The online community lifecycle

We will briefly discuss the community building model proposed by Richard Millington and look at how it works in practice.

  • Community building

Richard Millington is a prominent figure in the field of community management and online community building. He is the founder of FeverBee, a leading community strategy and training company, the author of some books becoming a valuable resource for community managers seeking to take their communities to the next level of growth and engagement. One of the most popular and influential books is "Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities". His community life cycle model has become a widely adopted framework for understanding and managing the evolution of online communities.

The Online Community Lifecycle

So, every community goes through four main stages, as outlined by Richard Millington:

Stage 1: Inception (1-3 months)

The Inception stage is an early phase in the development of a community where the basic idea is formulated, key objectives are defined, and initial feasibility studies are conducted to assess the viability of the community.

The community manager's (CM) task is to:

  • Create the core of the community
  • Invite participants
  • Activate and maintain engagement
  • Initiate discussions
  • Create content
  • Build relationships with participants


When the team at FitnessFlex decided to launch an online community for their fitness app users, they knew they were entering uncharted territory. As community management experts, they understood the importance of laying the right foundation during the Inception stage.

During those first 3 months, the community manager, Sarah, worked tirelessly to create the core of the FitnessFlex community. She started by personally inviting a handful of the app's most engaged users to join the private online forum. These early members would serve as the community's anchors, helping to shape the tone and direction of the discussions.

Sarah then turned her attention to activation and engagement. She crafted a warm welcome message for new members, encouraging them to introduce themselves and share their fitness goals. To keep the conversations flowing, she posed thought-provoking questions and shared relevant content from the FitnessFlex blog.

Recognizing the importance of fostering relationships, Sarah also made it a point to personally respond to each new member, thanking them for joining and offering support. She wanted every participant to feel seen and valued, building a sense of belonging from the very start.

As the community gained momentum, Sarah continued to be a constant and visible presence. She initiated discussions on popular fitness topics, shared progress updates on new app features, and encouraged members to connect with one another. Slowly but surely, the FitnessFlex community began to take shape, with Sarah at the helm, nurturing its growth.

By the end of the Inception stage, Sarah had successfully created a core group of engaged members, all eager to be a part of this budding fitness community. With a solid foundation in place, the community was now poised to enter the next phase of its life cycle – the Growth stage.

Stage 2: Establishment and Growth (3-12 months)

The goal at this stage is to create organic growth, allowing the community to develop and expand.

The CM's task is to:

  • Create content about the community
  • Organize regular events and activities
  • Recruit and train volunteers
  • Collect and analyze data
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Strategically plan steps to strengthen the community's growth


As the FitnessFlex community transitioned into the Growth stage, Sarah knew it was time to shift her focus to creating organic expansion and allowing the community to flourish.

During this period, Sarah's first priority was to generate more content about the community itself. She started by crafting a welcome guide for new members, highlighting the community's purpose, core values, and guidelines. This helped set clear expectations and made newcomers feel at ease.

Next, Sarah worked on organizing regular events and activities to keep the community engaged. She launched a monthly fitness challenge, where members could share their progress and cheer each other on. She also hosted quarterly virtual Q&A sessions with the FitnessFlex fitness experts, which quickly became popular among the members.

To support the community's growth, Sarah recruited a team of volunteer moderators. These dedicated members helped manage discussions, welcome new arrivals, and identify potential issues before they escalated. Sarah provided thorough training to ensure the volunteer team was equipped to handle their responsibilities effectively.

As the community expanded, Sarah also focused on collecting and analyzing data. She closely tracked metrics like member activity, content engagement, and referral rates, using these insights to inform her strategic planning. This data-driven approach allowed Sarah to make informed decisions about the community's direction and development.

Inevitably, conflicts and challenges arose during this stage, but Sarah addressed them proactively. She implemented clear conflict-resolution policies and worked closely with members to find amicable solutions, ensuring the community remained a safe and welcoming space for all.

By the end of the Growth stage, the FitnessFlex community had experienced a steady influx of new members, with a healthy level of engagement and activity. Sarah's strategic efforts had paid off, and the community was now poised to enter the Maturity stage, ready to solidify its position and continue its upward trajectory.

Stage 3: Maturity (1-3 years)

The goal at this stage is to ensure referral growth and maintain the stability of the community.

The CM's task is to:

  • Formulate the community's overall goals and vision
  • Manage the community's development
  • Maintain the right density of participants on the platform
  • Ensure the community's visibility in the sector
  • Manage the team of volunteers
  • Optimize the process of turning newcomers into regular members
  • Improve the communication platform


As the FitnessFlex community entered the Maturity stage, Sarah knew it was time to shift her focus to ensuring long-term stability and referral growth. With a strong foundation in place, her primary goals were to solidify the community's vision, maintain the optimal participant density, and enhance the community's visibility and influence within the fitness industry.

One of Sarah's first tasks was to work closely with the FitnessFlex leadership team to formulate a clear and compelling vision for the community. Together, they defined the community's core purpose, values, and long-term objectives, ensuring everyone was aligned on the shared direction.

To manage the community's development, Sarah implemented a structured content calendar, featuring a mix of educational resources, member spotlights, and interactive discussions. This consistent flow of engaging content helped maintain the community's momentum and keep members actively participating.

Recognizing the importance of maintaining the right density of participants, Sarah closely monitored the community's growth and made strategic adjustments as needed. She worked to optimize the onboarding process, making it easier for new members to integrate and become regular contributors. Additionally, she implemented a referral program, encouraging existing members to invite their fitness-minded friends to join the community.

As the FitnessFlex community gained recognition within the industry, Sarah shifted her focus to enhancing its visibility and influence. She forged partnerships with complementary fitness brands, allowing the community to tap into new audiences and expand its reach. She also worked with the volunteer moderator team to position the community as a thought leader, with members sharing their expertise through guest blog posts and industry events.

Throughout the Maturity stage, Sarah remained vigilant in managing the community's day-to-day operations. She addressed any conflicts or issues promptly, ensuring the community remained a safe and supportive space for all members. She also continuously sought feedback from the community, using those insights to refine the platform and improve the overall member experience.

As the FitnessFlex community entered a phase of sustained growth and stability, Sarah could take pride in the thriving community she had helped build. With a strong foundation, a clear vision, and a dedicated team, the community was poised to continue its upward trajectory, solidifying its position as a premier destination for fitness enthusiasts.

Stage 4: Mitosis (Subgrouping or Dissolution)

The goal at this stage depends on whether the community needs to maintain control over the management of the community.

If division, the CM's task is to:

  • Focus on the core group (in most cases)
  • Control the separated groups as much as possible, find contact persons.

If the threat of dissolution, the CM's task is to:

  • Activate all resources and return to the Inception stage.


As the FitnessFlex community reached a new level of maturity and success, Sarah found herself facing a pivotal decision – whether to maintain control over the community or allow it to divide and potentially evolve in new directions.

The community had grown exponentially, attracting a diverse range of members with varying fitness goals and interests. Sarah recognized that the "one-size-fits-all" approach that had worked so well in the earlier stages might no longer be the optimal strategy.

After careful consideration and consultation with the FitnessFlex leadership team, Sarah decided that a division, or "mitosis," of the community would be the best path forward. The goal was to maintain a core group of members while also allowing for the creation of specialized sub-communities that could cater to the unique needs of different fitness segments.

Sarah's first step was to identify the primary areas of interest within the larger FitnessFlex community. Through member surveys and data analysis, she determined that there was a significant demand for more targeted discussions and resources around strength training, endurance sports, and holistic wellness.

With this information in hand, Sarah set out to carefully orchestrate the division of the community. She began by establishing a dedicated sub-forum for each of the identified interest areas, complete with its own set of guidelines, moderators, and content calendars. Existing members were given the opportunity to self-select into the sub-communities that best aligned with their fitness goals and preferences.

To ensure a smooth transition, Sarah maintained a close connection with the leaders of the newly formed sub-communities. She provided them with the necessary tools, resources, and guidance to effectively manage their respective groups, while also establishing protocols for cross-pollination and collaboration between the sub-communities.

In cases where members were reluctant to leave the original FitnessFlex community, Sarah worked to address their concerns and maintain their engagement. She reassured them that the core community would continue to thrive, serving as a hub for general fitness discussions and community-wide events.

As the division process unfolded, Sarah remained vigilant, monitoring the growth and activity of both the core community and the sub-communities. She was prepared to intervene if any of the groups showed signs of instability or the threat of dissolution.

By navigating the Mitosis stage with a strategic and thoughtful approach, Sarah was able to ensure that the FitnessFlex community continued to flourish, meeting the diverse needs of its members and solidifying its position as a leading online fitness community.

Other Community Strategy Insights

Some other community building strategies can be found in our previous articles:

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The Online Community Lifecycle by Richard Millington

Published: Apr 19, 2024