Forrester predicted branded communities were going to be “the next big thing” in 2015. And they were.
This growing interest in communities is centered around organizations’ need to facilitate collaboration and accelerate organic engagement with their constituents. At some point, your social media channels are simply not enough.
Another recent Forrester survey found U.S. "online adults" who want to stay in touch with organizations are almost three times as likely to visit a website as to engage on Facebook. The opportunity to collaborate and ask questions beyond social channels is becoming commonplace and expected. But who provides the best collaborative option? Some vendors in the market have started offering “community add-ons” – modules developed to supplement the company’s core offering (e.g. an AMS/CRM, marketing automation software, a CMS or other systems).
What Free Modules and Social Media Platforms Can't Offer a Community
While these new products might seem like the path of least resistance, most don’t offer more than traditional social media channels. There is a distinct parallel between these new community add-ons popping up in customer and member management systems, and the pre-existing social media platforms – both of these offers are just not enough. Neither offers the flexibility, responsiveness, privacy and engagement benefits that are standard practice for a standalone, robust community platform.
One could argue the integration with your existing customer relationship management (CRM) or association management system (AMS) is enough in choosing a community platform. While an AMS/CRM integration is the gold standard for starting off strong with an online community platform, it’s not the only feature you need. But the lack of features inherent to successful online engagement and collaboration leads to organizations and their community managers turning to dedicated community platforms to help their communities grow.
Benefits of a Dedicated Community Platform
Investing in a dedicated community platform based on the industry’s best practices and the discipline of community management itself is the first step to creating a successful community. Public social media channels and patchwork community add-ons can’t (and shouldn’t) compete. Hundreds of Higher Logic clients can attest to this - just check out our case studies of real organizations driving real value from private communities.
Think about the time and effort your staff spends trying to engage members and prospects on social channels, and how much value you're seeing in return. Maybe it's time to consider a dedicated, private online community, or redouble your efforts on making your existing private community a place your members, customers and prospects can't live without.
Start with This Community Checklist
1. Integration with AMS/CRM.
A community is as strong as its back-end data. Member profiles, demographics and activities within the community should be synced and written back to the AMS/CRM, offering a 360-degree view of constituents and engagement with the organization. Solid, cloud-based community platforms should have tested integration methodologies with various AMS/CRM vendors, along with fully documented APIs and the configurability of what it will write back for the organization.
2. Automated rules and workflows.
Well crafted automation rules help to simplify community communications and engagement and take away some emailing tedium for administrators. Manual solicitation falls to the wayside, while a myriad of options for types of emails/notifications and audience segmentation makes planning, marketing and onboarding community members that much easier.
3. Mobile friendly responsive design.
Mobile makes a big difference, whether you're responding to a discussion on the train home or easily checking things out during an event. Responsive design ensures your community site can adapt to any device and deliver a seamless user experience. Don't forget to check into responsive email functionality and options for your members to reply via email to discussions, by way of consolidated email digests.
4. Data and discussion privacy settings.
Your community users deserve adjustable privacy settings for their contributions. The platform should standardize things like profile privacy defaults, levels of administrator privileges and member type settings.
5. Frictionless content.
Community content and resources should be easy to both find and digest, whether it’s industry blogging, additional platform features, automated onboarding emails for new members or revamped engagement programs. Make it easy, often and fun for members to consume content.
6. Mobile apps for events and meet-ups.
Members will be more informed and able to interact and collaborate with others using a community mobile app. It offers immediate access to resources, attendees, feedback and post-event community discussions.
7. Simple and efficient CMS.
Every community’s content management system should be easy for administrators (both well-versed and non-technical) to navigate, populate pages and information and pull reports and analytics on member engagement. The CMS should always have a WYSIWYG option (“What You See Is What You Get”).
8. A long list of reference customers.
There are plenty of add-on products that just don't work well or align with your organization's needs, so why go into the buying process blind? Check if the company has customers you can contact directly to make sure the product works as it should.