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What’s the difference between a social network and an online community?

We can categorise all social media effectively into two subcategories: Social Networks and Online Communities.

Social network

Social Networks


​Social networks (offline and on) are usually made up of predetermined relationships with people we already know or have met - friends, relatives, coworkers and acquaintances. Social networks unique to each of us and the tools often used are TwitterLinkedInFacebook and MySpace.

  1. Bound together by pre-established interpersonal connections
  2. Each connection has his or her own social network
  3. Characterized by a spider web-like "network" structure

Online Communities


Communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something that they know how to do and who interact regularly to learn how to do it better. Etienne Wenger.

The biggest difference between social networks and online communities is that communities are often formed by people from different backgrounds who may not have met yet but are held together by a common interest or goal – might be a passion, belief, interest, need, common project, or profession. Social Network vs. Online Community: What Is the Difference?

Clearly people join the community because they care about this common interest that glues the community members together. Some stay because they felt the urge to contribute to the cause; others come because they can benefit from being part of the community. Social networks vs online communities: The important distinctions to know


  1. Bound together by a common interest or topic
  2. ANY person can be a part of ANY community
  3. Characterized by a more complex overlapping and "nested" structure.

In the edTalks video, Establishing a professional learning communitySheryl Nussbaum-Beach defines a professional learning group as, a group of individuals coming together, to construct co-created content in a co-created community - where the tone evolves over time with key roles established, in the pursuit of organic, purposeful, healthy and productive conversations about learning online.

edSpace is our community of practice. What brings you here? What would you like to contribute and how do you see this community benefitting you? We'd love to hear more smiley

Image sources: Creative Commons and Pixabay.

Also see:

Tessa Gray

Tessa Gray

Ko Tessa Gray toku ingoa, edSpace online facilitator. Passionate about growing thriving online communities. Based in the sunny Bay of Plenty.
    • CORE Education
      CORE Education

      We have recently published a podcast where Anaru White interviews Tessa Gray about the differences between social networks and engaging in online communities. You can listen to this short interview here. Does this fit with your understandings about a professional learning network?

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