09.03.2015

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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.

Here is Duolingo’s Playbook for Creating Community-Generated Content for over 50 Million Learners

2. DietBetter. If you’re building community around a sensitive topic, anonymity makes sense.

How Anonymity and Charging Members Helped DietBetter Achieve an 80% Engagement Rate

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.

An Inside Look at How Foursquare Built a 40,000-Member Superuser Community

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.

How 325,000 Pot Smokers Changed Apple’s App Store Policies Forever

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.

How to Hire and Structure a Community Management Team: A Moz Case Study

Moz community team (from left to right): Charlene Inoncillo, Erica McGillivray, Jennifer Sable Lopez, Danie Launders, Megan Singley [not pictured: Keri Morgret]

Moz community team (from left to right): Charlene Inoncillo, Erica McGillivray, Jennifer Sable Lopez, Danie Launders, Megan Singley [not pictured: Keri Morgret]

6. Polyvore. Yes, you can growth hack community. Polyvore breaks it down.

15 Growth Hacks for Your Community from Polyvore’s CEO Jess Lee

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.

Distributed Control: How reddit is Taking the Management of Community Management

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.

What Open-Source Communities Can Teach Community Builders

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.

How Erica Kuhl Proved the ROI of Community at Salesforce

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.

How to Build a Community-Centric Product from Socratic CEO Chris Pedregal

11. OurCrowd. Content strategy is the basis of community building. Content communicates your voice and tone, which over time build trust if consistent.

This is the Content and Community Strategy OurCrowd Used to Get 7,000 People to Invest over $100 Million

Zack (far right bottom, in the blue shirt) and the OurCrowd team

Zack (far right bottom, in the blue shirt) and the OurCrowd team

12. Quibb. In the earliest of days, you have to build relationships. Do things that don’t scale.

The 10 Unscalable Tactics Quibb Used to Build a Community of Highly Influential Professionals

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.

Product and Community: A Match 3-D Printed in Heaven

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.

How Twich Won the Hearts and Minds of Millions in the Gaming Community in Just Three Years

15. Udemy. Pick one business value for your community to exist and optimize toward it ruthlessly.

How Udemy Increased their Instructor Engagement Rates 4X Using Facebook Groups

16. Yelp. Before you even think about building a community, know what your overarching brand stands for.

The Fascinating Psychology Behind the Yelp Elite Program

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.

How to Organize User Group Meetups in 5 Steps

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.

An Exclusive Spotlight on How CreativeMornings Gives its Community Members the Tools to Run 106 Distributed Events

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.

How Startup Grind Has Scaled to Over 170 Global Events Per Month

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.

How the Pros at Etsy, Lyft, and Udemy Built and Scaled their Two-Sided Marketplaces

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.

How Rover Grew Their Community 3500% in One Year By Letting It Run with the Dogs

A photo of Oliver in Seattle

A photo of Oliver in Seattle

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Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones | @caremjo

Carrie is the COO and Founding Partner of CMX. She has built community at Chegg and Scribd and has consulted with community companies around the world. She lives in Seattle, WA with her pup, Bruce Wayne.