Big List of Why Online Communities Fail & How to Avoid It – Part 1 of 4


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Over the next several weeks, I’ll outline over 30 of the primary reasons that private online communities fail and what companies and nonprofit organizations can do to avoid the same fate. These pitfalls and lessons are mainly rooted in our research and experience over the past 10 years providing enterprise online community software to organizations ranging from large associations to Fortune 500 companies.

Why Did We Create This List?

Some people may think that this is a negative way of looking at private online communities. Why not just write about how to create successful online communities as we have in the past?

Businesses and membership organizations benefit from an understanding that online communities do fail. Private online communities are powerful tools to retain customers, increase engagement, and generate revenue, but if you don’t plan your strategy and select your technology correctly, they is a strong chance that it will fail…and fail publicly.

I also believe that it is important to show people all sides of an issue. By highlighting why online communities fail and how to avoid it, the insight may click for some people who did not fully get the guidance from our ‘how to succeed’ articles.

Category 1: Strategy and Goals

To kick off this project, lets look at the beginning of the online community planning process. The following are 12 strategy and goal-related reasons why private online communities fail:

#1) No Compelling Reason

All successful private online community strategies begin with a reason why your customers or members will access your online community several times a week, if not every day. If you don’t have a REAL reason for customers or members to go to your community, there is no need to plan any further until you’ve developed a value proposition that will bring your audience back to your online community again and again.

#2) Blatantly Self-Serving

Make it clear in every corner of the community and communication that your private online community is there for your customers or members. The benefits of an active community to your organization will be apparent, but your organization won’t see any these benefits if your customers don’t feel as though your online community is all about them.

#3) Target Audience is Too Broad

Your branded online community can impact large portions of your organization, however it can’t be all things to all people. Avoid inviting audiences into the general population of your online customer or member community that result in a decrease in exclusivity and value for your primary target audience.

#4) Goals That Don’t Match the Strategy

Be realistic about what your customer community can do (raise customer retention, increase satisfaction, and spur profitable innovation) and what it can’t do (e.g. decrease your support and cost of acquisition costs by 90%).

#5) Not Open Enough

Avoid setting up an online community where the monitoring, moderation, and approvals are so stringent that it stifles the flow of conversation and collaboration. Members and customers are busy people and don’t have time to work around your red tape.

#6) Too Much of an Open Community

Though engaging your entire community online is important, refrain from creating an online community that is so available to everyone on the web that there is not enough value in being part of the private community. In other words, avoid online strategies where people can still access the most valuable content, tools, and discussions without having to be a member or customer of your organization.

#7) The Community is Not Benefiting the Organization

It is great to have an thriving, passionate community – whether it is on public social networks like Facebook or in a private online community. However, your online community initiative is in danger of having funding pulled or being ignored the minute you can’t directly tie community activity to the mission and goals of the organization.

#8) Access That Doesn’t Match Your Audience’s Communication Preferences

If your membership or customer base is used to collaborating on a listserv, don’t take away that option when launching your online community. Know your customers and how they can most easily engage in your online community. Provide multiple channels of access (i.e. email listserv, website community, and mobile app) to participate in the community.

#9) Features Don’t Fit Your Membership or Customer Base

Survey and interview your customers or members during the online community planning process to identify the problems they want you to solve. Then, select the features for your online community that provide the corresponding solutions.

#10) The Online Community is Not Centrally Positioned

If your private online community is only one of several places that customers or members can get the information they need to be successful, your audience will gravitate toward all of these channels and dilute the value of your private online community to those who do engage in your community. Make your online customer community central to your customer or member communication strategy.

#11) Treating Your Online Community Like a Private Facebook

Private online communities are not about enabling members to connect and friend each other. Customers and members already have tools to follow and keep in touch with people. Private online communities are about providing the content, resources, and discussions to help members or customers become more successful in their jobs and lives.

#12) Not Having Measurable Goals

Anything related to social media seems to get the lion’s share of the buzz at conferences, online, and inside organizations. It is true that is it very exciting to put a significant amount of time into planning and launching an online community, but how can you measure its success after 3, 6 or 12 months? Be sure to have measures of success going into the planning process and metrics by which you can measure your private online community’s performance against tangible goals on an ongoing basis.

Please contribute to this list from your own experience and research. Add your strategy-related reasons why online communities fail in the comments below.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joshua Paul
Joshua Paul is the Director of Marketing and Strategy at Socious, a provider of enterprise customer community software that helps large and mid-sized companies bring together customers, employees, and partners to increase customer retention, sales, and customer satisfaction. With over 13 years of experience running product management and marketing for SaaS companies, Joshua Paul is a popular blogger and speaker on customer management, inbound marketing, and social technology. He blogs at


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