5 Lessons I've Learned While Building a Thriving Online Community

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Starting any entrepreneurial venture involves understanding people’s needs and identifying your target audience. Beyond having a brilliant business idea, knowing your audience’s demographics, dynamics, and psychographics helps form your enterprise’s core foundation.

In an online business, the goal is for everyone visiting your platform to like, trust, sign up, and (ideally) buy from you. Achieving this takes time, so how can one gather an online community, retain it, and grow it into a mutually beneficial digital ecosystem?

While building Dreamstime, the world’s largest stock photo community, I’ve learned valuable strategies that have helped the company succeed at being a reliable online hub for millions of content contributors and users worldwide.

Related: The Key Benefits of Building an Online Community

1. Creative values

In a competitive landscape with millions of companies striving to scale up, the most valuable asset for an online business is the community. Building a thriving creative community goes beyond any marketing strategy or competitive pricing you offer; it is more about value:

  • The value of your service,
  • Valuing your members,
  • Your community’s core values,
  • Valuable resources to harness more opportunities for your community.

Related: How to Pioneer Creative Content with AI the Right Way

2. Build a valuable resource

A successful creative community delivers outstanding, contemporary and unique content but caters to the needs of today’s diverse audiences. This requires agility to align with varied and constantly changing consumer preferences. Regarding creative communities, success depends on how your community is different and better.

  • Focusing on building a robust infrastructure for your customers always pays off. A flexible platform architecture, scalable databases and fast loading times will make your community’s platform reliable and improve user engagement.
  • Crowdsourcing platforms are excellent online resources, but it can be challenging to find the right content. Investing time and resources in high-performing search engines that deliver relevant results and use data to personalize the content returned in searches based on specific interests and needs will make customers turn and return to your community for the service and products they need.
  • Exclusive content, limited editions, and personalized resources can always set you apart. Encourage and motivate people to submit their creative work with you, reward them for being exclusive, and curate content as much as possible. Creative work involves billions of submissions to online platforms yearly, so having a sound filtering mechanism ensures your community displays or sells only the best of the best.

3. Community talks

Success as a creative community heavily depends on making your members feel engaged, welcome, respected and motivated. Showing you value your community involves consistent actions that demonstrate appreciation, support, and recognition.

  • Listen to your community. Members’ feedback helps identify users’ needs and preferences and highlights areas where the community may need to improve to meet members’ expectations. Whether it is the upload process, content curation, or the need for an AI-powered keywording tool, community members’ needs dictate the course of your service.
  • Let members actively participate in business development. Surveys, interactive polls, or simply having a customer support service that answers moderates, and helps any community member quickly are ways to keep your members actively in the development loop. There is no better promotion than having your community members actively recommend you by sharing their positive experiences.
  • An online community requires continuous mentoring and guidance, and hosting forums, message boards, and blog sections is vital for the group’s synergy. Adding a conversational space where members can support newcomers, artists and designers, share ideas, receive feedback and encouragement, and request custom artwork makes a community not only more resilient to the dynamics of any industry but also the obvious choice for newcomers.

Related: 6 Ways To Be Creative in Your Business

4. Community values

Shared values and goals bind communities together. In today’s online communities and inclusive environments, setting some universally accepted values will make your community a safer and better place despite cultural differences and barriers.

  • Trust is a core value for a thriving community, and keeping promises to your users is crucial. Offering the same quality service amid price pressures and large content volumes and rewarding the same benefits motivates members to join your community.
  • Equal opportunities and content protection are vital for creative communities. All content should have a fair chance to be seen and sold, so building a fair, transparent mechanism for your search engine is a good idea. Dreamstime, for instance, protects content creators’ work and ensures they are adequately compensated while providing a hassle-free experience for users and avoiding complex legal procedures.
  • Going beyond and extending help to drive positive change while mobilizing community members to support meaningful causes inspires a sense of unity and purpose that will eventually strengthen your community. While fostering cooperation is essential, participation in supported causes should be voluntary. Democratic affiliations ensure all members’ preferences are respected.

5. Embrace technology

With the rise of AI, the market has become more competitive than ever, requiring innovation from creative communities in content and marketing strategies. Crowdsourcing community platforms today must innovate continually to remain competitive in a dynamic digital landscape.

While no AI engine can replace humans, technology allows us all to refine our work. For content reviewers, this means their reviews can be supportive and help authors progress in their creative endeavors. Artificial intelligence has augmented advanced search filtering options for platforms to help users discover content effortlessly. Technology has proven a valuable assistant that drives the business forward and allows the community to achieve its creative and financial goals.

Many communities have evolved to offer an integrated, all-solution service and have expanded beyond website-only platforms, utilizing multiple marketing and content sales channels. They have become more robust and more comprehensive service providers.

Thanks to technology, communities interact better and faster, and creatives can generate better visual content with the help of AI-powered tools. With the help of online communities, creatives can create their schedule without monetary costs beyond equipment and software. Success also depends on navigating an ever-changing landscape, but being part of dynamic global communities that adjust, adapt, support, and motivate will enable creatives to stay ahead of the curve.


Most online communities face challenges throughout their trajectory, such as decreased engagement, technical scalability, ensuring fair moderation, content curation, and many more. If your community spans virtually worldwide, it can often take time to accommodate various interests and cultural sensitivities or even manage issues related to copyright violations.

Online communities heavily rely on Google’s organic traffic for their growth. Google’s dominance in the search engine market means it often prioritizes specific sites, offering little support to those developing online communities.

This dependence on Google makes it challenging for these platforms to grow and thrive independently. Nevertheless, online communities can reduce their reliance on Google by diversifying traffic sources, optimizing content, focusing on user engagement and nurturing trust, and creating a more resilient and thriving environment.

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