Online Communities, Communities of Practice

Communities vs. Social Networks

These days “Social Media” has become a trigger word amongst the corporate world. The question is “what is social media?” Many seem to relate social media to Facebook-like social networking sites; others seem to think that they are blogs, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, or similar type of content sharing Web 2.0 applications. Yet, answers to this question may still range from social collaboration sites (like Wikipedia, or Digg) to online communities. The question posed is what does this all mean? I believe that all the examples above are correct to a certain extent, and these are functional classifications of social media.

What is the difference between Social Networks and Communities though? Lets have a look by first defining these terms

Social networks:

Everyone has their own social network (whether online or offline). Everyone has friends, family, and people they are acquainted with through one way or another. An online social networking site simply makes our social networks visible to others who are not in our immediate network.

With this knowledge, it should be obvious why Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn are social networks as opposed to communities.

“I have a friend request from some stranger on facebook and i delete it without looking at the profile because that doesn’t seem natural. ’cause friendship should not be as easy as that. it’s like people believe all you need to do is like the same bands in order to be soulmates. or books.omg… U like the outsiders 2… it’s like we’re the same person! no we’re not. it’s like we have the same english teacher. there’s a difference.”
― David Levithan,


Unlike social networks, communities (both online and offline) are more interesting from a social perspective, because they often consist of people from all walks of life that seem to have no relationship at all. How do they form this common interest?

It maybe a hobby, something the community members are passionate about, a common goal, project, or preference for a similar lifestyle, geographical location, or profession.

After clearly defining a social network and community, hopefully you will find yourself associating social media tools such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr with communities rather than social networks.

Pam Moore (@pammktgnut“You can never go wrong by investing in communities and the human beings within them.”

Social Networks are:

  1. Held together by pre-established interpersonal relationships between individuals. So you technically know everyone that is directly connected with you.
  2. Each person has one social network.
  3. They have a network structure.

Communities are:

  1. Held together by some common interests of a large group of people. Although there may be pre-existing interpersonal relationship between members of a community, it is not required. So new members usually do not know most of the people in the community.
  2. One person may be part of many communities.
  3. They have an overlapping and nested structure.

To tie this all together I found this short Youtube video very beneficial. This is a great informational video about how Online Communities can be better than Social Media Sites:


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