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Understanding the 3 Types of Communities in Social Business

Posted by on January 24, 2011

When you talk about social business you can’t help but bring up the C-word.  We all know what I’m talking about right?  Yes, communities!  Now, when most people or organizations think of communities they actually think of customer communities, however there is more than one type of community that organizations need to think about.  So, in Chess Media Group style we decided to make a very simple visual to show the three types of communities that exist in social business today.

External Communities

This is what most people think of when they think of communities, these are usually comprised of customers that share common ideas, interests, product purchases, or support issues.  These types of external communities usually don’t have much insight into the inner workings of an organization.  They typically see all of the marketing/branding speak that an organization puts out and for the most part are involved to the extent with which they can solve their problems or find information.  Their feedback is considered by the organization and incorporated on a general scale.  Customer communities such as these are all over the place, many brands such as Nike, Zappos, SAP, Microsoft, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble all have customer communities.

Hybrid communities

We don’t hear about these as often as we should but an example of a hybrid community is between a company such as Walmart and all of it’s suppliers (I’m sure there are thousands) or perhaps a loyal community of superusers for a particular brand or product and employees of that organization looking to make a strategic business decisions (perhaps around marketing, pricing, or feature set).  In these types of communities the customers, partners, or suppliers have much more insight into how the organization operates and conducts business.  These community members also impact business decisions that the organization makes.  For example, a supplier community may provide valuable feedback to Walmart which impacts it’s forecasting.  Hybrid communities are very strategically created as there is a certain level of trust that an organization needs to be comfortable with (since it is oftentimes sharing confidential and proprietary data).  These communities are called “hybrid” because they are not quite completely on the outside of the organization nor are they completely on the inside, they straddle the line between both.

Internal communities

These exist for employees only and we are seeing more and more of these types of communities implemented within organizations.  Typically these communities are fostered and are easily created after deploying internal collaboration tools such as Sharepoint.  These communities allow employees to share information, find subject matter experts, and collaborate on necessary projects.  These types of communities ideally are made up of everyone from entry level employees to senior level managers.  Technology adoption is oftentimes a challenge here as employees may or may not choose to use new collaborative tools to work with and interact with each other.

These are the three types of communities that organizations need to consider when developing a social business strategy.  Each type of community serves a different purpose.  The ideal “social business” scenario is for an organization to implement a combination of all of the above.

Hopefully this makes sense, any questions or comments?

  • Great point on the Hybrid Community. It is really different than a traditional extranet. With our Ingeniux Cartella Community Server I am seeing more and more of these. We are doing one for a financial services firm where some areas and content is permissioned for employees and some for business customers. It is the same content, collaboration, and KM functions – but the model is flexible enought to support both interactions in the same system. Hybrid is a good description for what is a pretty new type of collaboration.

  • Good article – the concept of Hybrid Community is very interesting, I would love to see you write a follow up with an expansion on this topic. Nice write.

  • stevewckrt

    Great point on the Hybrid Community. It is really different than a traditional extranet.
    Children normal behaviors depend on various natural and environmental circumstances in which a child grow and observes the way for his best possible conduct within his reach and interact amongst those who respond his gestures and body talks.

  • Nice post and good insight on different kind of communities. I think you missed out one kind of community who just participate for brand awareness and for ranking.

  • This makes perfect sense in the enterprise context. Not so sure about small businesses. With few exceptions of tiny teams with global reach and recognition, external communities as defined here don't exist. As for internal, they are by definition tiny, with deep personal 1st degree connections (using LinkedIn speak). So for SMBs it's all about hybrid communities. At least I feel that way. Thoughts?

  • Tomgeorge

    Nice post, we are very interested in this type of content. Come visit so we can share some more ideas and comments

  • Also

  • I'd love to see more internal communities because I think businesses need to tap in to the power of internal communation and the vast knowledge that they have internally. It's not an issue for small businesses but for large organizations there are lots of solutions within the organization that the company or brand are paying lots of money to people externally for.

    Internal communities do take a lot of time to build though because you more often than not need huge buy in from across the business which is something that takes time and some serious politics!

  • It’s very important to pay attention to the needs and wants of your customers. Social business communities are a great way to do this. Not only are you getting a great insights, but the members of your community appreciate that their voice is being heard.

  • Anonymous

    Those 3 communities are a great way to manage a social business.. Excellent resource.. Thanks for this..
    Aluminium Kozijnen

  • This was a
    useful article to those who are engaged in a social media matters. It is
    important to know the competitor so that you can study their weaknesses and
    plan for your success. In a business regarding social media you must be aware
    of the clients. 

  • Interesting. It would also be interesting to distinguish by purpose. For example, internal communities can be practices or interest ones…even expert ones (same as the previous with a higher selection level at the entry). I also often see what I call “delivery community” : it’s what happens when organizations confuse communities with workgroups and turn a team into a community to make it more social. The difference is not only on words but on how you manage them, engage people and what you can expect from them.
    Such breakdown may also work for external and hybrid ones I think.

    • Hi Bertrand,

      Thanks for the note and yes, that is a good idea.  I have found that distinguishing by community makes it much easier for people to understand what exactly I’m referring to.  As I’m sure you have seen, social enterprise, social business, social crm, etc are nebulous terms that really don’t mean anything to most people.  I’m sure the breakdown of purpose communities can be quite extensive!