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 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.

Case study: 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. Don’t discount how much it can drive engagement.

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

3. Foursquare

Foursquare uses a super-user community primarily to meet support goals. The big takeaway here: Pick one business case for your community, and start there.

Case study: 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.

Case study: 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.

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

6. Polyvore

Yes, you can growth hack community. But what does that mean in an authentic sense? Polyvore’s Jess Lee breaks it down.

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

7. Reddit

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.

Case study: 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.

Case study: 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.

Case study: 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.

Case study: 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.

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

The OurCrowd team

12. Quibb

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

Case study: 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.

Case study: 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. Who is that person in your community?

Case study: How Twitch 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.

Case study: 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.

Case study: The Fascinating Psychology Behind the Yelp Elite Program

17. Burning Man

Born in the Nevada desert, this grassroots community shows how to confront the challenges of community through culture and creativity, energy and passion.

Case study: Burning Man: Unlocking a Community’s Potential from Within

18. Vimeo

Bring your community into the product building process to develop and scale a wonderful product.

Case study: Vimeo’s Alexandra Dao on How to Connect Community and Product

19. BuzzFeed

Brett Vergara, community strategist at Buzzfeed, talks about how they empower and manage their users to create the content that became the secret to their meteoric rise.

Case study: How Community-Created Content Generates 100M Page Views: A BuzzFeed Community Case Study

20. Trello

Strengthen your community network through engaging a communication tool like Slack to build channels and foster collaboration through instant messaging.

Case study: The Trello Playbook for Launching a Slack Community

Offline Communities that Scale with Online Tools

21. 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.

Case study: How to Organize User Group Meetups in 5 Steps

22. 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.

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

23. 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.

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

24. Keen.io, Mashery, SmartThings

In order to grow participation, you need to understand how members of your community think about their work and build a strategy.

Case study: How to Build and Engage Developer Communities: Advice from Pros at Keen.io, Mashery, SmartThings

25. Edcamp

Scale your community quickly by keeping your model simple and encouraging participants to engage in conversations.

Case study: How Edcamp Scaled Up 1,500 Community Events Connecting Educators All Over the World

26. Startup Weekend

Put forth a distinct style and intent to grow events and community initiatives around the world.

Case study: Andrew Hyde Founded Startup Weekend – Here are His Four Pillars of Community

Two-Sided Marketplace Platforms

27. 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.

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

28. Rover.com

Community building is not about management. It’s about leadership. You need to develop yourself as a leader to build community effectively.

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

A photo of Oliver in Seattle

29. Product Hunt

Scaling and growing your community requires bringing the right people to your platform and engaging with them to grow your community exponentially.

Case study: How We Leveraged Community to Grow Product Hunt from 40,000 to 400,000 Users in 4 Months

30. Airbnb

Every community needs a strong mission statement which unites members and represents what they stand for.

Case study: Lessons in Building Movements through Community Action from Douglas Atkin, Global Director of Community at Airbnb

This post has been updated from its original, which was published on September 3rd, 2015.

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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.