Ask 10 people in your office to describe your online community software. I bet almost all of them talk about forums and discussions. While forums are great for ongoing conversations, they're not effective for centralizing community resources or allowing members to share tools or collaborate on documents. That's why file libraries are an equally popular feature.
File libraries are more than just collections of documents. In the best online community software, file libraries facilitate the exchange of information, helping your members learn and grow. Frequented by both staff and members, robust file libraries can even become some of the most active and visited spaces in your community.
File libraries are one of the most common and sought-after features of online community software platforms. They are a collaborative space in your community where you can upload files and share them with your members. In many cases, members, committees, or other volunteer leaders can share files and documents with each other too.
Some file libraries, however, are more robust than others. Sure, that online community platform lets you can share a word document, but what about a video? If it does support video, what kinds of video? Do they have to be formatted a certain way?
These questions are only the tip of the iceberg. To find an online community platform with the file library capabilities that your organization and members need, you have to dig deeper than cursory online research and promises from sales people. You need to ensure that your file library makes it easy to efficiently upload, find, and access files or you could struggle to use it.
The best file library features will make file sharing flexible and easy. Here are 11 elements to look for when researching online community software, and make sure you have before you sign on the dotted line.
File libraries that only support the more common types of files are limiting. What if you or one of your members wants to upload something innovative from a high-end program specific to your industry? Will you be blocked from uploading because the file format isn't .doc or .pdf?
Support for only limited file types could mean you miss out on a lot of helpful information, especially if your industry regularly uses less common programs and file types. A file library that accepts all content formats, on the other hand, gives you and your members a lot of flexibility. Upload any files you want, regardless of whether they're text, podcasts, videos, or specialty documents.
You need a file library that supports all file types, but what if members don't have the program they need to open a specialized file format? To fully support all file types, your file library should also have file re-formatting capabilities. With this tools, the library can change files into a common format for more effective distribution and sharing.
For example, if a member uploads an Adobe Illustrator document, your file library should provide the option to convert the document to PDF. The PDF format will be readable even for those without Adobe Illustrator, making the file useful to more people.
The best online community software won't limit you to a single file library. Instead, it will allow you to create multiple libraries, and even assign them to different communities. If your association has a dozen chapters, then each chapter could have a separate community and file library, for example. Your staff could also have their own.
Multiple file libraries help break up your file collection into relevant groups, with each chapter having access only to the files that apply to them. If a document does apply to more than one community, however, you should be able to upload it to multiple file libraries at once. This capability also helps with updates, since a single file change will automatically be applied to all the file's locations.
View refers to a member's ability to look at files before they actually download or email them. With a simple feature often called "preview", viewing files can save your members a lot of time by reducing the need to download files just to see if they have the information needed.
Your organization should be able to choose whether or not members can view files using security settings. Each individual file library needs its own security settings, which will allow your organization to choose which members can view, post, and download files.
View-only settings are often used to help associations provide exclusivity. If your files are view only, members can only access them through your online community, and they become an exclusive member benefit. Once membership lapses and people can't log in to your community, they can no longer see the files.
To make finding documents easier, your file library should have the ability to sort files by date, alphabetically by name, or by file type. Some file libraries also give members the ability to search for files based on rating. The more members have "liked" a file, the more useful the file was, and higher it will rank in rating searches.
Additionally, tags and classifications can be used to quickly group files by their main ideas. To make tags easier, your organization can standardize categories so members don't look for the same information using different search terms. For example, if you create an "industry news" classification, but not an "industry update" category, then all your members will know to search for "industry news".
To find files with specific information, your members should be able to perform a site-wide search that includes your file libraries. Search is a common feature for file libraries, but it is important to look closely into how robust the search function is. Some search functions will only look at the title of a file, not at the document text.
The file library in your online community should be fully-indexed. That means the search will not stop at reading the headline or title of files, it will also look at all the text inside of documents. Any text-based document, including a PDF, should be included. If it's not, then the file library is not fully-indexed, and search results may leave out important information.
Some of your members may just like to browse your online community and file library, so make it easy for them to find interesting information. A "hottest files" section of your online community will automatically display the most popular files in the library. Popular files are typically determined by the number of downloads, and allow member to quickly review information that was helpful to their peers.
Want to increase your organization's reach? Select a file library that includes social sharing options. With social sharing, your online community members can show interesting files, videos, and podcasts to friends or coworkers on outside social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Every time your file is shared, information about your organization and your mission is passed on, increasing awareness.
Social sharing should be customizable, which means that it doesn't have to disrupt the use of files as an exclusive, member-only benefit. If you want to keep your files as private, you can use security settings to turn off social sharing for one or more of your file libraries.
A tool to help your members stay updated on recent changes, RSS feeds are another feature to look for. Find an online community platform that lets your members turn RSS feeds for file libraries on or off, so they can quickly get information on new uploads and updates from one central location.
For those who don't like RSS feeds or want more specific updates, there are notifications and alerts. This feature allows members to be notified by email any time a change is made to a file library.
Members should also be able to set alerts for specific keywords. Similar to Google alerts, keyword alerts let members sign up for notifications based on specific topics they're interested in. A member could set up a customized alert for the term "industry news," for example. Any time a file is uploaded with that term, your member will receive an email.
Your online community's file library is an essential tool for distributing information. To meet that end, it needs to provide flexibility for your organization and its members. When you're researching online community platforms, look for each of these 11 features in the file library. They'll provide the capabilities you need to make uploading, finding, and consuming file-based information quick and easy.
The easier it is for your members to share information, the more likely it is that they will do so, helping your community become successful.