What does “community” even mean? A definition attempt & conversation starter (2023)

What does “community” even mean? A definition attempt & conversation starter (1)

While shopping for groceries a few weeks ago, I picked up a pack of salad and flipped it around to learn about its origin. Immediately something caught my attention: my salad was inviting me to join its “Facebook community”.

If even my salad has / is a community, what does “community” even mean?!

As someone who works with communities on a daily basis and has studied hundreds of them over the last couple of years, I sense a lot of confusion. The term is used as a catch-all phrase for anything that has to do with a collection of human beings, from the very tangible to the very abstract.

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I see 2 problems:

1) Most “communities” are not real communities

I get the sense that the term “community” is really hot in the advertising/marketing/sales/startup/event space, because it alludes to more than just a transactional customer-company relationship. But most of the “communities” I come across, are in my opinion not actual communities. I hear the word being used, when really the authors mean a series of monthly events, a Facebook page, a group of customers that has loyalty towards a specific brand, a yearly conference, all customers of an e-commerce brand, social media followers, everyone who uses Twitter, people who happen to vote the same way, etc.

2) The dictionary definition is vague and outdated

Here is how the dictionary defines “community”:

What does “community” even mean? A definition attempt & conversation starter (2)

I think the traditional definition of community is outdated. It is mostly based on shared location: “a group of people living in the same place”. That’s what community used to be, historically. But for many of us, our village or neighborhood isn’t anymore our key definer of identity or fellowship. As this article in the Atlantic points out beautifully, we have shifted from, traditionally, being born into a community to, now, choosing our own communities and expressing our identities through them.

I think the traditional definition is missing a key piece. “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals”: this part comes closer to modern forms of communities. Everyone in it has something in common. However, I think it’s too broad and vague. I have so, so many attitudes, interests and goals that I share with other people. But that doesn’t mean yet that I’ll feel a sense of community with them. For that, it needs relationships. More on this piece below.

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With the traditional definition being somewhat outdated and the term being used broadly by marketers, brands, entrepreneurs, event organizers, social media managers etc. in so many ways, I think we are missing out on the true power that “real” communities can have.

We need to update what “community” means in today’s world. And maybe we’ll have to find ways to differentiate between different kinds of communities. As there is no singular figure of authority in this space, I imagine this will best happen as a series of conversations among community builders. To kick off this conversation, I offer an attempt at defining “community”:

What does “community” even mean? A definition attempt & conversation starter (3)

Community = a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together.

Let’s take that apart:

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  • “A group of people”: in the end of the day, a community always exists of humans. That seems obvious at first, but I see a lot of use of the word that is dehumanized and abstract: “the marketing community”, “the international community”, “the St. Clarke’s Streets community”, the “AirBnB community”. In the end, we are talking about real humans with real lives, real stories, real hopes, real dreams.
  • “that care about each other”: this is in my opinion the absolute core of a community. The individuals in a group are not just random strangers, they have relationships with each other. They give a shit about each other. They care more about the people in this group than about the average person they meet on the street. This is where the magic of a community happens. When people care about each other, they develop trust. And trust unlocks collaboration, sharing, support, hope, safety and much more. While most organizations in the world optimize their performance towards external goals, communities optimize for trust.
  • “feel they belong”: communities address one of the most fundamental human needs: we want to be loved, we don’t want to be lonely and we want to know that we belong somewhere. Real communities give us this sense of home, this sense of family, this sense of “these are my peers”. This is my tribe, this is where I belong. In this group, I am being accepted for who I really am.
  • “together”: a community gives people a sense of shared identity. We are together. The sum is bigger than the individual parts. This shared identity matters, because it takes the group beyond individual, 1:1 relationships. It turns strangers into trusted peers through a proxy effect: even though I don’t know you, I trust you more than the average person because we are part of the same community, we share the same identity. Many of us express our interests, ambitions and goals through the people we spend time with — communities become part of our identity.

I see a lot of community definitions that are a version of the following:

A community = a group of people that care about the same goal.

In my personal opinion, this definition does not qualify as a community, unless these people have trusted relationships with each other. Why? Because there are so many things in the world where people come together with a shared goal / purpose / attitudes / interests: project teams, companies, political movements, etc. They are groups of people that care about the same goal, but they are not communities.

I argue we need a way to differentiate those goal driven channels from groups that are heavily relationship based aka communities.

Why does this matter? It matters, because ultimately project teams, companies and political movements optimize for an external output (aka whatever their goal is). But communities, in my opinion, optimize for something else: the relationship and trust among themselves. I think the two entities have very different impact in the world.

Communities, of course, can still have shared goals as well. One way to look at that is to differentiate between the internal purpose of a community (we take care of each other) and the external purpose (we have a collective goal). I believe that every community needs to have an internal purpose first to truly function as a community. Without trust and relationships, it becomes a project, an initiative, a movement. But maybe communities with internal purpose are powerful channels to have external purpose?

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I’d love for this to be a conversation starter and would LOVE to hear what “community” means to you. If you leave comments or message me, I’ll make sure to collect all the answers and report back. Thank you!

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Why is it important to understand the meaning of community? ›

Community is an important concept for social change because it helps us to see that social change requires a change in some of the most important stories we tell ourselves. Social change requires that we rewrite our communal narratives. Social change is change in community.

How does one describe a community? ›

A community is a group of people who share something in common. You can define a community by the shared attributes of the people in it and/or by the strength of the connections among them. You need a bunch of people who are alike in some way, who feel some sense of belonging or interpersonal connection.

What is community conversation? ›

What is a community conversation? Community conversations are structured, small group discussions with members of a community, designed to better understand their thoughts and views on particular topics.

What is community and examples? ›

A community is a social unit (a group of living things) with commonality such as place, norms, religion, values, customs, or identity. Communities may share a sense of place situated in a given geographical area (e.g. a country, village, town, or neighbourhood) or in virtual space through communication platforms.

What is community in simple words? ›

A community is a social group whose members have something in common, such as a shared government, geographic location, culture, or heritage. Community can also refer to the physical location where such a group lives.

Can you tell me the meaning of community? ›

Meaning of community in English. the people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group, or nationality: He's well known in the local community.

What community means to me answer? ›

Voice 1: “I'd say community to me is just a group of people who live and work together in a way that benefits everybody equally.” Voice 2: “I believe community is the people and cultures just coming together. Unity.” Voice 3: “To me, community is people interacting with each other peacefully in the same environment.”

What are 3 examples of a community? ›

But the word community may not be as straightforward as you think.
Examples of these types of communities may include the following:
  • Schools.
  • Workplaces.
  • Neighborhood associations.
  • Religious centers.
Aug 15, 2019

What does community mean in everyday life? ›

A community can be anything from a physical place where geographically people connect, or via a virtual space such as social media groups or private community platforms. Communities bring like-minded people together with similar characteristics and common interests.

How do you usually start a conversation in community? ›

Examples of powerful questions
  1. What makes (name of our place) a great place to live, work and play in?
  2. What do we love about this place e.g. about its history, culture, physical/natural environment, people, facilities, etc?
  3. What's happening?
  4. What matters to people?
  5. What is working well?

What are the 4 types of community? ›

Different Types Of Communities
  • Interest. Communities of people who share the same interest or passion.
  • Action. Communities of people trying to bring about change.
  • Place. Communities of people brought together by geographic boundaries.
  • Practice. ...
  • Circumstance.
Nov 23, 2010

What are the five examples of community? ›

Examples include business, hobby, ethnic, religious, and sporting communities.

What is a good example of community? ›

A community is a place where you might run into people you know or meet new people. For example, a neighborhood with a play street that encourages neighbors to meet and enjoy recreation.

What words best describe community? ›

Synonyms of community
  • town.
  • neighborhood.
  • city.
  • village.
  • commune.
  • society.
  • residents.
  • public.

What does community mean to you in one word? ›

One definition of community is simply a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. This is what we most commonly think of as a community -- people who live together in a neighborhood, work together at the same company, or go to school together.

What is the deep meaning of community? ›

Community is both a feeling and a set of relationships among people. People form and maintain communities to meet common needs. Members of a community have a sense of trust, belonging, safety, and caring for each other.

What is community in a sentence? ›

"We live a large community." "They grew up in a low-income community." "I love the diverse community of different cultures." "The local community is very close."

What does community even mean? ›

Community = a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together. Let's take that apart: “A group of people”: in the end of the day, a community always exists of humans.

What does community mean at work? ›

Community is a group, team, or organization where there is high trust, effective communication, equality, respect for differences, and high levels of cooperation.

What makes a good community? ›

A good community is a cohesive, safe, confident, prosperous and happy place. It is free of poverty and crime, providing a high quality of life for everyone that lives there. It values and promotes open, participative development processes underpinned by a continuous culture of trans-generational learning.

What are the 6 common types of communities? ›

  • Knowledge and learning communities. ...
  • Expert networks and advisory communities. ...
  • Event communities. ...
  • Membership communities. ...
  • Brand communities. ...
  • Communities of action. ...
  • Bringing people together.
Jun 29, 2021

What words can I use to start a conversation? ›

General Conversation Starters
  • What's the most interesting thing you've read lately?
  • What's a fact about you that's not on the internet?
  • Do you listen to any podcasts? ...
  • If you were in charge of the playlist, which song would you play next?
  • What's the best gift you've ever gotten?
Jul 18, 2022

How do you start a good conversation example? ›

Conversation Starters for Any Situation
  1. Tell me about you. ...
  2. Working on anything exciting lately? ...
  3. What's your story? ...
  4. What personal passion project are you working on right now? ...
  5. How do you know the host? ...
  6. What was the highlight of your day today? ...
  7. What was the highlight of your week?

What is a good sentence to start a conversation? ›

Imperatives and Sentences That Start Conversations

Talk about something. Tell me something interesting. Tell me your story. Tell me about yourself.

Why is it important to communicate with your community? ›

Communication helps communities to break out of the culture of silence and address the problems and issues of concern in their various communities. In community development, the project participants must build confidence and trust in themselves.

How do I connect with my community? ›

6 Ways to Meet New People in Your Community
  1. 1.Volunteer. Walk dogs at your local Humane Society, start a food drive, or connect with local social service organizations to deliver meals to the less fortunate. ...
  2. Visit a Farmers Market. ...
  3. Attend a Festival. ...
  4. Start a club. ...
  5. Exercise your civic muscle. ...
  6. Organize a PechaKucha Night.

What are the 5 Steps to a conversation? ›

The five stages of conversations
  1. INITIATION. As the first stage of conversation, initiation requires you to be open to interact and perhaps use small talk to help “break the ice”. ...
  2. PREVIEW. ...
  3. BUSINESS. ...
  4. FEEDBACK. ...

What are the 5 core elements of a community? ›

al., (2001), described five core elements of community: locus (or sense of place), sharing, joint action, social ties, and diversity.

What is the six 6 characteristics of a community? ›

He outlined six characteristics of discourse communities: 1) common public goals; 2) methods of communicating among members; 3) participatory communication methods; 4) genres that define the group; 5) a lexis; and 6) a standard of knowledge needed for membership (Swales, 471-473).

What are the 10 elements of community? ›

Following are the ten most common elements and what they cover.
  • Housing. The housing element sets standards for new and existing homes in the community, covering everything from size to style to color.
  • Design. ...
  • Transportation and transit. ...
  • Circulation. ...
  • Public buildings. ...
  • Public services. ...
  • Recreation. ...
  • Historical.

How many types of community are there? ›

It's cool to say there are 3 main types of communities which include urban, suburban and rural communities, however, such grouping could be referred to as being too condensed.

What are the four characteristics of a community? ›

4 Characteristics of a Healthy Community
  • Access to Education. Education is one of the essential foundations of any community. ...
  • Volunteerism and Philanthropy. When friends and neighbors help each other, the entire community benefits. ...
  • Personal and Professional Development. ...
  • Safety Net Services.

Why is it important to study and understand community relation? ›

The Importance of Community Relations

Community relations is considered a two-way benefit to its society. It positions businesses as civically and ethically responsible in their local communities, fosters goodwill among the locals–your potential customers, and helps the community thrive as a whole.

Why is it important to know what community you belong to? ›

“Belonging to a group or community we can identify with helps us develop a stronger sense of personal and collective identity. It can also give a boost to our self-esteem.”

How they can improve the lives of people in your community? ›

Ways to Help Your Community
  • Volunteer. Participating in volunteering activities is one of the most fulfilling ways to help the community. ...
  • Clean Up Your Neighborhood. By picking up trash and doing some yard work, you can make your area a more pleasant place to live. ...
  • Help Your Neighbors. ...
  • Donate Stuff. ...
  • Money Donations.

What is a good example of community service? ›

Organize or participate in local or national events like a community blood drive or the National Youth Service Day or Memorial Day. Help organizations paint run-down buildings or spruce up a neighborhood playground. Collect items such as old books, clothes, or toys and donate them to a library or charity you support.

What is community actions? ›

Community action is any activity that increases the understanding, engagement and empowerment of communities in the design and delivery of local services. Community action includes a broad range of activities and is sometimes described as 'social action' or 'community engagement'.

What makes a strong community? ›

A healthy local community is one where residents hold genuine, mutual respect for one another and have a strong commitment to where they live. It is based on the foundation of a willingness to help and support one another and a mutual interest in the local area, from bin collections to schools and transport.

What is the most important in a community? ›

A group of people is the most fundamental or essential characteristic or element of community.


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