Two types of online communities exist: communities of interest and communities of practice.

A community of interest may be people who love dogs, sailboats, or even motorcycles. It’s often a hobby-type of environment where people share similar interests or passions. You can even get granular when it comes to communities of interest. For example, you can find hundreds of communities for Chevrolet Corvette owners including one for 1961 Corvette owners, another for 1959 Corvette owners, and one for custom Corvette owners.

Communities of interest are great places for marketing and selling as long as the focus is on adding value to the conversations. The fact that communities of interest are focused on one single interest or passion provides you with a powerful channel for giving customers and prospects what they would be interested in rather than information about something they don’t want.

A community of practice may be all the salespeople in a company or industry, or a group of cardiologists. It’s a professional type of community where members share their ideas and best practices.

In your organization, you can set up electronic communities of practice in order to give people a timesaving vehicle for sharing insights and ideas. You could have a community for your salespeople, engineers, HR, marketing, IT programmers, etc. You could even expand the community to gain a greater level of sharing. For example, what if you established a community of practice for all the CEOs in your industry? Now you’re going outside the organization and aligning the practice. You could even create one for all CIOs of Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 companies. The possibilities are endless and they open up channels for knowledge sharing as well as enhanced collaboration, dialog, and innovation.

So what makes an e-community successful? Three things:

  1. A common purpose. Everyone in the community needs to be aligned on one clear goal or purpose.
  2. A focus on knowledge sharing. Knowledge hoarding doesn’t work with e-communities of interest or e-communities of practice. It’s about opening up to others and sharing your best ideas.
  3. Shared values and shared value. Everyone needs to know the answer to two questions: “What’s our value here?” and “What values are governing the community?” A little value statement always helps that community to thrive.

Interestingly, e-communities thrive in the same way that traditional communities did in history, where we had smaller towns and groupings of people. Those communities thrived for the same reasons. They had a common purpose, a focus on sharing, and shared values.

By integrating both types of e-communities (interest and practice) into your organization, you’ll have two powerful tools for reaching customers, sharing knowledge, and ultimately driving growth.