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Online communities come in many different shapes and sizes. The types of online communities you can find and get involved in vary hugely.

If you want to learn more about the many types of virtual communities and which ones are right for your business, you’ve come to the right place. 

Check out our list of 10 different types of online communities and the key features of each.

What are the different types of online communities?

Most online communities are centered on bringing people together around a common interest, cause or aim. Members connect, cooperate and share their knowledge with one another. The difference is in the central focus of the community.

The many types of online communities you can find online are thanks to the wide range of interests, professions and habits of people across the world. Each one is tailored to the needs of its members, and that means lots of variety!

Some differences between types of communities include:

  • Structure
  • Aims and goals
  • Values
  • Approach
  • Moderation and management

When it comes to the different types of communities, it’s important to keep in mind that a community can be categorized as more than one type. There are no set rules differentiating the types of online communities and often the lines are blurred between them. 

For instance, as a course creator, you might set up a learning community that doubles as a brand community. As your online community grows and becomes more established, it will probably also take on the form of a social community.

To get a better idea of what each of those types of online communities are and how they operate, let’s take a look at the top 10 types of online communities and some examples.

Top 10 types of online communities

Given the many different types of online communities, we’ve broken them down into a list of the most common and most influential categories. Here are 10 of the main types of online communities and the key features of each one.

1. Brand communities

One of the most common types of online communities are brand communities.

Like the name suggests, brand communities are built around one brand or business. This means there’s a huge amount of variety in brand communities. Brand communities focus on fostering an emotional connection between community members and a specific brand. 

This type of online community aims to bring together individuals as a tribe, centered on a shared identity that’s built around the brand. In the community space, members can interact with their favorite brand and with other brand lovers. This type of online community is designed to generate brand loyalty by gathering all the most enthusiastic customers in one space. An example of a brand community is makeup giant Sephora’s Beauty Insider community, where fans can chat all things makeup and beauty. 

Key characteristics of this type of online community:

  • Brand communities are meant to be fun. At their heart, they’re about celebrating a brand and everything that customers love about it.
  • Brand communities are usually characterized by lots of user-generated content and the community engagement strategy is usually centered on encouraging this type of content.
  • It’s usual to see community engagement ideas like giveaways, competitions and surveys in this type of online community.

For entrepreneurs and organizations, brand communities can be a huge asset for generating leads and creating marketing opportunities. When done well, this type of online community can be a powerful tool for growing your business.

2. Learning communities

There are many different types of online communities built around learning and knowledge sharing. Learning communities are designed to bring together learners and students into one collaborative space.

Learning communities give learners the chance to ask questions, discuss ideas and concepts and receive feedback from their peers. They’re not just a space for furthering students’ knowledge, they can also be an important source of emotional support during the learning process. A great example of a learning community is Kate Baker’s Veterinary Cytology Coffeehouse Facebook group. The group compliments her many courses and learning materials on cytology. 

Key characteristics of this type of online community:

  • Learning communities share similar goals for increasing knowledge around a certain topic.
  • Learning communities are largely focused on asking and answering questions, setting them apart from other types of online communities.
  • Learning communities allow learners to collaborate on learning material, including sharing resources and discussing problems and challenges.

Of the many types of online communities, this is the one that’s probably most relevant to course creators. Learning communities are a great starting point from which to grow a brand community and membership community too.

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Read more: 13 Tips to Grow an Online Community

3. Networking communities

As the name suggests, networking communities are all about networking! Unlike other types of online communities, networking communities are solely focused on helping users find new opportunities for increasing their network.

This type of online community is usually built around a certain industry or profession. At the same time, there are also networking communities that aren’t professional at all. For instance, communities of support and communities of circumstance can also be classed as networking communities.

Key characteristics of this type of online community:

  • Networking communities are often discussion-based with users posting requests for advice or support and topics for debate.
  • Networking communities offer members the chance to find solutions to common problems and issues that they’re facing in the chosen topic.
  • Compared to other types of online communities, networking communities are often more formal than spaces like fan communities or brand communities.

While networking communities are classified as a stand-alone type of online community, other types of virtual communities can include networking activities too. Brand communities and learning communities often double up as networking communities and you’ll probably find that your online community incorporates elements of a networking community.

4. Social communities

Among the many types of online communities, social communities are arguably the most common and easiest to recognize. Social communities are exactly that – communities based on building social connections. 

In social communities, people come together to chat, share and have fun. Brands can utilize social communities for marketing purposes, especially increasing brand awareness. Unlike other types of online communities, they’re not spaces for endless advertising and promotions. Social communities are about sharing insights and making connections rather than commercial operations.

Key characteristics of this type of online community:

  • Social communities vary hugely in size, ranging from just a small, private group of friends to massive communities of many thousands of people.
  • You can think of social communities like a virtual house party – it’s a group of people coming together to spend time together and start discussions.
  • You can find social communities on every social media platform, including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Often brand communities and learning communities incorporate elements of social communities and vice versa. In fact, borrowing ideas from social communities are a great way to make your community more fun and engaging for members.

5. Fan communities

The growth of online communities have made it possible for a very specific type of community to take off – fan communities. 

Fan communities are based on a shared interest like a book, tv show, or musician. Like social communities, fan communities are based on making social connections but they’re really specific to one interest.

While some types of online communities are closed and private, fan communities are usually open to all. All you need is to love that thing a lot! If you’re a fan, you can join a fan community. Social media site Reddit hosts many fan communities such as the community for Marvel comics, with 1.6 million members. 

 

Some artists and creators have begun utilizing fan communities as a way to generate income, using platforms like Patreon to grow their business and personal brand.

Key characteristics of this type of online community:

  • Fan communities are typically started by fans or creators to build a community around a shared passion. 
  • Interactions in this type of online community are almost exclusively about the focus of the fan community.
  • Fan communities often involve specific types of user-generated content like fanfic, art, videos and more that aren’t typically seen in other types of online communities.

Not all brands are suited to the creation of fan communities, but if you’re a creator or artist, fan communities can be a great tool for building more brand loyalty and brand awareness.

6. Insight communities

Among the different types of online communities, this is a community that is solely developed for marketing purposes – an insight community is a method for brands to gather data from customers.

Insight communities are aimed at using customer engagement to develop, test and refine different marketing strategies. Members are usually recruited from a brand’s existing customer base so they already know the products or services well.

Key characteristics of this type of online community:

  • Insight communities often follow a structured research plan with topics, questions and tasks set by the community moderator.
  • Unlike other types of online communities, insight communities can be short-lived – some only last a couple of weeks or they can keep running for years. The duration depends on the research team’s needs.
  • The nature of insight communities means they’re always private and the information discussed between community members is often confidential, especially for larger brands.

Insight communities are a valuable resource for brands looking to gather insight on their customers. They tend to be adjacent to brand communities, running as smaller, invite-only communities.

7. Membership communities 

Membership communities are designed to provide members with access to exclusive resources, information and assistance.

When it comes to different types of online communities, membership communities tend to be more exclusive than others. They usually require users to sign up via a specific site and pay a membership fee to become a part of the community. In return, members get access to specific content and resources.

Key characteristics of this type of online community:

  • Membership communities are often invite-only. Once you sign up for a membership, you’re admitted into the group.
  • Memberships communities are often used as part of a Premium offering by brands, giving paying members exclusive access to the group.
  • As members pay to access this kind of community, they can be more demanding than members of other types of online communities. Individuals expect a certain level of service and this means a comprehensive community engagement strategy is needed to help membership communities succeed.

If you’re a course creator, you can utilize membership communities to give students access to exclusive content and support. By making access to your members community dependent on a paid membership subscription, you can incentivize learners to continue paying for their subscription even after they’ve completed your course.

8. Local communities

While many types of online communities exist only online, local communities are based around a physical space or geographical location. This means they tend to be smaller and have a more specific focus compared to other online communities.

If you have a Facebook group for your apartment building, you’re part of a local community! Local communities can also include groups that recommend places to eat or things to do in a city or community groups based around a place like a high school or national park.

Key characteristics of this type of online community:

  • Local communities are limited in size as they’re only relevant to people in a certain geographical location.
  • This type of online community is usually dominated by discussions related to the local area, for instance local news and recommendations.
  • Like many types of online communities, local communities are at risk of being taken over by commercial posts. To avoid this, community guidelines are necessary and moderators are usually needed.

Local communities are only relevant to brands with a local following or a brick-and-mortar establishment, however, they can be sub-groups within a brand community or learning community where like-minded community members can connect and get together.

9. Communities of action

When you join a community of action, you are committing to a cause. Communities of action connect people who want to change something in their world. This means they’re often run by non-profit agencies or passionate volunteers.

This type of online community is characterized by shared goals and concrete actions aimed at promoting a cause. They tend to focus on reaching certain milestones and members rally around these efforts as a community.

Key characteristics of this type of online community:

  • While there are many different types of communities of action, they all tend to share a desire to make the world a better place.
  • Activities in a community of action include organizing events, finding opportunities for volunteering, fundraising and some debate.
  • Communities of action are typically made up of volunteers, community leaders, NGO employees and members of the public.

Communities of action can also be learning communities and communities of circumstance, depending on the cause and the topics that make up the main focus for the group.

10. Communities of circumstance

Communities of circumstance offer individuals the chance to connect with other members who share similar life experiences to them. 

Communities of circumstance tend to have aims related to helping members with issues and challenges they’re facing as a result of their circumstances, for instance, motherhood, chronic illness or disabilities. They are a space to share advice, personal experiences and relevant information.

Examples of communities of circumstance include:

  • Support groups
  • Health organizations
  • Governmental initiatives 

Communities of circumstance are highly specialized depending on the needs of the community members.

Key characteristics of this type of online community:

  • Depending on the types of communities of circumstance, members might include members of the public, doctors and medical experts, volunteers, counsellors and more.
  • Communities of circumstance might include organized events both online and in-person aimed at connecting members with other members and experts.
  • Unlike other types of online communities, communities of circumstance are usually centered on supportive engagement rather than debate.

Communities of circumstance tend to put safety, support and sharing as their top priorities, setting them apart from other types of online communities.

These different types of online communities could be perfect for your business

Now you know the top 10 types of online communities, you can choose the community style that is best for your brand. For most course creators, the natural choice of online community type will be a learning community or brand community. But you might also like to set up a membership community or even a community of circumstance too.

To start your own online community today, sign up for Thinkific Pro Plus! Don’t forget to join our virtual community of Course Creators too.