8 Critical Success Factors for Virtual Communities

Posted on: June 26, 2009

Virtual communities face many challenges, from dealing with growth through to minimizing attrition and securing finance. Thus, they do not always flourish. From the accumulated experience of several decades of virtual communities, common themes and recurring challenges can be identified.

Clay Shirky refers to the interaction of “promise, tool and bargain” in Here Comes Everybody. What promise are you making, why would someone participate? How easy will your tool be to use, and will it remain so? What is the bargain, and how could, or should, members of the community behave? Beginning here and expanding considerations to these eight areas will greatly improve a virtual community’s likelihood of flourishing:

  1. External Context
  2. Financial Viability
  3. A Social Object
  4. Design and Nurture
  5. Culture
  6. Boundaries and Coercion
  7. Identity and Privacy
  8. Critical Mass

All these areas will be expanded in subsequent posts – I will link them through as I publish them.


This post is based on an essay I wrote to answer the question entitled “Virtual communities’ always flourish in the Internet’s open environment. Discuss factors that enable these communities to flourish and factors that may make it difficult for them to sustain themselves.” It synthesized empirical evidence, theoretical contributions and current practice.

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