Online communities and co-creation

An online community, also called an internet community, is a virtual community whose members interact with each other primarily via the Internet. For many, online communities may feel like home, consisting of a “family of invisible friends“. Those who wish to be a part of an online community usually have to become a member via a specific site and necessarily need an internet connection.

An online community can act as an information system where members can post, comment on discussions, give advice or collaborate. Commonly, people communicate through social networking sites, chat rooms, forums, e-mail lists and discussion boards. People may also join online communities through video games, blogs and virtual worlds.

4 types of online communities and the top benefits of each

In The Enterprise Guide to Online Communities, Tyler Douglas, chief sales and marketing officer at Vision Critical, identifies four different types of communities:

  1. Social communities include public social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Brands use social communities mostly for marketing purposes, broadcasting information, building brand awareness and reaching greater audiences for campaigns and messaging. Social communities are useful for tracking what your competitors are up to and identifying broad consumer trends. Ninety-three percent of large companies use Facebook, according to a 2015 Social Media Examiner report.
  2. Support communities enable members to offer product tips to other customers, helping companies reduce customer support costs. Compared to social communities, this category provides a more structured way of gathering innovative ideas because support communities allow brands to track product- and service-related conversations. According to a 2015 Forrester Research report, 81 percent of companies have a support community of some kind.
  3. Advocate communities allow brands to mobilize their most passionate, loyal customers. Also known as advocate marketing software, this community type often rewards members for writing a testimonial, posting about the company on social media and doing other similar activities. According to Laura Ramos, principal analyst at Forrester Research, branded customer communities of this type can help boost positive word of mouth.
  4. Insight communities are made up of carefully selected groups of customers who maintain a long-term relationship with brands. These communities allow companies to gather continuous, high-quality feedback from engaged stakeholders like customers, partners or employees. Already a mainstream market research tool, this category is quickly finding its way in marketing, customer experience and innovation.


Co-creation is a management initiative, or form of economic strategy, that brings different parties together (for instance, a company and a group of customers), in order to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome. Co-creation brings a blend of ideas from direct customers or viewers (who are not the direct users of the product) which in turn creates new ideas to the organization.

Co-created value arises in the form of personalized, unique experiences for the customer (value-in-use) and ongoing revenue, learning and enhanced market performance drivers for the firm (loyalty, relationships, customer word of mouth). Value is co-created with customers if and when a customer is able to personalize his or her experience using a firm’s product-service proposition – in the lifetime of its use – to a level that is best suited to get his or her job(s) or tasks done and which allows the firm to derive greater value from its product-service investment in the form of new knowledge, higher revenues/profitability and/or superior brand value/loyalty.

The process of Co-creation

The process of co-creation essentially involves 2 core steps:

  • Contribution: Submission of contributions by the public to the firm
  • Selection: Selection of the most promising and appealing contributions/submissions

Types of Co-creation

Depending on the degree of control exercised by the firm/public over the contribution and selection activities, co-creation may be broadly classified into 4 categories:

  • Tinkering: Public exercises control over the contribution activity while the firm exercises control over the selection activity
  • Submitting: Firm exercises complete control over both the activities
  • Co-designing: Firm exercises control over the contribution activity while the public exercises control over the selection activity
  • Collaborating: Public exercises complete control over both the activities

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