Online communities and communities of practice. They sound pretty similar, don’t they? Well, they might sound alike but they do indeed have some differences.
The main difference between online communities and communities of practice is the purpose that these communities serve. Although online communities are communities of people who communicate online via social networking, forums, chat rooms, email lists, etc., the emphasis of online communities is on connection with others, and these online communities usually have certain purposes such as transaction, interests, fantasy, or relationships,. Conversely, communities of practice our online communities or off-line communities of people who come together with the purpose of learning and developing skills or knowledge.
With my brief explanation, they might still sound quite similar, but if I was going to break it down and make it super simple, I could say that online communities are recreational, whereas communities of practice are functional and practical.
Because of this difference, communities of practice have a more hands-on role in business strategies for the use of social media networking.
The characteristics of communities of practice involve:
- The domain
- The community
- The practice
Let me elaborate on those characteristics.
A community of practice has an identity defined by a commonly shared domain of interest. This implies there is a commitment to the domain which distinguishes members from other people through shared competence.
The ‘community’ of the CoP participate in activities and discuss things in order to aid each other and share knowledge. There is genuine care about the relationships built between one another, this is partly what distinguishes the community of practice from an online community that may just have some key things in common.
And lastly, the practice of a community of practice entails that they do not merely share an interest but in fact they share a practice in which they share their knowledge and skills on how to better their practice, whether they are aware that this is what they are doing or not.
Communities of practice are very important to business strategy since the magnitude of usefulness to organisations was discovered. CoPs are crucial for knowledge sharing and best practice within organisations and can not only enhance knowledge networks, but can also unify employees across different areas of work within a business. CoPs are valid for business looking to improve their outcomes in the long-term, as CoPs do not bring in quick, measurable investment returns, but instead provides organisational efficiency.
There are benefits and limitations to communities of practice when utilised by businesses.
Limitations when trying to utilise CoPs for business can include the large amount of time used, cultural barriers and difference in business ethics, and geographical limitations if members of the CoP are working internationally.
Benefits for implementing CoPs for business include cost efficiency, open channels for sharing knowledge, and increased organisational efficiency.
So there we go. Who knew that there could be two different kinds of online communities that sound so similar, yet serve two very different purposes? Not me, apparently. But at least now I do!