Report: online communities are thriving & community management is a key factor
New research shows the power of online communities and the importance of community management in driving their sustained success.
The Power of Virtual Communities project - a partnership between the GovLab at NYU Tandon and Facebook - encompasses interviews with community experts, interviews with leaders of online communities (primarily non-professional), a literature review and Facebook’s groups data.
Download the report, survey, literature review & case studies at
The primary goal of the project, funded by Facebook, was to better understand what happens in online communities using their groups function, and look for key factors in their operation and success.
The study intentionally focused on large, global and socially positive groups, recognizing that there is a wide spectrum of group types, size, purpose and context. The results further underscore the importance online community and the role of community leadership to their function.
"Around the world, people who are otherwise voiceless in physical space are becoming powerful leaders of groups that confer a true sense of meaning and belonging for their members," said Beth Simone Noveck, director of The GovLab.
"This brief report, which tells the stories of several of those leaders and how they govern global communities is, we hope, the beginning of greater and much needed study of online groups and their impact on social and political life."
Researchers affirmed what community managers consistently experience in their practice:
online groups enable marginalised people to build community;
online and offline gatherings complement each other and many groups retain a strong connection to place;
COVID-19 has elevated the power and influence of some online groups;
the most successful groups have good governance and strong moderation;
small groups generate the closest emotional connections (20-100);
alternative models of governance are appealing for community participants and can drive engagement; and
online platforms allow people to convene diverse community that crosses traditional and offline boundaries.
Online communities are thriving and unlocking new value
Underpinning the project is the Global Communities Insights Survey from Facebook - a 15 country survey of 15,000 people who are currently members of online and in-person communities.
Communities and community leaders in Australia were part of the study.
The Subtle Asian Traits Facebook group - hugely popular with international students and ex-pat communities around Australia - was featured as a key case study.
Key findings from the Communities Insights Survey include:
Over half of Facebook users are members in five or more active Groups;
91% of respondents said they have given some form of support to others through a group or community during the pandemic. 86% have said they received some form of support from others;
77% say the most important group they are part of now operates online;
98% of people who belong to an online group say they feel a sense of belonging to that group;
33% of people whose community operates primarily online said they were more comfortable sharing their feelings and perspectives with the group than with friends and family; and
58% of respondents agree that one of the top qualities that makes a community successful is having effective leaders.
The research project is a welcome addition to the growing field of online community scholarship and body of knowledge.
Learn more about the study and access case studies at https://virtual-communities.thegovlab.org/