Community purposes vary as widely as the people who comprise a community. You know that participants on Twitter Moms are not the same people as those hanging out on Dad Labs community, instinctively. But what are some of the factors that differentiate communities?
Types of communities
As I learn more about open source communities, support communities, and documentation communities, I’m finding that people who talk about community in the enterprise use categories for the types of communities that exist: business to business is B2B, business to consumer is B2C, and customer to customer (or consumer) is C2C. Besides the audience and membership targets, what are some other factors that differentiate these communities from each other?
Does 90-9-1 hold true for B2B communities? Apparently, no. The participation inequality ratios are even more, well, inequal in a B2B community. Here are notes from a Twitter chat on the socialtext.com site, as recorded by Shara Karasic @sharakarasic. “Mike Rowland doubts the community manager’s myth of 90-9-1 participation ratio. In B2B space, blog metrics have a ratio closer to 99-.9-.1. In support communities where people can ask a quick question, the 9% expands.”
I also heard an interview with Gartner’s Adam Sarner where he addresses the question, “What if it’s drill bits, not “cool,” products that generate lots of buzz and conversation between consumers?” I’ve often wondered as a technical writer, knowing that not many of us work on products that would generate “fan” feelings, whether “fandom” indicates whether its worthwhile to pursue community or social interaction techniques. Apparently, focused communities can generate just as much excitement and connections, whether it’s drill bits or accounting tools.
Trip-ups for communities in categories
I think one basic flaw in categorizing communities is that talking about who talks to whom makes you think of community like it’s a publishing channel, which is not a good analogy. Whether you’re publishing reviews or complaints or questions or answers, the type of community matters a lot because of the changes in audience and author. But, not all the work of a community has to do with content production, and a community is not a “channel.” Connections, building trust, communication, and maintenance of all of the system are other tasks within a community.
In summary, I appreciate the desire to strictly focus a community. I’m learning more about how those communities operate, and it looks like lots of good people are doing the same. Feel free to point to more research in the comments, and I’ll continue to share my findings.