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What Is an Online Community Platform?


If you are a seasoned online community manager or community professional, then this article is probably not for you. However, if you are new to the space or thinking of staring an online community platform yourself, then this article might be helpful.

In Search of Definition

Many people ask us what makes an online community platform a community platform. We usually answer with:

An online community platform is an online space where a group of unified individuals are encouraged to interact with each other and hold open discussions about their common interests, goals or beliefs.

Let’s look at how we came to this definition by first breaking down the phrase into two parts: “Community” and “Platform”.

What Defines “Community”?

To start our research, we first look up the definition of “Community”. Just do a simple Google query and you will be blown over by the many definitions you will find.

Amongst others you will find:

  • “A unified body of individuals”.
  • “An interacting population of various kinds of individuals (such as species) in a common location”.
  • “A group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society”.
  • “Joint ownership or participation”.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into these results.

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Unified Body of Individuals?

A unified body of individuals may sound a bit contradictory to you. But maybe it isn’t. It means that individual opinions play a big role in a community, but it takes all the individuals together (unify) to form a community. Individual thoughts and actions influence the thinking of a community.

People also form (online) communities because they are like-minded. Or because they have a common goal, believe or purpose.


Interaction, Participation & Common Interests

Okay, so people often flock together because they have a common goal or interest. But that fact alone is not enough to call this group a community. If there is no interaction between individuals then there’s probably no “sense of community” either.

The same goes for participation. You can have a group of individuals, but if not everybody in the group has an active role in pursuing the mutual goal, then this won’t benefit the community much. Hence, a community usually is a group of individuals with tight bonds that interact often and have a shared interest.

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Summing It All Up

Taking these sub-definitions as key elements, let’s put it all together and come up with a definition to use going forward:

Community: A group of unified individuals, interacting with each other about their common interests.

What Defines “Platform”?

To reach our definition of online community platform, let’s continue and look at what defines a “Platform”.

Because Google is our friend, we find the following definitions typing a query for the word:

  • “A place or opportunity for public discussion”.
  • “An opportunity to voice one’s views or initiate action”.

The word “Platform” has multiple definitions. For example, we also find “a usually raised horizontal flat surface”. But of course that’s a bit out of context for this article. Therefor, let’s focus on the above search results.

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Public Discussion & Voice of The Individual

So a platform is a place that allows for public discussion and gives individuals the opportunity to make themselves heard. That makes sense, right? From an earlier analysis we know that successful communities are communities in which members feel their voices are being heard.

A community will be successful if members actually feel heard and have fun talking about their common interest with like-minded people. It’s not without reason that we often hear from clients that their members are meeting each other in person. Or that they take initiative to continue talking to that group of people after the project has ended.

So, based on these findings let’s rephrase the definition of Platform:

Platform: A space where people are able to express their voice, where they are listened to and an open discussion is encouraged.

Online Community Platform

Now that we have a better sense of what defines a “Community” and a “Platform”, it’s time to combine these and and answer to the initial question. While you can definitely imagine having an offline community platform, discussing your mutual goals online will be much easier.

Online Community Platform: An online space where a group of unified individuals are encouraged to interact with each other and hold open discussions about their common interests.

How Brands Use Online Community Platforms

Online communities are often initiated by brands and marketing departments. This because connected communities are ideal to extract insights from. Insights can be used for shaping marketing campaigns, help with product development and define business strategies as a whole.

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Here’s an example of Reima’s online community platform. The famous Finnish clothings brands for children does a good job of building community and learn from the people they serve by engaging in conversations with them.

Community Platform For The Finnish Brand Reima

Further Reading

Here at CMNTY we help a large range of organizations become successful with online communities, powered by our core offering,CMNTY Platform. Whether you work for a big brand or own a small businesses, if you’re just starting with online communities then we can suggest this article about Do-It-Yourself Community Software. But if you are ready to start exploring right now, we recommend starting a trial of our community platform.

If you work for a brand or a marketing department, we can also recommend to continue reading about customer communities and insight communities. Also read about the less common but equally powerful configurations, such as partner communities and social networks.

We hope you found this article helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.

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