Understanding the Online Community's Ecosystem

Sean Bryant

Online Community
Understanding the inner workings of an online community is important for various reasons. When it comes to identifying where the potential community exists (industry, hobbies, events, recreation), it can be easier to identify who the user is and how as a whole the community can develop based around it's parameters. It's very interesting to think about the term "ecosystem" and how reflective it is to an online community.

Scientifically an ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water, mineral soil... internet?), interacting as a system. These biotic and abiotic components are regarded as linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. As ecosystems are defined by the network of interactions among organisms, and between organisms and their environment, they can be of any size but usually encompass specific, limited spaces ...

~ MediaWiki

Now take that definition and apply it to "Buzzing Communities" Author, Richard Millington's description of understanding an online community's ecosystem.

Your community lives within an ecosystem. This ecosystem is the broader topic, industry, area, field, group which encompasses the community. Communities about karate live within the martial arts ecosystem. Communities about World of Warcraft, live within the gaming ecosystem.

The ecosystem includes:

  • Brands/Companies. Brands/Companies that operate in this sector. Notably those that sell to individuals within the sector.
  • Media The major media publications in this sector.
  • Groups/communities. Other groups and communities within that sector.
  • Influencers. The influencers who help shape and create the issues within the sector.
  • Relationships. Who likes/doesn’t like who? What are the relationships between the organizations and individuals listed above?
  • Issues. The most important one, what are the major issues in the sector? What are people talking about?

React and Participate In the Ecosystem

The ecosystem has a significant impact upon the community. It provides both inspiration for material in the community and opportunities to foster a closer sense of community.

The ecosystem provides inspiration for content, discussion topics, activities and events. You can set up interviews with key influencers, ask for sample/review products for members from brands, host polls on major issues in the sector, discuss media articles in the community etc…

In the early stages of the community life cycle, the community should be highly reactive to its ecosystem. It should aim to solicit opinions from members about issues in the broader ecosystem and summarize them into a community consensus. This creates a unique identity for the community within its ecosystem. It aims to forge a sense of community amongst individuals based upon common thoughts and feelings.

The Latter Stages of the Community Life Cycle (Influencing)

In the latter stages of the community life cycle, the community should become very influential within its ecosystem. This means ensuring the individuals, issues, groups, media within the community become influential individuals, issues, groups and media within the ecosystem.

This means the community manager must be proactive in their efforts for example:

  1. Build relationships with the groups, influencers, companies in the ecosystem and bring your top members into those relationships.
  2. Promote the major issues in your community to the major media channels.
  3. Initiate events/activities and invite the broader ecosystem to participate (this is by far the easiest and most effective means of influencing the ecosystem – especially with offline events).
  4. Ensure the major media channels rely upon your community for news about your sector (send them regular updates about issues they should notice).
  5. Issue regular statements on behalf of the community which summarize feelings on topical issues (look to welfare/special interest groups for inspiration on this). These can range from responses to topical issues to highlighting under-reported or unnoticed issues within the community.
  6. Campaign on issues which matter to the community.

The more influential your community becomes, the stronger sense of identity members will feel. They will be more active and feel a greater sense of community with other members. More people will join the community to achieve a sense of ownership with the community’s success and ability to impact it’s environment.


For more information on how to build a successful and active online community and to learn more about Richard Millington, founder of FeverBee community management course - click here.