Starting a community can be intimidating, especially for small organizations -- you don’t have the same pool of resources as larger organizations do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t -- or shouldn’t -- build a community. And it doesn’t doom you to fail. With the right tools, platform and team, an organization of any size can create an awesome, thriving community.
Selecting the right platform is an important first step for any organization that decides to start a community. And choosing a platform that allows you to streamline your website and community is a big leg-up, especially for small organizations with more to balance. When choosing your platform, look for one combining both your website and community, and integrates with your AMS/CMS. Why have different sites, with different quirks, when you can have one? By combining several platforms into one, you’ll streamline your processes, and only need to learn how to use one.
And if simplicity isn’t reason enough to streamline your platforms, we have seven more reasons to help your decision making process:
1. Easy to manage
Rather than learning two different processes, working with separate support teams and keeping two platforms up-to-date, streamlining does just that -- it streamlines your processes and learning curve. When something goes wrong, you know exactly who to call for help -- your one platform provider -- rather than waiting on hold with several support centers. Plus, if your community, website and AMS work together, you can then leverage different tools from each piece -- like setting up automated email messages to prospective members who just downloaded a resource -- to build both your organization and community engagement.
2. User friendly and seamless design
Thanks to technology and smartphones, humans now have an attention span shorter than goldfish. Our eight second attention span (one full second shorter than a goldfish’s nine second attention span) means website design is critical for engaging and drawing in members. If your website or community is hard to navigate, or it looks cluttered and overwhelming, you’ll lose people. That’s why good user experience and seamless navigation, from website to platform and back again, are critical for keeping members’ attention.
Combining two platforms will eliminate potential confusion for your members. It won’t just keep the branding, colors and fonts consistent -- the whole experience will be more enjoyable and easier to navigate. Rather than users learning two platforms’ quirks -- website and community -- they’ll only have to learn one. And rather than having to design two separate projects and make sure two separate sites not only look beautiful but also work well, you’ll only have to work with one team on one, large project.
3. Responsive and mobile friendly
64% of Americans own a smartphone, 58% consider themselves addicted to them and 60% of website traffic comes from smartphones. Your sites -- both website and community -- need to be optimized for mobile with a responsive design to fit any screen. If those numbers don’t convey how important mobile experience is, ponder this: Google now rewards optimized sites so they come up higher in searches. If your sites aren’t responsive, it’ll be harder for future members to find you on search engines, not just their phones.
Optimized sites with responsive design also open the door for more users, since it makes your platform more accessible. Responsive websites fit any screen size and allow people with different user needs to access your sites on whatever device works best for them (desktop, laptop, tablet or phone). And, with streamlined platforms, you won’t have to worry about optimizing two different sites -- everything is optimized, creating an easy, accessible experience.
4. Secure collaboration
Unlike Facebook or LinkedIn groups, you can create various security and privacy settings in many community platforms. You can open some discussions to the public, but keep the majority of the community private. This allows you to cross-promote content from your community to the website, and vice versa. With varying levels of privacy, you can leave a window for prospective members to peek through without compromising your site’s security.
5. AMS/CMS integration
Although it should be simple, it’s often difficult to keep member information up-to-date across platforms. And when it’s not, it can create some messy, confusing situations, for both your organization and for individual members. Besides just looking for a platform that streamlines your website and community, look for one that integrates with your current AMS/CMS. That way the information in your community reflects information in your AMS/CMS, and vice versa -- saving you time, hassle and furrowed brows as you skip from one platform to the next, manually updating information.
6. Use community tools
If you choose a good platform, it will come with many powerful features, like automation rules, to grow member engagement within your community. Not only do automation rules take the tedium out many little community related tasks and emails, but they help you reach the right people at the right time -- furthering engagement and increasing value for members. The power of automation rules is you can build them to fit your specific needs -- whether it’s targeting new members, encouraging them to post in a discussion, or connecting with once active members who are now silent.
Combined with your website, automation rules can help you reach the right people at the right time even before they are members. As soon as you have someone’s email -- maybe they signed up for a webinar or newsletter -- you can enter them in an automated workflow to keep them updated on your organization, showing them your incredible value.
With streamlined platforms, you get a whole new tool for wielding your AMS/CMS without switching platforms.
7. Web services hosting
You shouldn’t have to worry whether or not your community’s and website’s information is stored in a safe, secure place, so it won’t be lost or hacked into. When looking for a platform that streamlines both, make sure they provide an excellent web hosting site, like Amazon Web Services. As you grow, you need a scalable, reliable web hosting provider so your information is never compromised or lost.
Paving the Way
No matter the platform, there will always be little hiccups or headaches along the way, but choosing the right platform for your organization can drastically improve those minor situations. Rather than continually hitting roadblocks, by combining platforms, you preemptively iron out a few kinks, making you future that much smoother.