How much does it cost to build an online community?

by JustbeFRANK on January 12, 2010

FRANK’s Grandpa and his daughter (mother of FRANK) in 1939

Hello FRANK?

I am interested in starting a social media website (online community, social network) where users can purchase accounts (sign up for paid scubscriptions) to create profiles and receive a benefit (access to specialized, unique and original content).

Do you do this type of work?

If so do you have any document that I can read to fully understand what you can do for me?

Do you have a price list?



Hello Elizabeth,

Thank you for your e-mail and your interest in working with FRANK.

It sounds like you have the basis of an idea for building an online community platform. This is an ambitious undertaking. It is a long and winding road that begins with just one step. Cheers to you for taking the first step.

At FRANK, we have been in the business of designing and building online communities for organizations and corporate clients for a good number of years now. In fact, since about 1995. Long before Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and thousands of other online communities or “social networking” websites as they seem to be called nowadays, we were designing, building and hosting unique online communities on behalf of ourselves and our clients. There are not many that can honestly make that claim.

Although online community web sites are sometimes considered social networks, a social network usually means an individual-centered service like Facebook or MySpace whereas online community services are group-centered like the BMW Motorcycle Club of America.

The early forms of these communities focused on bringing people together to interact with each other through forums and chat rooms, to share ideas, personal information and discussions around any topic via crude publishing tools which gave birth to the modern day blogging and social networking phenomenon.

The social-network-based wave of online community arrived and began to evolve in the early 2000s and is essentially now characterized by online communities such as Facebook, Twitter, user generated content (visual media) crowd publishers Flickr and YouTube and bookmarking sites like Digg, Stumbleupon, and Seth Godin‘s Squidoo.

The explosive expansion of the Internet since about 1995 has fostered the ubiquitous proliferation of a whole array of thriving online communities. The trend is starting to emerge now within the ranks of business, government and not for profit sector. Non profits are pioneering innovative use of social media tools to embark on game changing social enterprise ventures. Business is booming and entire industries are being created where online communities are taking hold. These online communities can be organizational, regional or topical depending on the nature of business and their respective communities.

Different online communities have different levels of interaction and participation among their members. While they all share some common features and capabilities, and are similar in many ways, they are all very unique in terms of features and functionality.

Elizabeth, that is a lot to chew on and absorb. It can be overwhelming. I know. It has taken us a long time to amass our experience, cut through the noise and make sense of it all. Let me finish up now and get to the point…

To answer your question about how much does it cost to build an effective online community platform, we would need to know a lot more about your vision. Like there is no set list of all of the required elements in a good social network, there is no set price list for all of the elements required in a good online community website.

We have a good idea what it takes to build an effective set of tools to facilitate the development of a solid foundation for an effective community platform, but until we know your vision—who you want to convene with, how you want to find, reach out to, communicate and engage with them, what you want to share with them and how you want to achieve all of this (pay for it), it is a very difficult thing to price.

We can make some suggestions according to what you want to do, who you want to reach and how you might want to reach them. We can recommend a basic set of tools and features, a set of must haves to get started and a wish list of options to add on over time. In almost every single case, you are only limited by your imagination and the money you have to spend added up over time.

Most online community projects have wish lists that far outpace and outstrip their budget, so it becomes a matter of setting your main priorities and achieving the most goals you can using the most efficient means (best tools for the least amount of resources)—and hopefully not spending more than what you have to work with. It is best to take advantage of a website uncompleted sales from abandoned carts. You can read more about that from a resource I found here.

That being said. the difference between having a dream and realizing that dream is often only money and action. It all boils down to how much you have. If you don’t have much money, then you need to take action and set forth without incurring cost. Easier said than done right?

It seems to make a lot of sense for most, to use free and easy to use online community building tools like Ning. A lot of non profit agencies (like Autism Speaks) like Ning because it gets them up and running with an online community without the costs normally associated with building one. Ning has its limitations, but it is wonderfully free and it will allow you to get up and running and start the process of building community relatively quickly. It will still be a lot of work, but your initial cash outlay is accessible for most everyone with an internet connection.

If you want to build something special, something original and unique, so you can create your own niche community, create, own and provide controlled access to unique and original content and sell subscriptions, advertising and sponsorship to hopefully make money by doing all of this, then you will need to have a bunch of really bright friends in the right places or a lot of money, because these things can cost a lot of money to plan, design and build properly.

Beyond the initial breakthrough idea, there is research, strategy, site planning, design, programming, database development and implementation. Once you have the infrastructure in place, there is content creation and content management, community engagement and relationship management, public relations, media relations, social media optimization, search engine optimization, marketing, advertising, website hosting and ongoing development. All of these things are important considerations and critical to the success of your venture. All take time, energy and professional commitment—all are line items that contribute to your cost and yet all are defined and limited by the amount of money that you have to spend on them.

We can help you with all of the above. We can even help you develop a sensible budget and a realistic timeline. We can provide you with a team of dedicated professionals that can help you take your vision and make it a reality. All it takes is money and your vision of a unique, interesting and engaged community.

Lets presume you have the money (for now). Tell us about your vision.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

som March 28, 2010 at 9:12 am

thanks for giving some much needed rest time to the bug inside my save my idea from burn out of frustration and not to mention that the quality of your knowledge inspired a lazy like me to end up in writing.
I want to create a kind of thing which will try to tap market in India primarily.this will be a mix of old blogging and modern social site and targeted for a particular type of market like sports and specific to a country or society(india) . I have done enough research and convinced due to my job experience and guts feeling about the market potential.
The features I like to include:
1)participation on discussion board & joining a subgroup facility
2) profile maintenance with at per best.
3) video upload facility.
4) email contact features to the subscriber like other standard social website.
5) online polling facility.
6) auto reply facilities and all other also run features.
7) I want to also keep the facility to provide a link to some product sellers and to get paid for the hits originated from my site.
I expect 100,000 in the first month of launching and ( I know you are laughing!! )
and by default from start I have to maintain a database of 500+ GB due to nature of the concept.
what is your idea about the budget and where you can help

JustbeFRANK March 28, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Start small, grow organically. Spend as little as you can get away with. Work with a free platform like Ning or WordPress and work up from there as you develop a fan base and a business model. It takes a long time to build community and you do not want to run out of money before you run out of enthusiasm.

Good Luck to you!

Khuram September 20, 2010 at 11:40 am

JustbeFRANK I am really compress what you said (Start small, grow organically. Spend as little as you can get away with). I was also thinking to start a community network but now i changed my mind and i will go with a Ning or any other and will get more experience before I start a something big.
Thank you

business daily March 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm

….April 4 2009 in Tags ………….Heres a post I never thought Id have to write..A longtime faithful beloved member of my online community . He was only 30..I cant even tell you the emotion I felt upon learning this and the outpouring of emotion shown by community members is a true testament to the power of online communities..HE was known in the community as Studweiser. ……………. … I posted a blog a few weeks ago when a well-regarded highly popular member of my online community died.

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