Audience vs. Community: Seven Major Differences (And Some Similarities)

“Audience vs. community”—at Tribe, we often come across this discussion. People want to know what are the differences between an audience and a community.

It’s easy to see why it can be confusing—there are many similarities between the two groups. And many people use the two terms interchangeably.

When it comes to audience vs. community, there are several differences and some similarities. This article will take a closer look at what these are.

Audience vs. community: defining each term

To find out the difference between an audience and a community, we first have to define what each term means.

What is a community?

A community is a social space where people come together around a shared interest, challenge, or goal. People in these spaces discuss the topic of interest, share knowledge, learn from others, and build their networks.

Communities form in a single location such as an online group or space. And while a brand or creator can be the facilitator of the community, all members have an equal voice.

The community belongs to the members and members belong to the community.

What is an audience?

An audience is the group of people who follow a brand or creator and consume the content it produces.

Their interaction with the content is much more passive. They don’t discuss the topic in an organized way with others, and they don’t have the platform to share their knowledge with other audiences.

A community can be part of your audience

Communities are often a small but highly engaged subsection of an audience.

Think about a YouTube creator who runs a paid community. Their audience is everyone who watches their videos. The community is the small percentage of these people who the creator turns into community members.

Community vs. audience: seven key differences

Here are what we consider the seven key differences between an audience and a community.

Audience vs. Community
Audience vs. Community

The relationships

The biggest difference between an online community and an audience is how connections occur.

The relationship between a creator and an audience is one-to-many. The creator releases content, and the audience consumes it.

The creator doesn’t consume content created by the audience, and the audience members don’t communicate with each other.

Communities are different. In these groups, people form many-to-many relationships. This means everyone in the group can connect with all other members.

audience vs. community - relationship direction
Difference in relationships

Direction of communication

A key factor in audience vs. community is the differences in the way communication occurs.

The one-to-many relationship between a creator and an audience results in communication traveling in a single direction. The creator broadcasts their message, and the audience listens.

In a community, anyone can contribute. The creator releases content, and the community can interact with it. But other members also have the opportunity to make their own contributions.

Not all members of a community contribute. Many will passively consume the content.

Equality of voices

It’s not enough for a community to give everyone a voice. The voices of each member must also be relatively equal. Everyone in the group should have the same opportunity to make their opinion heard.

The people who create the community may have slightly more influence than other members because they typically play a bigger role in organizing the community.

But they still contribute via a single profile, and there is no requirement for people to listen to what they have to say.

Equality of voices is the biggest reason the relationships between creators and followers on social platforms like Instagram and YouTube are not communities.

Commenting and messaging features on these platforms allow followers to communicate with creators. But there is a huge difference in the amplification given to the audience’s voices and the voice of the creator.

Relationship-building opportunities

Communities help members build relationships. This results in a shared sense of belonging and passion among members. Audiences are less likely to feel like they belong to a group because they lack this shared identity.

This feeling of belonging (or lack thereof) results in differences in the nature of the relationships found in communities and audiences.

Audiences are typically more unforgiving. If the creator starts producing content that doesn’t interest them, they will leave and find another person to follow. They have nothing to lose by leaving.

But community members benefit from the community’s success. As stakeholders, they are more likely to be loyal, supportive, and willing to help each other.

Goals and targets

Community and audience builders have different goals.

When building an audience, the focus is on increasing the number of people you reach. You want your content to be helpful or entertaining, but you also want it to reach as many people as possible.

When building a community, the focus of your actions is always on helping the community. The creator and members all work together to help their peers successfully achieve their goals. This is the only way to build trust among members.

Some community builders take steps to build the size of their communities. But this usually comes as either:

  • A by-product of helping people in the community. For example, members tell other people about how great their community is and refer them to it.
  • A result of separate, audience-building actions. For example, you build an audience on YouTube or Twitter and then convert these people into community members.

Communication channels

Communities live in a specific place that is designed to facilitate the community’s needs.

The space could be a social media group, a forum, a messaging app, or dedicated community software. In the case of offline communities, it could be a meeting room, coffee shop, sports club, or conference hall.

Communities also have structures in place to keep discussions organized.

This could include community managers and administrators, spaces designed for different types of communication, and rules or guidelines that members of the community must follow.

guidelines developed by community management team
Guidelines created by the community manager

An audience lives anywhere people can interact with your brand. And the number of channels available depends on where you publish content.

It may include blogs, YouTube, social media sites, podcasts, events, or traditional media.

Size of the group

Audiences tend to be larger than equivalent communities. This makes sense as it is easier to consume content passively than become an active member of a group.

But while audiences are often larger than communities, people in communities tend to be far more engaged. This means a small community can be just as valuable, or even more valuable, than a large audience.

There are similarities between audiences and communities

So far, we have focused on audience vs. community to highlight the differences. But there are similarities between these two types of groups.

Common elements:

  • Enjoy interacting with your brand
  • Can turn into customers
  • Help in building a powerful brand

Ultimately, most brands or creators will benefit from building a community and an audience. And one often follows the other.

If you focus on building a community, you’ll naturally increase the size of your audience as you do so.

In some cases, the opposite can happen too, and engaged audiences will organize into communities themselves.

Tribe’s customer Pipedrive is an excellent example of this. They discovered that one of their customers had created a Facebook group to discuss best practices for using the CRM. This is what led the brand to develop an official community with Tribe and become the facilitator of the discussions while retaining ownership of the content.

Communities and audiences help brands in different ways

A community isn’t inherently better than an audience. There are benefits in growing both.

Benefits of an audience

  • It’s easier to scale an audience. This is beneficial if your marketing strategy is to increase brand awareness.
  • You can pay to increase your audience size using ads, social media marketing, sponsored posts, guest appearances on podcasts or videos, and event sponsorship.
  • The rate at which you can increase the size of an audience makes them a good way to fill the top of your sales funnel.

Benefits of a community

  • Brands can build communities to gather feedback and audience input on their ideas.
  • Loyal customers, such as those found in a community tend to be highly valuable to businesses.
  • Great communities foster a strong sense of connection between brands and customers.

In a nutshell, brand-led communities add value to everything from customer success and product innovation to sales and marketing.

Three examples of brands with an audience and community

B2B Community: Pipedrive

Pipedrive is a leading sales CRM platform. It has both a large audience and an engaged community.

Pipedrive’s audience

The brand has a large audience that it interacts with on several channels. These include:

  • The Pipedrive website, according to SEO tool, Ahrefs, receives close to half a million hits from search engines every month.
  • Its YouTube channel, which has over 10,000 subscribers
  • Its LinkedIn and social media accounts, which have over 50,000 followers

The brand uses these content marketing channels to build awareness of its product and to educate its existing audience about the benefits of the software.

The target audiences for this content are sales and marketing professionals. It acts as a useful way to fill the brand’s sales funnel.

The Pipedrive community

Pipedrive also has a customer community that helps the brand’s customers get maximum value from the software.

It acts as a centralized knowledge hub where customers can help each other, share best practices, and learn from other members’ experiences with the product.

The brand’s product development team also uses the community to connect with customers and gain feedback on new features.

By using the community in this way, Pipedrive increases the value that customers get from the product. This increases the chances that the customers stay for longer term.

Ecommerce community: Love Wellness

Love Wellness is a leading personal care brand for women’s health.

Love Wellness’ audience

The brand has a large audience on YouTube and Instagram.

  • The videos on its YouTube channel have over 2 million views.
  • Its Instagram account has over 250,000 followers.

They use these channels to promote products and start discussions around women’s health. These channels get the company’s products in front of many potential buyers.

The Love Wellness community

The Love Club - Love Wellness Community
The Love Club

The brand also runs a community called the Love Wellness Club.

The community is a safe and inclusive space where women can ask questions and get genuine recommendations and advice.

The community is split into different spaces based on topics such as wellness over 50, nutrition, self-care, and pregnancy.

As a brand, Love Wellness benefits greatly from the community. It makes use of polls and discussions to generate customer insight. The community also helps customers stay engaged with the brand and can help potential buyers get the information they need to make a purchase.

Independent creator community: The Dynamite Circle

The Dynamite Circle is a community for entrepreneurs building remote businesses. It was created by the people behind The Tropical MBA, a blog that discusses location-independent business.

The Tropical MBA Audience

The team behind The Tropical MBA used four main strategies to build a large audience.

  • They have a blog where they write about location independent businesses.
  • They have a podcast that discusses a wide variety of topics related to entrepreneurship.
  • They gained exposure by doing features on third-party sites like Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the BBC.

The Dynamite Circle

The Dynamite Circle is a paid community run by The Tropical MBA. It’s a way for The Tropical MBA audience to connect with others who share similar interests.

Membership to the online community also grants access to in-person meets and global events run by the founders.

Community members must pay a fee to join. This means the founders can profit from the community.

Audience vs. community: what will you focus on?

Now you know the differences between the two groups, you can decide what will be the best for your brand.

If you want to reach the highest number of people possible, consider building an audience. If you want to build stronger relationships with a smaller group of people, then consider community building.

And remember, there is no reason why you can’t do both—especially there is an overlap between the two.

If you build a community, you’ll increase your audience size while doing so. And once you’ve built an audience, it’s often easy to convert the most engaged people into community members.

Duncan Elder

Duncan is a content marketer with a passion for all things digital marketing, SaaS, and online communities.

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