Step 5.1: Online community structures and members

Step 5.1: Online community structures and members

Different communities have slightly different structures, but generally the same types of roles and members emerge over time.  Due to the lower levels of engagement and belonging it is harder to develop social media - such as Facebook Groups or Linkedin Groups to the point where community structure appears. Let's look at the structure of a typical brand based community found on an online forum, chatroom or community app. Have a quick look at the diagram I whipped up on community structure. 

community pyramid

Outside the community:

Customer Base

Customer base and followers - they both have the potential to become a part of your branded community. The more involved your customers are with the purchase and ongoing ownership, the easier it is to bring them into the community. A good content filled community will also be relevant and attract them to be  potential customers.


Those who have already had contact and chose to engage with the brand through subscribing to a newsletter, liking on social media, checking in etc. These are your easiest sources of online community members as they’ve taken the first step - you just have to persuade them that the next step is community membership.

Inside the community:

Community members

The rank and file members from newbies, to old hands. From lurkers to commenters these are the bulk of your members. They interact and visit, but not excessively. Care for them, appreciate them and nurture them.  


If you have paid subscriptions, you have a member that will typically be more engaged and appreciative of content than the bulk of the members base. Although of course a community can be 100% subscription based in which case you’ve got a head start.

Active Members

The regulars who read and comment often they become familiar faces. Over time they form bonds, likes, dislikes and cliques.

Woman stretching

Highly engaged members

 Whatever you call these members they are highly active and influential (elite members,  super members, rock star members etc). Often they take on self-appointed  roles within the community: The helper - friendly, calm and helpful, good for newbies. The know-it-all expert - not always liked, but respected if they are really an expert. The corrector - also not always liked but a grammar or fact checker. The leader - having been with the community for a while this person can be a double edged sword both the main influencer who builds community feeling and a risk if their ego gets out of control. The  greeter - Hi, welcome, hi. The elder - a highly respected old hand that’s been part of the community from the start.

Main Contributing Members

A few of your members will produce most of your user generated content. Love them, nurture them and reward them. The key to great content and a robust community is as much their contribution as yours. They will contribute the most member value to the band and community.

Community Managers

Whether you are a community managers, head of a community, community host, you are part of your community. Not just managing it from outside, but leading it from the inside. You contribute the most to the community and do the most to shape it.

Man in a suit on the phone


I hope this explanation helped you gain a better understanding of how online community members are structured. This can also be useful when thinking about how to approach different members. Classifying them can be good when deciding how to interact with individuals. It might be good practice to try and place the members of your own community into these categories!

Read the next article: What should your community methodology be?