)
  4. Industry (e.g., Financial Services, Manufacturing, Telecommunications) or Client (e.g., European Union, US Federal Government)
  5. Location (e.g., US, UK, Chicago, New England, Asia Pacific)

Types of ESN Groups

Carrie Basham Young wrote that Facebook classifies groups into four distinct categories:

  1. Teams and Projects
  2. Open Discussions
  3. Announcements
  4. Social

Here are eight categories which can be used to describe and organize ESN groups: COLLECTS — Community of Practice, Organization, Location, Language, Event, Community of Interest, Team, Support

  1. Community of Practice: work-related communities, open to anyone who specializes in or who wants to learn more about the subject; tend to be larger and public; tend to be based on a topic, role, or industry from the TRAIL types (e.g., Social Media)
  2. Organization: mostly top-down communications targeted at everyone in a formal organization; enable few-to-many communication; mostly public, but may serve as a cordoned-off area for people who work together (without outsiders) to make people comfortable; tend to be larger; (e.g., Human Resources)
  3. Location: used for people in a specific location or to provide information specific to a location; tend to be public, which allows visitors to a location to access information; (e.g., Chicago Office, Canada, EMEA)
  4. Language: used for discussions in a specific language; may be public or private, and large or small; (e.g., Portuguese Speakers in Brazil and Portugal, French Speakers in Canada, Spanish Speakers in the US)
  5. Event: used for sharing information related to a specific event; may be public or private, and large or small; examples include new hires who start on a specific date, tributes to late colleagues, photos from a community service day, and posts before/during/after a meeting (e.g., August 1, 2015 New Hires, Tribute to John Doe, Impact Day, Annual Worldwide Meeting)
  6. Community of Interest: non-work-related communities, open to anyone who is interested; tend to be larger and public; (e.g., Running, Photography, Music, Cooking)
  7. Team: collaboration within a project team, work unit, task force, or committee; limited to those people who are assigned to the team; usually small and private, for trusted colleagues only; (e.g., Project Cleanup, Finance Team, Merger Task Force, Holiday Party Committee)
  8. Support: get help or make requests to a specific set of people; enable many-to-few communications; tend to be public; provide archives, deliver transparency, and replace or augment other channels such as email, phone, instant messaging, or text; examples include call centers, help desks, specialized support, and transaction entry (e.g., Knowledge Brokers, IT Help Desk, Business Research Center, Book Orders)

Some communities/ESN groups have multiple types, all of which can be applied as tags in a directory. This allows filtering and searching on all relevant attributes, with some communities/ESN groups appearing in multiple views and search results. For ESN groups which are communities of interest or practice, both the COLLECTS and TRAIL types can be applied.

Examples of applying multiple tags:

  • ESN Group for SAP in Banking: ESN group type = Community of Practice; Community types = Topic + Industry
  • Community for New Hires in Mexico: Community types = Audience + Location
  • ESN Group for French-speaking football fans: ESN group types = Community of Interest + Language; Community type = Topic

What types or categories have you found useful? What are some actual examples of combinations of types you have seen?

Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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