The Definition of “Community”

We overcomplicate the definition of community.

It’s just a group of people.

All groups have a shared identity, or they wouldn’t be a group. Some groups have a shared identity that is meaningful to its members, some less so.

There is always a shared identity if you get broad enough. Ultimately we’re all human and share that identity.

As the identity gets more specific, it will include less people and will probably be more meaningful to those who share it.

Consider these groups:

People who ride bikes.
People who ride racing bikes.
People who ride racing bikes and compete.
People who ride racing bikes and compete in Austin, Texas.
People who ride racing bikes and compete in Austin, Texas and have kids.

All of these are shared identities. All of these are communities. As the identity gets more specific, it becomes more relevant and potentially more meaningful to its members.

People often criticize companies for calling their customers a community. The question isn’t whether or not their customers are a community. They are. The question is whether or not the shared identity is meaningful to them.

For example, is there an Airbnb community? Yes. Is it meaningful? Depends how deep you go. Consider these identities:

A poorly drawn visualization of levels of identity within the Airbnb community.
  1. I cofounded Airbnb
  2. I work at Airbnb
  3. I’m a Super Host on Airbnb
  4. I’m a host on Airbnb
  5. I’m a guest on Airbnb
  6. I‘m registered on Airbnb
  7. I’m aware of Airbnb

All of them are part of the “Airbnb community”. Identities 1–3 are likely to feel a sense of belonging and commitment deep enough to make it a meaningful community in their lives. 4 and 5 probably feel it a little bit. 6 and 7, not so much.

It’s ok that identities 6 and 7 don’t find it meaningful. No community is meaningful to everyone.

So how do you know if a community is meaningful to someone?

Now you’re asking the right question.