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Defining Community

by Rachel Happe, Co-founder of The Community Roundtable

The challenge with the word “community” is people mean a lot of different things when they say it, but there are few definitions. Joshua Paul at Socious took a crack at this issue and provided some great suggestions on how to differentiate between several meanings of the word, highlighting the preposition that comes before it. Is it ‘The community’, ‘our community’ or ‘a community’?

At The Community Roundtable, we struggled for a long time to find a definition that worked for the type of communities our clients work with and came up with this:

Community: A group of people with unique shared values, behaviors and artifacts

There are a few different reasons the word community holds different meanings in different contexts:

  1. There are a lot of different types of communities. Small ones, big ones. Communities focused on hobbies, professions, geographies, problems, products, schools, churches… and almost any other thing you can imagine.
  2. There are a few different definitions of community and now that geographical barriers are removed online, those definitions get even more murky.
  3. Communities can be nested – a small community can sit in a larger community that resides on a network.

In the organizational context that we focus on at The Community Roundtable, we think about communities based on what the organization is trying to accomplish. The more complex the goal, the more dense and robust the community needs to be. Said another way, the more complex the goal the higher the trust within the community needs to be.


The trust required for things like collaboration, negotiation and compromise is likely to result in a smaller and very often private community. If, on the other hand, the business goal is to inform or support expertise discovery that doesn’t typically require a high degree of trust and it needs the widest possible network to be successful so it is best executed through the broadest network to which the organization has access.

There are a lot of people who want to ‘own’ the community term, but in reality the meaning is very contextual, so first be clear about your context and it will help you figure out what you mean when you use the word.


The Community Roundtable is committed to advancing the business of community. We are dedicated to the success of community and social business leaders and offer a range of information and training services. We facilitate TheCR Network – a trusted environment in which to discuss and share daily challenges and triumphs with proven leaders.  Our weekly programming, access to experts, curated content, and vibrant discussions make TheCR Network the network of the smartest social business leaders.  Join today.


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