Lately, I have been having a lot of conversations with people about “community”. Like many words or concepts in today’s social marketing environment, community means different things to different people and organizations. I discovered this when I was having detailed conversations with people about community strategy only to discover that each party had a different meaning of community than normally used by ComBlu. We had gone down a path together but weren’t heading in the same direction.

I also noticed this during WOMMA’s recent annual Summit. Many sessions had community in the title or description, but the sessions had nothing to do with “my” definition of community.

Here are the main definitions of community currently in common parlance.

Community = lifestyle segment. This is the broadest definition of community and provides insights into the shared passions and interests that coalesces the bond between segments or groups. For example, a WOMMA Summit session from Green Mountain Coffee talked about their community of coffee drinkers. The bond that defined this community, however, was a love of a great coffee and the fair trade nature of Green Mountain’s sourcing. Another session shared research that extrapolated data from 8000 consumer surveys about their communities of interest. The thesis was that consumers are not simply connected by devices and technology, but by shared passions. The survey results were overlaid with population data and started to define communities by size so that marketers could market to specific communities at scale.

Community = network of influencers. This definition of community is broadly used by organizations wanting to tap into the networks of people with a significant social graph who also have a lifestyle or professional connection to the company’s customers or consumers. For example, fashionistas who love to photograph street fashion or to create their own look-books may be a perfect influencer community for a telecommunications firm or a device manufacturer. One of the most common communities by this definition is “mommy communities”. Often overlooked is the community of experts and influencers who would comprise a thought leadership community in a B2B category.

Community = network of friends or colleagues. This is the Facebook or LinkedIn approach to community. People self-select who is in their network or personal/professional networks or communities. Brands use various tools to reach people in their natural habitat and push content to them where they socialize online most often (e.g. sponsored posts or tweets). They also engage through questions or conversations via comments on forums.


Community = domained destination. Branded communities unite companies and their advocates and customers. This type of community got its start as the logical evolution of tech user groups and online message boards. They are now an accepted node of the customer support ecosystem of a variety of companies and industries. Domained communities typically fall into three pillars of engagement; feedback, advocacy and support. Feedback Communities focus on crowdsourcing innovation, product testing and customer feedback about a variety of topics. Advocacy communities stimulate word-of-mouth about a product or brand by providing assets for community members to share or by sponsoring community-only product previews or events that also lead to sharing and conversation. These communities are also intended to help people better learn about a topic of interest from others like themselves. The session about at WOMMA Summit was one of the only ones that focused on domained communities. is an example of a domained community whose mission is to make the home cook better. The session highlighted many aspects of feedback, advocacy and support within a single community.

All of these uses of the term “community” are legitimate and have a place in the brand conversation. Collectively, they represent a broader definition of community and ultimately a community and engagement ecosystem that provides multiple touch points and opportunities to interact, learn and collaborate.

How else do you use the word community?

Cheryl Treleaven

Cheryl Treleaven


Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.