Threadless & Other Awesome Examples of Amazing Online Communities

best online community EVER

On Friday I attended Internet Prophets Live 2013, a supposed internet marketing workshop in downtown Chicago. While the first six hours were absolutely gruesome, full of expensive sales pitches, terrible jokes and a ‘free’ lunch that came paired with a life seminar, I finally got the chance to see the person I really came down to hear speak, Jake Nickell

CEO & Founder of ThreadlessJake is the founder and CEO of Threadless. For those who have never heard of it, to put it simply, Threadless is just another t-shirt company. But in reality its much, much more.

Threadless is one of the most successful online communities. And even though Jake was a little under the weather, his message to the audience was received loud and clear. And because of that, I thought I would summarize what he thought was important in an online community and give you some other examples

Threadless is a platform, not a webstore

From the beginning, Jake’s idea wasn’t to get rich off someone else’s creativity, rather to give all of them a platform to showcase their talents. That’s why Threadless doesn’t stamp their name anywhere on the outside of the shirt. They have no branded gear, instead every design is submitted by artists, voted on by users of the community and for those who get printed, share in the profits.

Word of Mouth is the best form of Marketing


Design by Nikolaj Selvik

There was no SEO secret or genius viral marketing campaign that sparked this uprising against the department store. Actually, Threadless hasn’t done much marketing at all in their 13 year existence. Instead they count on their product do the talking for them.

By product, it doesn’t necessarily mean their t-shirts, but the whole online experience.  If users come to the site and are happy when they leave, they are more likely to return and recommend the site to their friends and family.  That’s why they are active on the forums and involve their community in company decisions.

Put Members of the Community on a Pedestal

Threadless isn’t the only site on the Internet that artists can submit art to.  Yet, artists feel a certain loyalty the Threadless community.  Why? Because its the place they interact and learn from others on the forum, get praise and social shares for each design they submit, and Threadless does a terrific job spotlighting their artists.

Artists can hit milestones of success like PRINTED, the first time one of their designs are chosen for a shirt and MADE, when they have enough designs to fill an entire shop.  They also have blog posts dedicated to their artists and now videos, like this on of Eric Fan.

Think About Others


This is what I think is so crucial to long term success in a community.  Not every person in the Threadless community is an artist, and not everyone is searching for shirts, but they may be looking for advice, help on a project or just to be entertained. Their PLAY section has the answer to all of those things and more.

They are also active outside the online realm, participating in parades and other events.  Most importantly, Threadless Causes helps raise money for charity and those in need.  And because of that, people who may have never heard of the company before, may buy a sweet shirt for a good cause and become repeat customers afterwards.

More Great Examples…

The Chive

Another example of an awesome online community

The Chive is the definition of a community.  There is absolutely no SEO involved.  You never see keyword stuffing (unless your searching for terms like “FLBP” or “Burns Day”) or article spinning, in fact, there are typically no words at all.

They have built their whole community on humor, user submitted photos and good faith.  Girls use it as a platform to showcase “what they got”, which may elevate them to a modeling career, Playboy, or just more Twitter followers.  College students submit photos of their wild parties, drunk antics and WTF moments and others submit awesome moments.

On top of that their store, The Chivery, is brilliant.  Instead of having an unlimited stock of merchandise, they carry a limited supply, so for those who have a piece of Chive gear, feel like they are part of something special.

A piece of merch gets you recognized in a crowd, free drinks and all in all a sense of confidence (as corny as that sounds). The KCCO phenomenon has spawn meet ups around the country and a whole new way of thinking at the world…light heartedly.

community for inbound marketers is a different type of community than Threadless or the Chive.  Its a niche community for Inbound Marketers to share the great work of their peers.  While we all are competing for space on Google’s first page, I think that the Inbound community is one of the best of recognizing the hard work of others.

Similar to reddit (probably the best and biggest online community on the net) users can submit others work, start discussions and upvote things they like. Everything on comes down to how active the community, without them the site would die (or be ridden with spam).  That’s why the most active users are spotlighted right on the homepage.

Ed Fry (who manages the site’s development) does a great job involving the community in all new developments for the site and keeping things fresh, such as scheduling AMA sessions with some of the best in the business.  The site is a great way to showcase your work, but also an amazing way to build relationships with others you may never have the chance to interact otherwise.

Interested in what Jake is like as a speaker?  Check out his Ted Talk here

Author Matthew Powers

Matthew Powers works as an in-house Internet Marketer with Blue Soda Promo. He measures out well at 6'8" 250lbs for the NBA, but his skin color and lack of athleticism has never held him back from lying about his career at the bar

More posts by Matthew Powers

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Jake says:

    While I agree with the others, it’s disappointing to see The Chive on here. It’s a showcase of poor decisions, bad behavior, and extreme objectification of women. Come on, internet, we are better than this.

    • Thanks for the comment Jake. From a community aspect, I think the Chive still deserves to be on the list. While you may not agree with the content, they have a huge following of dedicated members

  • Jake says:

    You are right – they do have a thriving community. It’s just so hard to see their objectionable (to me personally) content bringing so many people together, when I wish these people would show more respect for themselves (ahem, Chivettes…) and others. Sorry if I may have made this into a moment for me to stand on a soapbox!

    Anyhow, good list. Your descriptions and write-ups are well informed and well put.

    • Haha, you’re right. However, they arent hacking phones or stealing photos. They are willing to give them away and let them be posted online. If you get away from that aspect, I still think some of their other running blog posts are pretty good, funny, cool or just weird. To each their own. Thanks again Jake

  • JS says:

    Wikihow is a great example of an awesome online community.

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