The Nature of Online Communities

Swallow Moon Carnarvon 07 - Robin Alasdair FrederickBlog post by Colin Hung

On Wednesday February 25th 2015 in Toronto, #hcldr is teaming up with 2 other online communities – Healthcare Social Media Canada (#hcsmca) and Evening Rounds (#eRounds) – for a healthcare community meetup (#hccmty). More details can be found here:

For those of you not in Toronto who would like to participate the event will be LIVESTREAMED. You can watch right here on the #hcldr blog site. Just click the “Events” menu option (above) and you can see us live on YouTube. Everything starts at 6:30pm Eastern on Wednesday February 25th.

That night, Colleen Young (online community strategist and founder of #hcsmca), Robyn Sussel (Principal and Chief Strategist of Signals, a branding and communications practice that focuses on helping healthcare organizations through initiatives like #eRounds), Blair Ryan (CEO and co-founder of The Rounds, a professional network for physicians) and yours truly will be part of a panel. The topic of discussion is online communities.

In preparation for this event #hcsmca has published several blog posts to “get your thinking”:

Since the #hcldr weekly chat is the day before the #hccmty event, I thought I would try to crowdsource some thoughts and ideas on the nature of online communities to share with the live audience.

What makes an online community? Is it as simple as Cambridge Dictionary defines it:

A group of people who use a particular internet service or belong to a particular group on the internet

…or is a community something more?

Personally, I believe a community exists whenever 3 or more people get together to discuss and share information that is of common interest. Those interests can be anything from coffee to carbon emissions and the medium in which the people meet can be virtual or in-person. What do you think? Does medium matter? Do the activities (or lack thereof) of the community members matter?

What about communities that are affiliated with healthcare IT vendors, pharma companies or device manufacturers? As a marketer, I sometimes get asked by colleagues at other companies for an opinion on whether or not it is advisable for them to start their own community or whether they should just participate in existing ones. To me this is the wrong question to be asking.

First, starting your own community vs participating in existing ones shouldn’t be an either-or. You can and should do both. Second, I think you need to be very clear on WHAT your organization would like to accomplish before setting your sites on building a community. A community may not, in fact, be the best channel.

Consider the #BellLetsTalk campaign. Every year Bell Canada encourages people to tweet, text and post using that hashtag on one particular day. For every #BellLetsTalk hashtag, Bell donates $0.05 towards Mental Health programs. In the months leading up to the day-long event, Bell airs commercials and posts articles about the stigma associated with mental health issues.

There is no doubt that #BellLetsTalk is phenomenally successful. Yet it is not an online community. It is an event. An event that brings together a worldwide audience for one day and puts the spotlight on an important healthcare issue. To me this is a perfect example of how you don’t need to create a community in order to have success online or through social media.

Join us Tuesday February 24th at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) for the weekly #hcldr tweetchat where we will be discussing the following questions:

  • T1 What do you believe are the necessary ingredients for a successful online community?
  • T2 Should healthcare/pharma companies create their own communities or just participate in existing ones?
  • T3 What are other forms of social media success (not including creating an online community)?
  • T4 What can a Twitter community evolve into? What is a next logical step?

Then on Wednesday February 25th at 6:30pm Eastern, join us at the #hccmty meetup – either via the livestream or in-person – and tweet using the #hccmty to join the conversation!


“Community Management That Works: How to Build and Sustain a Thriving Online Health Community”, Colleen Young, Journal of Medical Internet Research, November 6 2013,, accessed February 21 2015

“Healthcare Social Networks: New Choices for Doctors, Patients”, Alison Diana, Information Week, April 29 2014,, accessed February 21 2015

“Online communities and social communities: a primer”, i-scoop, May 2014,, accessed February 21 2015

“The Science Behind Using Online Communities To Change Behavior”, Sean Young, TechCrunch, September 28 2013,, accessed February 21 2015

“12 Top Community Managers Share Their Tips for Better Engagement”, Lauren Drell, Mashable, March 15 2012,, accessed February 21 2015

“6 Qualities of Great Online Communities”, Vala Afshar, Huffington Post, August 13 2014,, accessed February 21 2015

“Online Communities and Support”, American Cancer Society,, accessed February 21 2015

“What Matters to Online Communities? Breaking Free Of The Technology Trap”, Tom Watson, Forbes, November 19 2014,, accessed February 21 2015

“Bell Let’s Talk breaks records, raises more than $6M for mental health”, CTV News, January 29 2015,, accessed February 21 2015

Image Credit

Swallow Moon Carnarvon 07 – Robin Alasdair Frederick 


One comment

  1. […] The Nature of Online Communities – #HCLDR (Healthcare Leadership) Blog […]

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