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Insights, Trends, and Awards After Dissecting 38 Online Communities

We wrapped Season 2 of Community Dissection and after dissecting 38 communities across industries with dozens of community experts, I’m sharing my insights, takeaways, and the highlight reel of some of my favorite communities we explored!


If you’ve been tracking with the series, you’ll notice Season 2 shifted away from free brand communities and looked more at paid community experiences. While a few free communities snuck in there, by and large, the most transformative experiences I see happening in community are taking place in paid communities. 


Which is why I wanted to explore them and discover exactly what's working and what challenges they are facing. Season 2 was a combination of dissecting user experiences (by joining as a new member and poking around) and interviewing community managers to understand the evolution of the community (by and large the most-viewed interview was with Erin Halper from The Upside - she's an all-star). 


Insights from Season 2’s paid communities:


As I explored the communities this season, 2 different types emerged: education-centric (I call them Transformative Communities) and connection-centric (I call them Networking Communities).


The Four Types of Communities: a Matrix with Free versus paid and education versus connection. Underestand nurturing communities, tranformative communities, collaborative communities, and networking communities from Ember Consulting.

Transformative (education-centric) communities have a learning journey in mind for their members. Connection between members happens as an outcome and when that connection is strong, there’s strong incentive for them to stick around. They are easier to market because people are usually joining for a specific program or educational experience conducted communally. 


Networking (connection-centric) communities, on the other hand, create the container where valuable exchanges and interactions may occur. Their programs are less about moving their members along a specific journey and more about making it easier to find the connections that are most valuable to you. 


By-and-large paid communities are doing better in all areas than free communities that support a product or service (with a few notable exceptions). They leverage events way more frequently (a really good sign they are actively experimenting or found something that works well) and they actually have onboarding. Not only that, but their onboarding helps their members know they’re in the right place and helps get them oriented *mindblown.


Also, this is the data I gathered informally, someone who has more time than me should extrapolate more insights.

A graph of data from dissecting the health of 38 Communities in the Community Dissection Series from Ember Consulting.

2 Historical Shifts Happening in Community Now


Paid Communities are Where Apps Were 10 Years Ago

Remember 10 years ago when the thought of paying for an app was OUTRAGEOUS? Being asked to pay for an app was absurd and no one did it. 


But over time, this changed. We realized that free apps means generally a sub-par experience and now we are confident and comfortable paying a small recurring fee for access to what we need.


Communities are experiencing the same shift. We all know we could spend ungodly amounts of time wading through shitty FB groups or, for a small fee, we could have access to a high-quality, high-value group of people would benefit from being connected to.


New communities being created now get to benefit from this. Mature communities that were forced to start with a free model are now struggling to re-set expectations and shift into the newly-minted friendliness towards a paid model (sorry y'all that sucks for you).


Brand Communities are Where Social Media Was 10 Years Ago

This one is nothing new to the folks in the community industry, but it’s worth highlighting here. 10 years ago executives were still deliberating whether they needed to drive awareness through a social media presence. 


Community tools today deliver a fuzzy ROI reminiscent of the limited data we had to justify a content strategy on Instagram 10 years ago. It’s getting better, but mark my very foreboding words: the brands that decide to wait to invest in community until they see “proof” will be left behind.


And now, the moment you didn't ask for but I had WAY too much fun preparing… here’s the very official


EMBER COMMUNITY AWARDS

(about 80% joke, 20% serious)

The Best of the Best Community Awards from Ember Consulting


The Most By-Accident Community: Notion


The Most By-accident Community Award from Ember Consulting Goes to Notion

The Best Product Community of All Time: LEGO IDEAS

The Best Product Community of All Time Award from Ember Consulting Goes to LEGO IDEAS

The Also Good Product Community: Spotify

The Also Great Product Community Award from Ember Consulting Goes to Spotify

The Most Annoyingly Exclusive Ambassador Community: Lululemon

The Most Annoyingly Exclusive Ambassador Community Award from Ember Consulting Goes to Lululemon

The Only Free Facebook Group Still Worth Joining: Be the Bridge

The Only FB Group Still Worth Joining Award from Ember Consulting Goes to Be the Bridge

The Best Brand Community to Get Lost In: Hubspot

The Best Brand Community To Get Lost in Award from Ember Consulting Goes to Hubspot

The Community with the Most Community: The Community Community

The Community with the Most Community Award from Ember Consulting Goes to The Community Community

The Community with the Most Testing: Ministry of Testing


The Community with the Most Testing Award from Ember Consulting Goes to the Ministry of Testing

The Community doing Connection Right: The Upside

The community Doing Connection Right Award from Ember Consulting Goes to the Upside

The Best Somehow Still on Slack Community: Friend’s of Lenny

The Best Somehow Still on Slack Community Award from Ember Consulting Goes to Lenny's Friends

The Best Job Board Community: Tech Ladies

The Best Job Board Community Award from Ember Consulting Goes to Tech Ladies

The Least Salesy Brand Community: Talkbase Friends

The Least Sales-y Brand Community Award from Ember Consulting Goes to Talkbase Friends Community

The Community with the Clearest Member Journeys: Automation Everywhere

The Community with the Clearest Member Journey Award from Ember Consulting goes to Automation Everywhere

The Product Most Led By Community: Groove

The Product Most Led by Community Award from Ember Consulting goes to Groove

The Community Practicing What They Preach: Circle

The Community Practicing What They Preach Award from Ember Consulting goes to Circle.

The Community with the Most Thoughtful Onboarding: PORCH

The Most Thoughtful Onboarding Award from Ember Consulting Goes to PORCH.


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