A community, as we know it, is a social unit of any size that shares a common value, situated in a given geological area, or connected by durable relations. This builds the relationship which gives each individual a sense of social identity and practice.
But this is just a community in general. What about an online community or a community of practice?
An online community is made up of a network of people who communicate with one another online using interactive tools such as emails, forums, chat rooms, and discussion boards. It provides a place where real-world communities have the ability to interact easier and more accessible. In a business, online communities have the power to create and retain productive relationships. These days, online communities are a major asset in business industries.
Community of Practice:
A community of practice, on the other hand, is a group of people who share a common passion for something they do. They interact with one another to learn how to do such things better. In other words, as explained by Wenger- Traynor, a community of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. A very good example is Mighty Car Mods (my previous post). In a community of practice, there are three defining characteristics or elements.
The first one is the domain. A community of practice has an identity defined by a domain of interest. In this domain, commitments are done in forms of membership and therefore distinguishes its members from other people. However, a domain of interests is not recognized as an expertise outside the community.
The second characteristic is the community. Members of the community engage in joint activities, discussions, and exchange information to help one another. But this doesn’t necessarily have to be on a daily basis. Some members may choose to meet in cafes or studios. Some may decide to have discussions on a specific day of the week.
The last characteristic is practice. A community of practice is not merely a community where people have simple conversations about favorite foods or hobbies. The members are practitioners, and they share solutions to problems, strategies, tools, and personal experiences to assist one another in addressing a specific issue.
According to Wenger-Traynor, it is the combination of these characteristics which constitutes a community of practice. Having these 3 characteristics balanced results in such a community.
So how is an online community different from a community of practice?
Unlike a community of practice which requires membership, an online community is accessible, both sites and information, and open to anyone online, thus creating a limitless number of participants. Online communities are more internet based, resulting in a wide geographical diversity of members. However, in a community of practice, it is mostly physical interactions and meetings.
Benefits and Limitations: Below is an outline of how online communities and communities of practice have benefits as well as limitations in regards to businesses.
Community of Practice:
- Communication and knowledge sharing
- Wide range of expertise
- Easy to gain information from different perspectives
- Conflict with hierarchy orders
- Time consuming
- Tendency to keep or share information
- Cheap marketing
- Easy to gain and retain customers
- Form relationships/ partnerships
- Information Vulnerability
- Business credibility