Gini Dietrich

How to Choose the Right Platform for Your Community

By: Gini Dietrich | March 19, 2019 | 
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How to Choose the Right Platform for Your CommunityDo you have BSO syndrome?

Most of us have BSO at one time or another.

Bright Shiny Object syndrome is what happens when you get distracted by an awesome idea—or a piece of tech that’s better than all the other pieces of tech—or this one extra thing you can do that will make everything perfect.

It’s endemic among people of all kinds…myself included.

It can cost a lot of time and a lot of money, and it often comes up when you’re looking for a new platform to help you grow your business. Also at conferences. It’s really bad at conferences.

If you’re looking for a platform to host your community on, you are at very serious risk of BSO.

But never fear! I am to fix it for you.

Today we are going to talk about all of the major community platforms, and how to decide which one is right for you so you don’t have any excuses to hem and haw and spend seven gazillion hours researching online.

You can just build your community and start inviting people.

You’re welcome.

Blog Comments for Building Community

A few weeks ago we talked about building online communities, and how valuable they can be to your business.

Today we’re talking about the different places those communities can go, and how to choose.

Let’s start with blog comments, which is where it all started for Spin Sucks.

If you’re already blogging, and you have a good-sized audience already engaging on your blog posts, congrats! You already have a community.

Blog comments make great communities because people are already there, it keeps them on the site longer, which gives you more opportunity to learn more and engage in deeper ways.

What blog comment-based communities aren’t so great for is privacy.

Blog comments are right out there in the open, and if your users don’t want to be on the record or you’re in an industry where there’s a risk of trolls, the blog comments might not be the best option.

Lots of bloggers and newssites have closed down comments for that very reason.

We have not. Save for very few trolls, we have an excellent and respectful community so there has not been a need to close the comments.

But, like everyone else, we have seen a significant decline in blog comments in favor of engaging in private corners of the internet. It’s why Facebook groups are so popular.

Considering Slack for Your Community

A few years ago, I was sitting on our front porch with my friend Harry, talking about this new tool called Slack.

We talked about how valuable it is for teams—and for communities.

Of course, back then, it was mostly just techies using it, but I could envision a community for Spin Sucks using Slack because it wasn’t Facebook.

And, while I love Facebook, I knew two things to be true:

  1. The rabbit hole is very, very real on Facebook. You know what I’m talking about. You open it to go to a private group or do something for work or for a client. Twenty minutes later, you close it…having never done what you went there to do in the first place. Slack prevents that.
  2. Facebook is in big trouble. Sure, they’re now saying they’re focused on privacy (which is yet to be seen), but that’s not going to fix the trouble they’re in with foreign governments and what they could face in the U.S.

That is another topic for another day.

The point is, Slack provides a very different opportunity to build community, where you have access to the data and the information about your members (which is not the case on Facebook).

But Wait…What the Heck is Slack?

Slack is a software that has taken over online communications in the last couple of years.

Their aim was to reduce the amount of email people get every day, and put business-related communications all in one area.

It is divided into different channels for different conversation topics, you can upload files, and have one-to-one chats within their interface, and it integrates with a number of other services, including Google Drive and my beloved Wunderlist.

It tends to be easy for people to get used to, and is intuitive to work with.

At the free level of service, there is a limit to the stored messages you can search through, and like any platform that requires your users to do something different than they normally do, consistent engagement can be an issue, but overall, it’s a very functional community space for a lot of teams.

Considering Facebook and LinkedIn for Your Community

Facebook and LinkedIn both have options for online communities through their group functionality.

Facebook is the whale in the ocean of community platforms—most people have and regularly use their Facebook accounts, so it can be much easier to encourage participation there.

The challenges are the aforementioned ones, plus the most recent changes in their algorithm means not everyone in your group will see the posts and updates, unless they go there every day to check it.

LinkedIn has similar benefits and similar problems.

They’ve made a lot of enhancements to their groups in the last little while, and if you know your audience is already using the network to get news, connect with people and generally be social on, it can make sense to host a community there.

If your users aren’t already mostly on LinkedIn, however, getting them there will be difficult, and there’s always going to be something else to click on.

Considering MightyNetworks for Your Community

MightyNetworks is another software as a service that many brands are using to host their online communities.

They’re a customizable online environment, so you can have chatrooms, online classes, ecommerce, and so on.

You can host on their network, or under your own domain.

If you have a lot of members-only content for your community or want your community to be paid, Mighty Networks can be a good option.

Some people find it’s a pretty steep learning curve, but if the desire for a community space already exists, it has a lot of options for making it really yours.

Considering Forums for Your Online Community

Forums and other self-hosted groups are some of the older kinds of online communities and are very structured.

They are usually organized into different ‘rooms’ where conversations are threaded chronologically.

People who like forums really like forums, and if there is a lot of information that you want to be easily searchable or if you have very distinct segments to what you want your people to be able to talk about, they can be awesome.

Forums tend to be a little harder for people, especially non-techy people to wrap their heads around, and you definitely need a critical mass of users for it not to seem like an empty field of crickets.

While it’s great that they’re usually connected to your own website, getting people to regularly log on and participate can be an uphill battle.

How to Choose the Right Platform for You

Now that you’ve heard all the options, how do you choose which community platform will be right for your organization?

There are a few things to consider:

  1. Where does your audience already hang out? Getting people to change their online habits is pretty difficult. If someone is used to logging into Facebook every day, chatting with people, and reading articles, getting them to log into a forum-hosted on your site might be a bit of a challenge. On the other hand, if you have people logging in to comment on your blog posts every day, giving them a fun, private personal section of your site (or a related platform such as MightyNetworks or Slack) can be a real value-add.
  2. How technical is your user base? Some people hate to learn new online platforms more than they hate going to the dentist. Most of us have a limit somewhere, where we’ll say “this far and no further. I am not learning another platform.” The willingness of your audience to learn something new to be in the community should be a factor in deciding what to do.
  3. Think about how much time you want or need to spend curating, managing and updating. The real goal of all communities is for people to be talking to one another—with or without you. That tends to be a little easier on social media, or in platforms that are specifically designed to facilitate conversation (such as Slack). You also need to create content for your community—give them topics to discuss, things to think about, and reasons to speak up. If you need that content to be structured and organized in a particular way, then you’ll want the control offered by a more structured platform.

Now it’s Your Turn

And, with that, if you want to be a part of the best marketing community on the internet (we’re humble, too) join the Spin Sucks community.

If you don’t already know Slack and are curious, you have the added benefit of trying it out.

(And loving it…trust me)

Now it’s your turn. Are there other places you might consider to build your community?

Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.