Purpose: This study aims to develop a better understanding of how online health community (OHC) members with different health literacy (HL) levels benefit from their participation, through the analysis and comparison of their resource integration (RI) processes. It investigates through a RI lens how the vulnerability of community members – captured as their level of HL – affects the benefits they derive from participation. Design/methodology/approach: Quantitative and qualitative methods were used to investigate the effects of healthcare service users’ vulnerability. Data were collected about their profiles and levels of HL. Furthermore, 15 in-depth interviews were conducted. Findings: The study demonstrates how low levels of HL act as a barrier to the integration of available online health resources. Participation in OHCs appears less beneficial for vulnerable users. Three types of benefits were identified at the individual level, namely, psychological quality-of-life, physical quality-of-life and learning. Benefits identified at the community level were: content generation and participation in the development of the community. Originality/value: This study has implications for the understanding of how service users’ activities affect their own outcomes and how the vulnerability of users could be anticipated and considered in the design of the community.