7 Things We’ve Learned About Community Building For Businesses

This month marks the 10 year anniversary of CMNTY. An ideal moment to look back on the past years and review what we’ve learned about community building and about managing online communities for business purposes.

#1 Successful Community Building is 1/3 Tool, 1/3 Audience and 1/3 Team

You can’t build a community without a tool, and of course you need an audience of people that share an identity or interest. But for your community to be successful, you also need a strong team of community managers.

Community Management Roles
Community managers are key, because otherwise the risk is that your community members will get lost. We identify 5 key roles a community management team should fulfil. Of course, multiple roles can be fulfilled by the same person, but the idea is that you pay attention to all 5 roles.

Community building needs good moderation

The Host makes sure people feel welcome. They pay attention to tone of voice, create a welcoming space and checks in regularly to see how people are feeling. Assuming your community has a clear goal or task, it is important for people to know they are still on the right track. That’s why the Announcer is responsible for updating people on progress with the assignment. The Shepherd is present to guide people whenever they have questions. The Researcher’s role is to figure out what people’s concerns are, so this can be fed back into the business. Finally the Agent makes sure people are not spamming, promoting their own services, or whatever you find inappropriate in your community.

Need more materials?
If you want to learn more about community management then check out this cool collection of Social Media Infographics.

#2 Getting a 10% Participation Level is Darn High!

A lot of our clients are concerned with participation levels, and they should be. However, through the years we’ve learned that if 10% of your community is responding to topics and engaging in activities every day, then you can call this a massive success. If you’ve invited your entire customer base or a subset to your new community initiative, then you can expect approx. 1 out of 20 people to sign up. That’s 5%. And of that 5% most people will probably not return after their initial signup. 30% will check in once a week and 10% will every day. This 10% is called the “core group” and is most concerned and engaged with the subject.

Different participation levels in online commuties
This communities of practice visualization by Wegner-Trayner displays it quite well. Not only do people participate in different intensities, different groups are needed for healthy community building.

#3 Having a Sexy Subject Helps

One of the first co-creation platforms we built was for Pickwick, a Dutch tea brand that was looking for new ways of making and drinking tea. We’ve built the project on our RedesignMe platform, the predecessor of CMNTY Platform. The Pickwick brand was known by 99% of Dutch population and Pickwick products were used by a lot of people every day. So naturally, the assignment drew a lot of attention. Also the fact that it was a food product helped. Everybody loves food and a lot of people have ideas about what can make the eating and drinking experience better. We had far less success with engaging people in online community projects that were about financial services, like insurance, loans and pension plans.

#4 Getting Money Rewards Is Nice, but Getting Attention Is Nicer

Like we mentioned in #1, community management means taking on different roles. You will notice that people will keep coming back to your community if they believe you really care about their opinion. And this is not something you can fake.

Community building also means implementing a well defined Gamification Strategy. Reward people with virtual points and badges for participating in activities. But don’t forget that you don’t need virtual incentives per se. Sometimes it can be as simple as actively listening and joining the conversation. In about 1 out of 2 communities we see some sort of rewarding scheme is used and in 1 out of 3 of these, members are allowed to turn virtual points into real money. But when surveyed, community members express that what really gets them engaged is the ability to help out others and receiving recognition for that.

#5 Getting Exclusive Access Is The New Incentive

Related to the previous finding is that we see the rise of Private Social Networks and Paid Membership Communities. With so many opportunities added to the virtual community landscape every day, both businesses and community members are looking for ways to “secure” the value they add online.

Organizations running communities can monetize their platforms because more and more people are willing to pay in return for exclusive access to content that others took so long to collect and organize.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be about paid membership. Many community managers use our user grouping system to create VIP sections for members that contribute often or have some other sort of proven track record.

#6 One Tool That Does It All Is Not The Answer

Back in 2007, the RedesignMe platform was one out of 3 tools worldwide for creating customer communities. Nowadays there are tens of different platforms all with their own strength and 1,000+ tools that are closely related or supportive to tools you can use for community building.

For years already, our focus is on building a community platform that is as flexible and user friendly as possible and ready for integration with tools from other vendors. Instead of trying to offer a platform that does it all, we rather combine the strength of different tools to give our clients the best possible solution they can imagine. With our recent rewrite of the CMNTY API and with plans to support integration with Zapier, CMNTY Platform is ready for the future of communities.

#7 Online Communities Are Here To Stay

When CMNTY started, for most businesses, online communities were still an experiment. Online communities were serving a small subset of people that were seen as “innovators” and “lead users”. In 2008, MyStarBucksIdea was probably one of the first online platforms initiated by a company to reach out to those innovators. It was around the same time Dell launched its IdeaStorm, a concept that was later copied numerous times by other companies.

Inspired by the best examples in the field, CMNTY’s mission has always been to make it easier for organizations to connect with their audience online. In those early days, most companies were still figuring out how to deal with their Twitter and Facebook accounts, let alone interacting with customers online. But the rise of Facebook and the ubiquitousness of smartphones put everything into fast forward.

Communities Are Everywhere
Nowadays it’s unthinkable we will ever stop using online communities. Think about it, how many communities are you part of yourself? You’re probably part of some Facebook Group, a local WhatsApp group and maybe using Slack for work. Communities are, well…. life, and from a business perspective, there’s always going to be a need to stay connected with your audience using one of the networks and tools that are around.

This week, Facebook even changed its mission from “making the world more open and connected” to “empowering people around the world to build communities and bring people together”. In a statement Mark Zuckerberg said that “Communities give us that sense that we are part of something greater than ourselves, that we are not alone, and that we have something better ahead to work for” and that Facebook is announcing changes to their Groups feature to empower people to build better communities.


It is clear by now that communities are here to stay, but let’s not forget that this didn’t happen overnight. CMNTY has always believed in the power of online communities and the importance of community building, using the right strategies and tools. We will continue to empower community managers around the world with the best tools available for a long time to come!