Social networks are held together by pre-established interpersonal relationships such as friendship, family, colleagues etc and people generally join a social networking site to maintain / strengthen old relationships and build new ones. Examples of social networks include Facebook,MySpace and Linked In.
Online communities on the other hand are often formed from people that have no relationship to each other at all but are instead brought together by a shared interest – a hobby / common goal / preference for a similar lifestyle / geographical location. A good example is flickr – a community of photography enthusiasts. People are brought together from all different walks of life because they share a common interest and they join the online community because they benefit from being a part of it in some way – they care about a common cause, they learn useful information from it, they can talk to people that share the same interest in their hobby.
So what does makes an effective online community?
The very nature of online communities, is that they reach out to people with specific interests, which means that there is no magic formula – they use different approaches to inspire people to get involved, depending on what it is that the community stands for and what they’re trying to achieve. We’ve picked three very different examples that we’re fond of and have distilled what they are doing and how they’ve got it right.