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Defining Community for Businesses

mac profile image Mac ใƒปUpdated on ใƒป2 min read

The broadness of community is both a blessing and a curse. As a term and concept it can often be hard to explain. Ask 10 different people to define community from the perspective of their company, and you'll likely get 10 different answers.

This is, by no means, expected to comprehensively define each area of community, but rather, explore the multifaceted definition and appearance of community from a business perspective.

Internal Community

Culture, relationship and the overall strength of the bonds between team members are vital to building a successful company. What better way to achieve this than to apply the principles of community management to internal teams?

An explosion of remote work is driving an even greater need for this role. Remote teams need to be vastly more intentional about building relationships, culture and trust, and there's no better way to do that than to treat teams as internal communities.

Big shoutout to Carter for working hard to pioneer this space, really excited to see what happens here over the next 3-5 years.

Customer Community

This is what is traditionally considered 'community' at companies and what is most often the responsibility of a community manager or community team. Typically made up of customers, though this is changing as more and more companies adopt communities of interest rather than communities of support. The Community Club is a great example of this shift!

External Community

The lines between external and customer community are constantly being blurred. External community tends to be something that marketing is more involved in, and is made up of the entire 'network of engagement' around an organization. This might include things like social media, webinars, newsletters, and other programs that can be community-led, while reaching both customers and potential-customers alike.

Market Community

The broader market in which a company exists, made up of other communities, and every person in their target market. While this may not be a 'community' that is directly owned and operated by a company, it's still important for a company to be aware of the sentiment, trends, and ongoing happenings within the broader market.


How might these four 'communities' translate and appear within a real company? Let's use InVision as an example!

Internal - The entire InVision team! InVision is a shining example of a scaled remote-first company, and their approach to internal people ops likely reflects many community management principles to have reached their current scale.

Customer - InVision's network of customers, living on their support forum, Slack, and social media. Note the overlap with their external community.

External - the broader audience and 'network of engagement' around InVision, including Twitter, Instagram and the Design Leadership Forum. The key difference between this and customer is that both customers and non-customers exist in the communities.

Market - the entire design community & market in which InVision exists and includes places such as design Twitter, r/web_design on Reddit and Dribbble.


As community matures within organizations, and especially at companies building communities of interest instead of support, I fully expect to see an even greater blurring of the lines between these four layers of community.

Discussion (6)

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hollyfirestone profile image
Holly Firestone

Really great content here, Mac. I look at this similarly, but with one key differenceโ€“

I would add a layer between customer community and external community.

The middle layer that I feel is missing: I see this as a community that includes audiences outside customers, but that still identify as part of the community. Not just prospects, but anyone that makes up your "ecosystem." Developers, partners, etc. Sure, this could also include prospects, but I'd include prospects with the customer community since they're potential customers. There's some in-the-weeds stuff around permissions/gated content, etc, but just speaking very generally about the audiences in the customer community, they could fit there.

External community as it's stated here is essentially just an audience, right?

Market is a really interesting community IMO. Especially if you're creating a category.

There's also the idea of communities within community (ie: sub-communities, "internal community" communities) which is a whole other topic in itself!

The lines are already a bit blurry though, especially as community teams expand the community value prop internally. These different kinds of communities are all extremely important pieces of the puzzle, which exemplifies the need to up-level community vs layering it under a specific team (marketing, support, etc). Internal/HR is the outlier there, but it's possible that will change...soon.

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alourie profile image
Alex Lourie

I actually see the layer you're describing, Holly, as the exact example of the external community - it includes the members of the inside team/community, the customers, the partners, and anyone else interested in what your "company" or "thing" is about, like the Design Leadership Forum in the InVision example that Mac provided.

But surely all these functions are going to be blurry on the edges, and highly dependant on the organisation.

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mac profile image
Mac Author

Appreciate the awesome reply Holly!

Perhaps the term 'customer' is incorrect for that type of community, as you're exactly right that it can contain more than just customers. Perhaps 'ecosystem community' would be better.

I also don't think external is necessarily just an audience - I'd say Community Club is a good example of what I'm trying to define as external for Commsor. It's a community for folks involved in the community industry, not necessarily involved with Commsor in any way.

Overall, however you define the layers, the lines are definitely blurry, and blurring more from the looks of it!

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iamcesarromero profile image
cesar

Thanks for sharing Mac! I'm interested in how Internal communities develop as we transition into more remote work. I 100% agree that remote teams need to be 10X more intentional about building relationships. From the way you onboard new remote staff to the different team rituals that happen on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, every touch point with staff needs to be more intentional.

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davidspinks profile image
David Spinks

Love it. Aligns with how I see communities as well. I even drew a circle thing like that too (=

medium.com/@davidspinks/the-defini...

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