Community Building

When is it a good time to launch your community platform?

In a previous article, I wrote about switching from a traditional social network to one’s own community platform. Thinking about it now, I realize I may have cut some corners and should have started with simpler but essential elements like: what is a community platform? And when is it the right time to start your own? Fortunately, it’s never too late to make it right!

When is it a good time to launch your community platform?

What is a community platform ?

Before we delve into this, you first need to understand the difference between two major kinds of social relationships:

  • social networks englobe all your friends, ex-classmates, colleagues, family, without any distinction of closeness, common interests, or proximity. To give you an example, think about your Facebook friends: your family, your closest friends, your distant cousins, your ex-colleagues, (maybe even your boss?) are all part of your social network.
  • online communities refer to groups of people who don’t have any particular offline relationships, but are bound together online by a strong common interest, such as a hobby, a conviction, a project, a location, etc.

To easily distinguish between a social network and an online community, ask yourself: how are these people held together?

Obviously, two different kinds of social relationships involve two different kinds of communication tools. One cannot properly use traditional social networking platforms for her online community and vice versa.

Traditional social networking platforms are well conceived for our day-to-day networking activities, and usually specialize in one specific type of networking needs. Facebook for fun, LinkedIn for work, Twitter for news, etc.

For online communities however, the needs are not the same. I’d go as far as saying that even each community has its own specific needs, and requires a tailored solution.

When is it the right time to launch your community platform?

This distinction may sound confusing, especially since most online communities are born on social networking platforms.

There’s a very simple reason for that: social networking platforms are the best to reach out to the masses in order to gather a subset of people with a strong common interest. When you want to start your community, you’re better off with a traditional social networking platform. This way, you avoid two potential mistakes: investing money in a community that doesn’t work, and investing money in a community platform that doesn’t suit your community’s needs.

Later however, once you have a proper community that you want to better engage and nurture, you will need tools to understand their real needs, define real goals, and measure your real ROI.

I would therefore advise to start with a simple solution, and refine your tools as your community becomes stronger. A few important questions we should ask ourselves before making those changes are:

  • Is my community strong enough to follow me on a new platform?
  • Are my members excited about using a dedicated platform?
  • Is the community’s potential high enough for me to invest in a more advanced tool?

Remember: your community is successful thanks to the interactions between your members, not the platform you use. The platform remains a powerful tool to help you improve interactions and optimize your ROI.

What kind of solution do you need?

Before choosing the right platform, there are several steps you need to take:

  1. Guidelines. You need to shape to your community: define your guidelines, make clear what your goals are, think about the kind of attitudes you want to develop in your community.
  2. Members first. Stay close to your members’ requirements: track their current behavior as much as you can. What features are they mostly using? What are they complaining about? What are they hoping for in a dedicated platform?
  3. Features. Be careful. It’s easy to get overexcited about the hundreds of different features online platforms offer. Keep it simple. Features should always be the effect of a thought process or gathered feedback, not something you adopt on a hunch.
  4. Prioritize. Unfortunately in the end, there isn’t a perfect tool. A feature may be only available on one platform, while the other platform has a strong mobile support. You’ll have to prioritize your needs and do your homework: compare the platforms and find which one is the most relevant based on your highest priorities.

You can find lists of community platforms out there that can help. They synthesize each platform, show the pros and cons, and are regularly updated too. For instance:

Do you have any other interesting resources that you’d like to share to help make that difficult choice? Let me know! Write a comment!