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Free Online Community Management Resources On The Web

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

There are a lot of free resources available on the web to help newcomers and experienced professionals become better Community Mangaers.

Below are a selection of my favourites.


Reports & eBooks

The 2011 State of Community Management Report

Rachel Happe and Jim Storer of the online community roundtable research a variety of approaches to community management from the top companies and compile this outstanding report on the topic.

Howard Reingold – The Virtual Community

One of the first books on the topic of virtual community and still one of the best. It includes many of the basic and advances rules for communities uncomplicated by modern technology.

The State of Online Branded Communities

Last year, social engagement firm ComBlu studied over a hundred branded online communities and released a report looking at the overall trends in the sector. Whilst some of their communities lean towards the faux side, there are enough examples here alone to download the report.

The ROI of online customer service communities

Forrester compile one of the first formulas for measuring the ROI of customer support communities. If you need to justify such a community to your boss, make sure you read this first.

The Forrester Wave Report

This is the most comprehensive overview of premium community platforms on the market today. It ranks each enterprise company by category and merits on specific service and software issues. You will need to give Lithium your details to download a free copy, but it’s just about worthwhile.

eModeration White Paper – Communities of Purpose

A short paper mostly about creating the desire for people to participate. It collects quotes from a variety of prominent community authors. Useful for those creating a community that is action-orientated.

Deloitte – 2009 Tribalization of Business Study

This is one of the best studies undertaken of organizations that develop online communities. It’s getting a little dated now, but still shows up some surprising facts about what organizations develop communities and their frequent lack of success in doing so. We’re still waiting for the 2010 study.

Lithium – Community Health Index

One of the most best efforts to date of putting together a meaningful measure of community health.

Radian6 – Building & Sustaining Brand Communities

Not overly specific to brands, but some great ideas here about building a community, making the case for a community and the resources needed for the community.

Jono Bacon – The Art of The Community

Jono’s free eBook about developing successful online community. Reflects on both the technological and psychological aspects of building a community. Slightly heavy on the open-source/collaboration element, but a perhaps the best community specific book out there so far.

Forrester – The ROI Online Support Communities

A good read (available free on the link below) of Forrester demonstrating the value of online support communities. The numbers might not be perfect, but they demonstrate a pretty good grasp of the material.


Websites & Assocations




Academic articles

McMillan and Chavis (1985) Sense of Community.

Always first in my list of recommended reading to others. This article fully outlines the key concepts of developing a sense of community amongst members and how each elements interrelates with the others.

Robin Hamman (1997)- Introduction to Virtual Communities Research and Cybersociology Magazine Issue Two

This is a great overview of community definitions and summary of the debate about the definition of a community. It is also applied to online communities. Despite it’s age (14 years old!), it’s as relevant today as it was when first written.

Moore and Serva (2007) Understanding Member Motivation for Contributing to Different Types of Virtual Communities: A Proposed Framework,

Moore and Serva propose 14 types of motivation, some of these are verbalized from previous studies, some of these are introduced afresh. Many overlap. There is probably an easier way to synthesize this information. They later narrow this down to four parent concepts. These are interllecutalism (collaboration, knowledge, wisdom), Benefaction (Altruism, Empathy, Reciprocity), Egocentrism Egoism, Egotism, Reputation, Self-esteem) and Emotionality (Emotional support, Self-expression, Belonging, Power). They found egocentrism as the highest motivator followed by benefaction and emotionality.

Williams and Cothrel (2004), Four smart ways to run online communities (Sloan Management Review, 2000)

This is a simple and readable text on developing online community tactics. This is also useful for providing a simple definition of online communities.

Bughin & Zeisser, (2001) The Marketing Scale Effectiveness of Virtual Communities

A surprisingly good early paper exploring the economics side of what communities has to offer. They concluded that communities do encourage greater loyalty, but economically it still didn’t generate many benefits . These economics have now changed. More people are online, social is big internet business and it’s cheaper than ever to develop a community.

Pitta and Fowler (2005) Internet community forums: an untapped resource for consumer marketers

A more recent paper examining the benefits of marketing through internet community forums.

Iriberri and Leroy (2009) A Life-Cycle Perspective on Online Community Success

This is a fantastic overview of the key success factors for online communities.

Ridings and Gefen (2004) Virtual Community Attraction: Why People Hang Out Online, JCMC 10 (1), Article 4

A great read that combines both academic research, examples and motivational theory to produce some interesting results.

Ardichvili, Page and Wentling (2003) Motivation and barriers to participation in Virtual knowledge-sharing communities of practice, Journal of Knowledge Management, 2003; 7,1

A perspective on internal online communities and analysing why some people participate more than others. The major motivations were when the organization naturally shares, when the knowledge belongs to the organization rather than the individual and when the individuals feel the need to establish themselves as experts.

Wang and Fesenmaier (2003) Understanding the Motivation of Contribution in Online Communities: An Empirical Investigation of an Online Travel Community, Electronic Markets, Vol 13, No 1.

A surprisingly good paper on motivational theory and its relevant to participating in online communities. Clearly, efficacy, affiliation, status and power all feature prominently.

Sugiyama and Rothaermel (2001) Virtual internet communities and commercial success: individual and community-level theory grounded in the atypical case of, Journal of Management 27

This was the pioneering study of its time and is still almost as relevant today as it was a decade ago. It introduces many of the key concepts we still use today. This includes over-management, community size, stability, monetization and developing a sense of community. I recommend this one above the others.

Sangwan , S (2005) Virtual community success: A uses and gratifications perspective

Another very interesting perspective on communities. Sangwan identifies three major motivations; functional (information), emotive (social, personal and self-expression) and contextual (entertainment and host). Sangwan concludes that in knowledge-based communities functional needs override the other two. Sadly this study has again fallen victim to both major problems. The users self-report their answers, “we want knowledge” and doesn’t differentiate between joining and participating.

Andrews, D.C (2002) Audience-specific online community design, Communications of the ACM, Vol 45, N. 4 

Another excellent paper looking at community design from a demographics and needs perspective. Andrews offers many practical suggestions for developing a successful online community.

Barab, S.A, MaKinster, J.G, Scheckler, R. (xxxx) Designing System Dualities: Characterizing An Online Professional Development Community 

A continuation of Wenger’s thoughts on designing a platform through its dualities. These are the inevitable conflicts in designing a platform that must be tackled. Suggest that the emergent approach works best.

Baym, N.K. (2007) The new shape of online community: The example of Swedish independent music fandom, First Monday, Volume 12, Number 8 – 6 

An excellent discussion on the evolution of some communities to be less dependent upon a single platform. Suggests, using a single example, that many communities can flourish without a single platform of discussion and that definitions of communities which are platform-reliant are false.

Stanoevska-Slabeva, K. (2002) Towards a Community-Orientated Design of Internet Platforms

A great overview of early (and still relevant) literature on the topic of community platforms, along with a strong case for building community platforms within existing sites (as opposed to building new platforms entirely).

Arnold, Y. Leimeister, J.L, Krcmar, H. (2003) CoPEP: A Development Process Model for Community Platforms for Cancer Patients, Community platform engineering process

A simple paper stressing the need to have an iterative process for developing an online community. Grow the community to meet the needs of the users, not the pre-defined needs of the organization.

Porter, C.E. (2004) A Typology of Virtual Communities: A Multi-Disciplinary Foundation for Future Research, Journal of Computer-mediated Communication, Vol, 10. No. 1.

Constance puts together an excellent typology of communities based upon their purpose, place, platform, interaction structure and profit model. This is worth skimming through if you’re interested in different ways of categorizing communities and previous literature on the topic.

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