Of all the digital businesses and products that are out there, there’s one niche that’s become especially significant in the current digital market: community products. You’ve probably used at least one of the big ones, like Strava, YouTube, Duolingo, Replit, GoFundMe, SoundCloud, BringATrailer, or Substack. Beyond teaching Spanish or tracking workouts, these community-centric products impact everything around us, from our digital experiences to our daily lives.
Threadable, a social platform for readers.

Our agency serves a broad spectrum of business types, and over the past few years we’ve seen firsthand how the prevalence of community-centric products has changed user expectations, design standards, and business plans across the entire market, from fashion to climate tech. This widespread ripple effect means that even if your product or platform isn’t a community product per se, you still likely need to leverage a community point of view in order to drive its goals. It’s something we’ve learned to do as an agency: our core competency is building a sense of belonging.

To understand how to best benefit from community principles, we first need to create a collective understanding of community products. Let’s take a closer look.

What does this actually mean?

There are a lot of terms out in the productsphere related to community and products, like “community-led growth” or “community-centric products” or “community platforms” (to name a few). It’s a fuzzy subject.

Community over platform

Community products and platforms both take advantage of network effects, but they aren’t the same. Technically, some community products are platforms—but not all platforms are community products. We define a platform as a multisided marketplace, whereas a successful community product has user-generated value. The value of the product is created within the community, as opposed to being created by the business running it.

What does this mean? Imagine an ecommerce transaction: You go to a website, you buy a toothbrush (maybe a hum 🦷), and then you get your toothbrush in the mail. The value created in that transaction was between you and the company that sold you the toothbrush. Now let’s compare that with a community product. Say you’re looking for a good workout and you try Peloton. You see that a couple of your friends have taken a ride before, and there’s a live class starting. You hop in and start riding. Your coach is hyping you up and you’re getting high-fives from others in the class. Your motivation (and value) is coming from the folks in the network, as opposed to the bike itself. Peloton leveraged the power of community to activate at-home fitness in a way that had never been done before. What’s more appealing, a stationary bike ride or a stationary bike ride with friends?

A Peleton leaderboard view

Community as a product over community-led products

When we talk about building community products, we’re referring to those for which product is the community. There’s a difference between community-led products and community as a product. Community-led products are ones that the community surrounds. For instance, there’s a thriving Facebook group for Siggi’s Icelandic yogurt. The brand’s social community has lots of merit: it’s engaging, it’s a place for building brand trust, and it can inform the product roadmap. However, the core product offering isn’t community, it’s yogurt. Siggi’s is a community-led product.

On the other hand, you have cases where community is the product. These products have intrinsic network effects, meaning the products get better the more people engage with them. Take Figma. It’s an incredible design tool, but the real magic happens when you’re collaborating with others. The product has been optimized for community, from its commenting and multiplayer features to its robust inventory of community-built plug-ins. Figma calls itself the “design platform for team collaboration.” Without the community aspect, Figma would be far less powerful. And at a time when many institutions are struggling to connect with their users across a fragmented landscape of social networks, Figma is a complete ecosystem unto itself.

What does this look like in practice?

Community-born value

Like the Peloton example above, community products need to be designed around the needs and motivations of their users—for both individuals and networks of interconnected people. To build products that are truly in line with the needs of that community, we need to deeply understand the people and what binds them together. There are all types of book lovers exploring all types of genres, but what unites the Threadable community isn’t just their love of literature, it’s their love of discourse. Readers are connected by their passion for sharing with and learning from one another. That’s what makes Threadable a community. So the priority of the product design was to focus on ways to make that discourse fun, easy, and rewarding, versus just making an e-reader.

Content at the core

We have a mantra: “Stories are the campfires that communities gather around.” Our goal is to articulate, celebrate, and further community ties through storytelling and user experience. Drawing upon our journalistic backgrounds helps foster a community mindset.

Moms Demand Action

Take Moms Demand Action, an app we built for people working to strengthen gun laws in the United States. MDA needed a dedicated space in which to rally and organize its grassroots community. In order to make calls to action really resonate with a diverse group of users, we knew we needed to bake the why into the product experience. What made MDA’s mission meaningful, and what did its members dream of achieving? We built a mobile experience that spotlighted important content core to MDA’s goals, along with powerful tools that allowed people across all 50 states to collaborate, connect, and make change. The stories galvanized a community toward action.

Trades, not transaction

Building for community products requires us to think a little differently. Rather than focusing on the psychology of an individual user, we have to take a wider, more sociological view and investigate how that user functions as part of a network. It’s traditional to visualize a user’s journey in a linear way, but what about the intersections of all those different users’ journeys? This is where we dig in. What do we want those interactions to feel like?

Shaping these moments should be viewed as a critical investment in the community. Rather than a transaction, an interaction should feel like an equitable exchange that generates goodwill and nurtures the health of the greater community’s engagement. Think of a conversation, not a lecture or a trade or a purchase.

Facilitating this with welcoming UX design is key, and it’s where interdisciplinary backgrounds come in handy. With the rise of design systems across Silicon Valley and beyond, there can be a risk of losing unique moments of delight in the user experience. A community can’t be served at the expense of the individual. This balance of community and individual user–driven design is something we are constantly calibrating in order to strengthen a product’s core function and retention. 


Across all types of digital products, we aim to include small touches that make people feel seen and foster inclusion. Koala is an ecommerce site where individuals can get medication for their pets. That’s a straightforward transaction. But throughout the Koala platform, we highlight the like-minded customer base to let users who are worried about their pets know they aren’t alone. We worked hard to understand the people who have that need, and to really empathize with them and understand them, and create moments for community within the experience. Even though that’s not the primary goal of the site, it directly supports the primary goal.


What makes communities so captivating? They cater to the human in us. We’re fundamentally social animals, and that makes communities powerful engines for business. The benefits of building and engaging communities are becoming more and more understood and quantifiable. Brands with strong communities have a more loyal customer base, they weather change more successfully, and they are less susceptible to disruption. Evoking emotion from users makes for more lasting relationships. There are countless examples of ways in which building community has boosted a brand’s success, from companies as disparate as Salesforce (Trailblazers), Harley-Davidson (HOGs), Peloton (leaderboards), and LEGO (Ideas Club).

Community members don’t exist in a vacuum. Without a home, a community isn’t one. The strength of a community is not just in its members, it’s in the digital spaces where they gather, communicate, and advance their collective culture. People are hungry for those opportunities, and as editorial experts, we’re driven by the urge to understand those people and share their stories. With user research and lovable product frameworks, we’re exploring and expanding the ways in which community product principles can be applied to all kinds of digital tools and serve all kinds of people.

Here’s a look at some of the communities we’ve developed lately:

  • Threadable, a social reading app that promotes discourse within the margins.
  • Koala, a community for pet lovers who are looking for better ways to manage their pets’ medication.
  • Moms Demand Action, an activist community that’s making the world a better, safer place by igniting action around gun control.
  • Valor Siren Ventures, a VC platform that connects its community of entrepreneurs so they can learn from one another.
  • GoNoodle, a product that connects teachers and kids around the country, supporting their physical and mental wellness.