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Building a thriving community takes a lot of inspiration and creativity. But sometimes it’s hard to find new ideas and new ways of thinking through your community structure. This is true whether you’re considering adding badges or launching a community member contest. We often just need an outsider’s perspective to ensure we’re on the right track.
If you’re looking for success stories of other communities who have grown massively and engage their members in creative ways, look no further. We have put all of our case studies in one place so you can browse them for inspiration any time.
When doing our own research for this list, we noticed that no other lists of successful online communities or case studies had been updated in the last five years. Five years is basically a millennia in Internet time. So we updated the success stories and wrote one fast takeaway from each.
This is a busy community builder’s big reference list.
Successful Community Case Studies and Takeaways
1. Duolingo. Not everyone can contribute to the same degree in your community. Don’t make people feel inadequate because they can’t dedicate their lives to your cause. Instead, recognize all levels of commitment.
2. DietBetter. If you’re building community around a sensitive topic, anonymity makes sense.
3. Foursquare. Foursquare uses a superuser community primarily to meet support goals. The big takeaway here: Pick one business case for your community, and start there.
4. MassRoots. This business has built a community of nearly 400,000 cannabis enthusiasts by giving to them generously — with events, the app they built, and tons of swag. Give generously.
5. Moz. All of your community projects and products must serve a function. Decide who will own each function and let them own their own area.
7. reddit. The recent reddit controversy aside, if you go back to the days when Erik Martin was CM, his key lesson still holds true: to build a community, you have to delegate and give your power away. Stop getting in people’s way.
8. Telescope. You don’t need a ton of people to start a community. You need just a few close relationships. Then you can leverage these over time. Don’t think about scale before you have great tools.
9. Salesforce. Persistence is key in community building. Erica Kuhl worked for seven years to prove the value of community at Salesforce, and it has had enormous positive effects such as decreased costs, better products, and higher revenue.
10. Socratic.org. To build a community-centric product (e.g. a two-sided marketplace, a Q&A site), you have to invest wholeheartedly in your members. You have to be patient. Growth does not matter if you have the wrong members.
11. OurCrowd. Content strategy is the basis of community building. Content communicates your voice and tone, which over time build trust if consistent.
12. Quibb. In the earliest of days, you have to build relationships. Do things that don’t scale.
13. Shapeways. If your community is meant to shape the direction of your product, you need a consistent way of sharing information and meeting on a regular basis to fuel your goals.
14. Twitch. In order to build a community of insanely passionate people, you have to hire someone who lives and breathes the dream of the community to build it. That person at Twitch is Marcus “DJWHEAT” Graham.
15. Udemy. Pick one business value for your community to exist and optimize toward it ruthlessly.
16. Yelp. Before you even think about building a community, know what your overarching brand stands for.
Offline Communities that Scale with Online Tools
17. Brainshark. User groups fuel customer retention. That’s why Brainshark does 40 of them per year and spends about $2,000 on each: Within 90 days of the meeting, their customers use the product an average of 15% more. Renewal rates are 10-15% far higher for customers that participate in the user group program.
18. CreativeMornings. Every community needs someone who is process-driven. You must create processes in your community, otherwise you’ll never be able to scale long-term. Get organized then get going.
19. Startup Grind. Don’t underestimate how much people feel isolated or lonely. Events bring them together. Gathering is a reason to join a community in and of itself.
Two-Sided Marketplace Platforms
20. Etsy, Lyft, Udemy. All three of these marketplaces have found success because they invested in the supply-sided without hesitation. The seller community holds the key to the castle. They are not only users of your platform, but they are also important partners and stakeholders in your business’s success.
21. Rover.com. Community building is not about management. It’s about leadership. You need to develop yourself as a leader to build community effectively.