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What distinguishes social networks from online communities?

People are increasingly using the internet as their main method of communication, both personally and professionally. More and more companies are focusing on creating online communities where consumers may interact with them and one another.

According to a 2020 survey, 88% of community builders and experts think that community is important to the success of brands. Your internal team's productivity can rise by up to 25% thanks to the improved internal and external communication provided by an established brand group.

Due to our innate desire to be accepted and a part of a group, people on the Internet frequently form groups based on their interests. Communities frequently develop naturally as a result of the ease with which people can now find other people who share their interests thanks to online communication.

It's important to keep in mind that different platforms can affect how people connect while creating a network of supporters. You must decide which option best fits your use case.

Most businesses choose to host their customers on a specific community platform or a social networking website. Despite having a similar concept, these two solutions offer very different user experiences and pursue different objectives, which may appeal to one group of users but not the other.

What are online communities and social networks?

Let's create a foundational understanding of social networks and independent communities before we compare the characteristics that set them apart from one another.

Social networks, also known as social media, are visual representations of a person's network. People can connect with friends and family on established social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

More specialised social networks, like Instagram for visual material and LinkedIn for professional profiles, are emerging as these platforms develop.

On the other hand, online communities are frequently not housed on conventional social media platforms. Instead, they are separate groups of individuals with similar interests. Think of them as clubs: people from the community are drawn to a club to partake in an activity and to join in discussions about that issue.

Independent communities are frequently found on stand-alone applications or websites if they are not on a specialised community platform like Reddit or Discord.

Specific characteristics that distinguish social networks and online communities

Online communities and social networks are sometimes confused because of their many similarities. However, the differences will enable you to select the option that is most appropriate for your brand. The two are significantly different in four crucial areas. Let's look at this:


The degree to which users can link to other platforms, communities, or groups is referred to as interconnectedness. One can connect with members of different groups more easily the more linked a platform is.

Online community: People who are part of an online community have common interests. They are created for a variety of purposes, including as keeping each other informed about current events, establishing connections with like-minded individuals, or even for pure amusement.

According to the original design, most online communities are not built to be easily expanded to additional groups and themes. Instead, they are often small and made up of devoted users who engage in more in-depth and technical discussion than the general public.

Social network: The goal of social networks is to link as many people as they can. In contrast to established topic communities, this enables people who are just beginning to show interest in a topic to contribute and join in surface-level discussion far more simply.

A larger audience and fewer in-depth debates are the downsides of a wider reach, which may turn away the more devoted and knowledgeable participants.

Group identity

The group we identify with most strongly affects both how we see the world and how we believe the world sees us. This is referred to as group identification, and the online social network we are a part of affects how we communicate with both members of those groups and those who are not.

Online community: You need to have a specific level of subject expertise to join an online community and naturally participate in debate. There is frequently a stronger connection to the group's identity as a result of this exclusivity.

A more evident culture and consensus that differs from group to group is frequently found in online groups. Members' ties to one another are also greater than they are in social networks.

Social network: Members of a social network community often have more distant ties with one another as a result of things like the larger member base and the absence of one-on-one communication.

This isn't always a bad thing because people may dip their toes into many different organisations at once thanks to the "come and go" nature of these networks.

The dialogues on social networking sites are significantly more diversified than those in many online forums since social network users are also more likely to come from various backgrounds.

Types of relationships

Due of the way people are pulled to the community, the platforms used affect how online relationships are created.

Online community: Rather than being based on in-person contacts, relationships in online communities are typically built on shared interests. You might detect a sense of distancing in how individuals interact with one another, depending on the community.

A community's administrators have a lot of control over how the group's discussions are conducted. On the basis of how they would like people to interact with one another, they can also direct and shape cultures.

Online community administrators and other users should work together to moderate discussions in order to preserve an open and safe environment. The objective is to maintain pleasant and courteous user behaviour while allowing talks to flow freely. Overzealous moderation stifles discussion and degrades the user experience as a whole.

Social network: On social media platforms, relationships often develop between people who are already acquainted in real life. The great majority of people on a random person's friends list are probably their friends and family.

The majority of discussions on the platforms will likely centre on less interesting subjects like employment, relationships, travel, or extracurricular activities.

On these sites, there are more technical discussions, but they frequently don't start unless someone initiates them. Additionally, the responses are frequently less thorough than those for a comparable question in a specialised forum.

Content formats

Similar to different sorts of relationships, the content shared on various social media platforms serves a variety of audiences.

Online community: Online community members typically have a set of expectations for everything posted on the site because they are aware of why they are there. There may even be a set of public rules outlining what is appropriate.

This increased barrier to admission has the advantage of making posted content of higher quality and usually focusing on a subject that members are interested in. One drawback is that there is less content available as a result of the higher standards for authors.

With very little variation from what is anticipated, the conversation will likewise mostly centre on the group's primary focus.

Social network: Platforms for social media are made for quick, digestible material that appeals to a broad audience. Since it aims to reach as many people as possible without overly segmenting the target base, surface-level content about a particular subject is more likely to be found.

Another thing you'll observe is the wide variety of content uploaded on social networks. On these platforms, user-generated content predominates because it's relatively simple to develop and post.

Allow users to decide what's best for your neighbourhood

You must ultimately consider your options to determine which is the greatest fit for your project. To better understand your target audience and their demands, conduct market research. This stage is essential for the long-term success of your project since it enables you to identify the target audience for your social platform.

The underlying benefit of these platforms is a sincere feeling of welcome and connection between individuals. Any extra features you choose to include in your community should aid users in creating these connections with one another and with your company.

Making a box to put people in is not the only objective. Always keep in mind that you're creating a community: a gathering place for like-minded people to exchange ideas and take part in discussions they can't have elsewhere.

Mario Bello


OCTOBER 6, 2022

Find out how you can create an engaging online community and protect your members from online abuse by clicking here


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