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How to Build a Sustainable Paid Online Community in 2024

May 22nd 2024
Home > Blog > How to Build a Sustainable Paid Online Community in 2024
how to build an online community.

If you’re interested in building a sustainable community that pays well, this guide has everything you need. With so many different types of communities to choose from, you can build one tailored to your own interests and attract a wide range of like-minded individuals who are just as passionate as you. Keep reading to find out how.

What is an Online Community?

An online community is a virtual space that brings together individuals with shared interests, passions, goals, or purposes. Just like a physical community, members of online communities can collaborate on projects, ask for advice on certain topics, develop skills, or just form connections and make friends. However, unlike physical communities, online spaces are boundless, transcending the geographical limitations that hinder physical spaces. 

Furthermore, online communities are not the same as social media communities, where casual interactions take priority over curating meaningful relationships. Thriving and engaged online communities can have a wealth of benefits for an individual’s career, skillset, social life, and even mental health. In fact, numerous studies have shown that belonging to an online community can even eliminate loneliness and lower depression.

Some benefits of online communities include:

  • Interactivity – Community members can share tips, provide feedback, and showcase knowledge on specific subjects, expanding their own and other’s skill sets.
  • Recurring engagement – If communities are successful, members will return for more, whether to interact with their friends, share user-generated content, or become part of the discussion. This creates an active space in which individuals can escape to.
  • Shared values or Interests – Finding people who share specific interests in real life can be challenging. However, online communities eradicate the barriers of distance, culture, and even language at times, meaning members can meet like-minded people from all over the world.
  • A sense of belonging – By joining a group that reflects their values, ambitions, and beliefs, community members can foster a sense of belonging they may not have anywhere else.
  • Lifelong friendships – Many community members form close bonds and lifelong friendships with those in their online communities. According to Survey Center, roughly 39% of Americans say they have friends they interact with solely through the internet.
  • Networking – Many freelancers, remote workers, and creatives can network through communities, finding job opportunities they wouldn’t have stumbled across anywhere else.

The home page of Skillshare

[Source: SkillShare website.]

Types of Online Communities

Learning Community

Learning communities primarily offer learning experiences, provide educational resources, and encourage members to exchange knowledge. Examples of learning communities include online courses, academic forms, and even online study groups. Individuals can get help on a range of different topics, from essay writing to DIY. 

Some famous learning communities include SkillShare, The Student Room, and Masterclass.

Looking to set up an online learning community? Try Teach.io. Teach is an all-in-one learning platform that gives you all the tools you need to master the classroom. Try their 14-day free trial.

Community of Practice (CoP)

CoPs bring together professionals in certain fields to share insights, best practices and experiences. You’ll often find these professional networks made up of teachers, software developers, or healthcare professionals. 

One example of this is Elpha, a community of over 100,000 women in tech. This community aims to help women meet new people and make new friends, discover new and exciting career opportunities, offer advice, and encourage others to share their expert knowledge.

Micro Community

Micro communities are smaller spaces that center around specific interests or niches. Examples include book clubs, specialized hobby groups (such as bird watchers or plant collectors), or even neighborhood associations. One example is Epic Fantasy Fanatics, a small, sustainable book club on Facebook that encourages its members to read and talk about fantasy.

The Apple Support webpage.

Brand Community

Brand communities are formed around specific brands and companies. Members can talk about products, share their experiences, connect with likeminded individuals, and even speak to representatives of the company. Some examples include Apple’s support community, or gaming company forums for fans.

Customer Community

The main purpose of a customer community is to provide customer support. Community members have the freedom to ask questions, provide feedback on products, and talk to company representatives. 

These communities aren’t just great for customers; companies can use them to get real-time feedback and optimize their products. Examples of these communities include forums for tech companies and customer feedback groups for consumer goods.

Th "If Books Could Kill" webpage.

[Source: If Books Could Kill Patreon.]

Membership Community

Membership or subscription-based communities usually require payment for access. This may include a one-time entry or subscription fee. However, payment isn’t always the case. These communities offer high-quality content, interactions, or knowledge that community members can’t get anywhere else.

Professional guilds, premium content sites, or member-only clubs are all examples of membership communities.

For example, If Books Could Kill is a Patreon community that gives access to podcast episodes, an exclusive discord service, and a say in what the creators talk about next, depending on which subscription tier members choose.

Importance and Benefits of Building an Online Community

We may have highlighted why individuals choose to join a community, but creating a community comes with a range of benefits for businesses, too. Here are just some of the things a successful and sustainable community can do for your brand:

  • Build brand loyalty – A community will show customers you care about them and their interests.
  • Create brand advocates – By engaging with a dedicated community, you can form bonds with your audience, making them more likely to advocate for your brand.
  • Increase brand awareness & engagement – Communities offer a way to highlight company benefits and provide more information about the brand, encouraging users to interact.
  • Provide real-time feedback opportunities – Gather product feedback from a trusted source of individuals who believe in your brand. You can also use community statistics to see what content resonates with your community the most, helping you to refine your products or services based on your audience needs.
  • Offer peer support for customers – Customers can answer each other’s concerns.
  • Let customers collaborate and share ideas – Customers can share tips and tricks for using products or services.
  • Provide exclusive content and discounts – This will make your audience feel special and appreciated.

When these elements come together, they will create a thriving community flywheel that will automatically drive business growth. But, to create a sustainable community, you first need to master an optimal community design that suits your brand and niche.

How to Build an Online Community

1. Who is Your Community For?

Define your Niche

With the saturation of communities in online spaces, it’s important to define your niche or community focus. Narrowing down to a specific niche will ensure you attract and retain the right members, helping to create a tight-knit community that engages with content curated specially for them. This will help keep your members interested and your community thriving.

Study User Demographics and Psychographics

To build a sustainable paid community, you need to understand your audience demographic, which is made up of important information like their age, gender, and location. Think about psychographics, too, such as your audience’s interests, values and beliefs, and lifestyle. This information is imperative to curating content that appeals to them personally. 

To discover your audience demographic, research similar communities and their existing audiences. For example, a spirituality and wellness community may consist of women between 20 – 40 years old who enjoy spending time with their family, meditation, and reading. This specific information will help you create posts, video content, or even eBooks that will appeal to your audience.

Persona Development

One of the best ways to understand your audience is by creating detailed, fictionalized personas that represent the ideal members of your community. Think about the type of person you wish to attract. Then, create a character profile of them, detailing characteristics, goals, behaviours, and even challenges they may have to overcome. 

For example, if you’re building a community of dog lovers, you may create the character of Sarah, a 33-year-old lover of nature who enjoys spending time with her family.

Usage of Personas

Creating personas will help you design content to attract the members you believe will benefit most from your online space. By keeping fictionalized personas in mind, you can develop effective community features and content quickly. This will enhance engagement and audience satisfaction, and you’ll end up with a thriving community of like-minded individuals who benefit from your online space.

Iterative Process

Personas shouldn’t be set in stone. As your community grows and you have access to more real community data, adjust your personas and optimize your content. For example, if you set up a baking community with the intention of attracting 40-year-old mums, but a large portion of your audience are in their 20s, adjust your personas accordingly and curate content that aligns with them. This will help you improve your online space and build a sustainable community.

2. Establish Objectives and KPIs

KPIs are essential to monitoring the health of your online space and creating a sustainable community. Otherwise known as “key performance indicators,” KPIs are metrics you can use to measure different aspects of your business or community. Here’s how to use them to your advantage.

Define Community Goals

Before you start tracking KPIs, outline your long-term community goals and objectives. For example, do you plan on using your community to enhance your business’s customer engagement, improve the outreach of a non-profit, or even just make connections? Whatever your intentions, make them clear. This way, you’ll know which KPIs to track, saving you time and effort in the long run.

Target Audience Alignment

Your target audience needs to align with your goals. Your community should attract members who benefit from the objectives of the community. If your goals and audience aren’t in alignment, you’ll lose members or end up with an unengaged group of individuals who won’t benefit from your content. 

Setting KPIs

To effectively measure the success of your community, your KPIs need to link directly to your goals. For example, if you’re a learning community that teaches members new skills, an example metric to track is video engagement. Which videos are members finding particularly useful? Are there any they skip? This will help you optimize your content for future members.

Possible metrics to track include:

  • Member engagement rates
  • Content sharing frequency
  • Event participating levels
  • Referral rates
  • Business revenue

3. Create Guidelines and Norms

The Importance of Clear Guidelines

Like with any group, laying out clear guidelines is essential to your community’s health and the safety of your members. If your community members feel unsafe, they won’t engage with your content. Or, worse – they will leave your community and find a different one.

Guidelines act as a foundation framework for community members to adhere to. It dictates acceptable behaviors, which, in turn, creates a safe environment where all members feel respected and protected. 

Clear guidelines can also prevent conflict in the long run, leaving little room for misunderstandings. By setting clear boundaries and expectations, members won’t be tempted to cross them, which will reduce disputes.

Key Components of Effective Guidelines

  • Rules of engagement – Make acceptable and unacceptable behavior clear, with specific examples, such as the importance of respecting other’s opinions, values, and beliefs. Make sure to prohibit offensive language and content or anything else that might make other members feel unsafe.
  • Privacy and security protocols – Make it clear how the community plans to protect member security and privacy. Make sure members protect their own private information, such as where they live and work.
  • Consequences of rule violations – Make it explicitly clear what will happen if community members violate the guidelines. This could include temporary suspensions, content restrictions, and even permanent bans. If community members violate the rules, it’s imperative to follow through with consequences based on the severity of the breach. This will discourage other members from following in their footsteps.
  • Encouragement of Positive Interaction – Guidelines shouldn’t just prohibit certain behavors – it should also encourage positive ones, too. Promote behaviors that contribute to community growth. This may include sharing content and knowledge or making new members feel welcome.

Not sure which rules to lay down? Check out our community guideline examples.

The Teach webpage.

[Source: Teach.io.]

4. Choose a Community Platform

With a variety of community platforms available offering different features, it can be a challenge to choose the right one for your community. Popular community platforms include Discord, Facebook, Slack, Kajabi, and Teach.io.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Platform

  • Scalability – A successful community will grow and thrive, and you need a platform that can accommodate for that. A limited platform may affect the performance of your community and your members’ user experiences as it continues to grow and more people join.
  • Customization options – Customisation goes a long way in curating a space tailored specially to your community members. By integrating features like sub-channels and different types of content, you can create a space that appeals to your target audience.
  • Integration capabilities – Tool integration is important for a seamless, stress-free experience. You should be able to integrate other tools and services that will improve your community, such as analytics tools, email marketing software, or CRM systems. Some all-in-one platforms, like Teach, already have most of this installed anyway, so research this before deciding on your platform.
  • User experience and interface – One of the most important features of a community platform is that it should be user-friendly and easy to navigate. If it’s too complicated, community members are less likely to engage with your content, lowering overall community engagement.

Recommendations for Different Types of Communities

  • Business-focused Communities – If your community is business-focused, you’ll need a hosting platform that offers sales and marketing integrations. Good examples include LinkedIn Groups and Saleforce Community Cloud, built for you to connect with your customers.
  • Interest-based Communities – Since this type of community is more focused on forming connections, making friends, and sharing content, try platforms such as Discord. With the ability to make challenges and sub-challenges, you can split niches into smaller sub-categories and create a fun, interactive, and sustainable space.
  • Educational or Learning Communities – if your community focuses on learning and teaching, all-in-one platforms that let you manage content and connect with students are the best. Teach.io is built specifically for learners, keeping everything you need in one place.
  • Support Communities – If you’re running a support community, you need platforms with moderation and privacy features, such as secure one-to-one messaging and subgroups. This is because your community members may discuss sensitive topics, depending on the community niche. Platforms like Podia are perfect for this.

5. Start Conversations

As a community leader, there are lots of strategies you can implement to encourage initial member interaction. Here are just a few:

  • Welcome messages and introductions – Platforms, such as Discord, allow you to implement automatic welcome messages for new members. Once a new member joins, you can also encourage other community members to welcome them and introduce themselves. This will help members make connections straight away and avoid initial silence in the community.
  • Ice-breaker activities – Activities such as polls, questionnaires, and digital meet-and-greet sessions are great ways to break the ice and create community connections between members.
  • Community onboarding sessions – Onboarding sessions, posts and webinars will help new members get to grips with all those important nitty-gritty things of your community, such as tools, community guidelines, and admins. 

Content Creation Tips to Spark Discussions 

Once members have made their introductions and are settling in, it’s important to spark discussions, as this will help create an engaged community. The more engaged your community is, the more sustainable it’s likely to be. Here are some ideas for online community-building activities:

  • Encourage user-generated content – The important thing is to get your community posting. Do this by creating prompts, challenges, or contests to encourage your community members to post. For example, many art communities conduct a monthly “Draw This in Your Style” challenge, inspiring community members to post their own versions of a drawing. You can also encourage members to share stories or experiences related to the community’s theme. This will help them form connections.
  • Try regular thematic discussions or events – This is a great way to establish a routine. Schedule discussions over current events or specific topics. Moderators can even hold weekly question-and-answer sessions.
  • Feature content tools – Use in-built platform tools to create content, such as videos, polls, text posts, and more. By posting different types of content, you’ll be more successful in engaging your audience.

Incentives to Encourage Participation

  • Recognition systems – A series of studies conducted by Harvard Business Review found that “symbolic awards” can boost morale and performance. From leaderboards praising activity to “Member of the Month,” these can make active members feel seen and encourage them to engage.
  • Rewards and badges – A badge system is another fantastic way to make members feel appreciated for engaging with content, which will, once again, encourage them to engage further.
  • Exclusive content or events – Member-only events and exclusive content as a reward for active participation will encourage further engagement. For example, this could be access to new content, features, webinars, or free entry to exclusive, live events.

6. How to Grow an Online Community

If you want a sustainable paid online community, it’s important to implement strategies that will help nurture and grow it. It’s important to promote your community and content, letting your target audience know it exists. There are different ways to do this, such as using social media to promote community content. For example, many community leaders on Patreon will show snippets of content on social media, enticing people to sign up for their community. 

You can also engage in trends related to your community’s niche, especially with TikTok and Instagram reels. Take social media one step further by using targeted ads for more reach, and watch your community grow.

Actively distribute content across all your platforms to reach a bigger and broader audience. Furthermore, partnering with popular blogs, influencers, or ambassadors related to your niche will get more eyes on your community.

Implementing Referral Programs

Referral programs are a great way to build a sustainable community of active members. Create a program that rewards members of your community for inviting others into the group. Rewards could include exclusive content, discounts on products, or even physical goods, depending on your niche. Pick something that will resonate with your audience.

Make sharing content and referrals easy through social media or email. Create shareable content such as images, infographics, articles, or even videos, and include CTAs to encourage others to join your community. This will keep bringing new people in, helping you to curate a thriving and sustainable space.

Building Partnerships and Collaborations

Collaborating with others is another great way to help build your community. Collaborate with other brands, organizations and influencers who can bring your community to fresh new eyes. However, it’s also important that your collaborators share the same values, beliefs and interests as you, so your community and content appeal to their audience.

Let influencers (or even celebrities) collaborate with you through live events. Plan “community takeovers,” where the influencer takes over running the community for a day. Host question and answer sessions or panels. Make sure to advertise your takeover on social media platforms to encourage more people to join your community.

Long-Term Community Development

To build a sustainable paid community, think long-term. Here are a few areas that will contribute to the development of your space:

  • Scalability planning – As more and more people join, it’s important to plan for scalability. As your community grows, your platform needs to as well. The platform you choose should be able to handle an increase in members, feature integration and content without shutting down. Teach.io is a platform that will grow with you, providing everything you need to build a thriving community.
  • Developing community leaders – As your community grows, managing it single-handedly will become trickier. You’ll need to identify potential moderators and leaders within your community who are well-equipped to take on the responsibility of moderation. 
A person looking at analytics on a laptop and a cellphone.

[Source: Canva]

7. Keep it fun

For your community to thrive and be stable, it must engage your audience, no matter your niche. Make sure to regularly monitor your community’s engagement, as this will help you assess whether members are enjoying themselves. You can do this by using engagement metrics. Keep an eye on shares, likes, comments, and how many people are leaving your space. 

Asking for direct feedback is a sure way to understand what’s making your community tick. Use surveys and polls to ask members which type of content they find engaging and what they’d like to see more of. You could also consider anonymous suggestion boxes, as this will allow community members to speak their minds freely and ensure you get honest feedback, letting you work out which areas need improving, so you can adjust accordingly.

Adapting Strategies Based on Feedback and Analytics

Using the insights you gain from metric analytics and specific member feedback will help you adjust the content of your community accordingly. For example, the data may show less engagement with Q&A sessions or video content. This will show you that customers aren’t engaged, and you should focus on producing content that they enjoy. Continue to use posts that members engage with and introduce new content ideas to keep things fresh. This constant approach of refreshing and adjusting will ensure your community is never stale and that you’re always adhering to your member’s needs.

Getting your community involved in big decisions will make them feel included. Create polls, surveys and discussion forums to ask your community for advice before introducing a new feature. Similarly, if community members ask for specific features, take the time to implement them. This will show them you care about their thoughts and opinions, making them feel more included in the community, improving overall engagement.

Examples of Successful Online Communities 

To create a sustainable paid online community, it’s important to check out what strategies other successful communities are implementing. Here are a few examples of thriving, paid communities. By studying them, you can take what’s working well and use them to your advantage. 


Community Type: Learning Community

Duoling is a community centered around learning language. With over 40 languages to master, this platform simplifies it, helping users learn through small, bite-sized amounts of content. It harnesses community power to create a fun environment and enhance user retention.

What Makes It Successful?

  • Gamification strategies that encourage the competitive streak in its members
  • User interaction through comments and discussions
  • A supportive environment
  • Welcomes users of all levels and languages

By using these strategies, Duolingo creates a supportive learning environment that users keep coming back to.

Stack Overflow

Community Type: Community of Practice

Stack Overflow is a community where developers can learn and share knowledge with each other, helping like-minded individuals get a better understanding of coding and software development.

What Makes It Successful?

  • Q&A formats
  • Long-form article content
  • Top-of-the-line AI tools
  • “Content Health” provides strict moderation for high-quality content

These features make Stack Overflow a fantastic community platform for boosting team productivity and collaboration, ensuring users get the best, most up-to-date content. It’s no wonder the community is the go-to technical forum for professionals and tech enthusiasts.

Sephora Beauty Insider

Community Type: Brand Community

This beauty community is built around the Sephora brand, acting as a hub for beauty enthusiasts all over the United States. They can give product reviews, share tips and tricks, and stay on top of the latest beauty trends.

What Makes It Successful?

  • Rewards program
  • Exclusive member events
  • Discounts and seasonal savings on products
  • Benefits such as same-day delivery
  • Tier-based system

Sephora Beauty Insider excelled at enhancing customer loyalty. With a tier-based system in place, starting with a free subscription to the community, members get access to a whole host of exclusive rewards.

Smart Passive Income (SPI) Community by Pat Flynn

Community Type: Membership Community

This membership community was originally created by Pat Flynn and has evolved into a hub of knowledge for online businesses. Community members can learn how to build an online business with tried-and-true methods. This community boasts over 1,200 expert entrepreneurs.

What Makes It Successful?

  • Home to real experts who provide valuable knowledge
  • Over 18 premium courses to accelrate skill development
  • Live webinars, workshops and special events
  • Supported by a podcast and a popular social media presence

With a wealth of knowledge available from experts in the industry and a whole host of amazing resources to take advantage of, Smart Passive Income is a dynamic community that can help budding entrepreneurs take their online business to the next level.

Marie Forleo’s B-School

Community Type: Membership Community

Marie Forleo’s B-School is an online learning environment that gives budding entrepreneurs the tools to build their businesses. Advertised as the “gold-standard online training experience,” this community has helped over 80,000 entrepreneurs across 650+ industries create meaningful and profitable businesses.

What Makes It Successful?

  • Private weekly training modules
  • Swipe files, resources, and templates
  • Love group coaching
  • Bonus masterclasses
  • Support and mentorship
  • Networking opportunities with other entrepreneurs 

With a whole host of high-quality resources offered, it’s no wonder that Marie Forleo’s B-School is so successful. From product-based businesses to service-based businesses, this community provides support where its members can truly thrive.

Side Hustle School

Community Type: Membership Community

Side Hustle was originally created by Chris Guillebeau, author of “The $100 Startup. It’s a community that helps individuals grow a side business without quitting their day job.

What Makes It Successful?

  • Daily podcast with valuable information
  • Active online presence
  • Workshops
  • Q&As with industry experts – “Ask Chris”

Side Hustle School features a wealth of resources, from guides to workshops and events that those interested in business can use to their advantage. It’s this wealth of knowledge and podcast format that makes this community so sustainable.

Build a Sustainable Community With Teach.io

Creating your community has never been easier with Teach’s all-in-one platform. Get everything you need in one place. Whether you’re looking for video integration, want to host live events, or need to connect with your students one-on-one, Teach is here to support you. Try their 14-day free trial now.


Although building a sustainable paid online community may seem daunting at first, following the fundamentals we’ve outlined above will act as a framework for your success. The most important thing to remember about building a community is that your community members come first, and all actions you take should be with them in mind, whether it’s implementing new content or trying out a new feature. Make sure of audience feedback and tap into their needs. Once you start to curate your community around them, you’ll be able to create a dynamic and sustainable paid community.

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