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Good Reasons and Bad Reasons to NOT Start an Online Community

a sunset with a signpost and road names pointing in four different directions

I published a piece about the right and wrong time to launch a community and this piece expands on the same questions that resulted in the first.

There’s another angle to the decision of when to or not to start a brand community or membership community. There are some really great reasons we might not start a community right now. For example - limited resources available, deep focus on another method, and the energy you feel towards fostering a community.

There are also really bad excuses we make to avoid starting a community out of fear, insecurity, our need for perfection, and a poor understanding of business discovery.

Let’s explore the layers underneath the bad excuses we tell ourselves to decide not to start the community of our dreams today (make no mistake, not starting is just as much a decision as starting).

Excuses #1 and #2: I don’t have enough time or money, so we won't start an online community.

I’m listing these first because it’s the most common and it’s the laziest of excuses. Using this excuse kills curiosity and discovery. If something is a priority to you, you will make the time. If something is valuable to you, you’ll find the money.

There’s no way around the feeling of not having the time or money to start a community, but I hope to challenge you to dig a little deeper to understand the real resistance here. Some questions to guide your exploration:

  • What would the community need to look like in order to be worthy of my time?

  • What would the community need to generate in revenue or business ROI in order to be worthy of financial investment?

  • What resources in time and money would be required to build that community?

Better reasons not to start an online community, after reflecting with these questions, sound like this:

  • In order for this community to generate the ROI we want to see, we need to get the leaders from four different teams bought in. To do this well, this is going to take some time.

  • In order for this community to be worth our time right out of the gate, we want to invest in a community consultant to help do it right the first time. We didn’t anticipate this in the budget, so we need to wait until at least Q4.


Only after you are willing to ask and honestly reflect on these questions can we find the real root of resistance and make an proper decision.

Excuse #3: We did a test and it didn’t work, so we won't build an online community.

Ah, the fear of failure. The question of how to test for integrating community into your business model is incredibly real and complex, but the real insecurity behind this excuse is: “We are afraid this won’t work. We did a test that confirmed our greatest fears and we will use that to avoid the work of discovery.”

When you test the waters, it’s easy to apply one test and when it fails, use that as justification to avoid doing something that already scares you quite a bit.

I want to give the benefit of the doubt that you may have run legitimate, intensive, and thorough tests. But most business people will run one test or beta, declare the guinea pig deceased, and claim community "just doesn’t work” for their audience or customers.

This is where we need to posture ourselves as scientists rather than fortune tellers.

Often we look to a single test to determine the future success of a program. But the complexity of the social science of community building requires a much more nuanced approach.

Rather than using one or even a handful of tests to determine “whether or not community will work,” consider creating a culture and environment for broadly and continuously testing the idea of creating connections between your customers or members.

Rather than a pass-fail approach to your tests, the goal must be business discovery through qualitative and quantitative analysis.

In short, allowing laziness to dictate your business decisions never looked good on anyone’s bottom line.

By reflecting on what specific results make a starting a community worth your time and money, assessing what time and money will be needed to get it there, and finally posturing yourself in continuous discovery regarding the connection between your customers or members, you’ll be equipped to make the decision about whether or not building a community is the right move for your business today.

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