In our previous blog in this three part blog series for Membership Organisations from Darren Gough, Community Management Expert and Founder of Island23 Limited, we looked at the importance of getting your online community vision roadmap set first. Now we’re going to look at the issues of platform selection, and the importance of a community manager.
Generally, you’ll either have a cheap or free community bolt on that isn’t fit for purpose (or is gathering dust), or there’s been an investment in an enterprise solution which hasn’t been fully utilised, or you’re in the market for a solution and aren’t sure where to start.
Let’s look at each of those in turn.
The Bolt On
Many communities take this approach. They aren’t sure if it’s worth much investment so they Google something like “free + online community”, pick something that looks easy to set up and bolt it on.
It can often be defeated before it’s begun. Because it’s free/cheap it’s not really anyone’s priority and there’s a general lack of love or care. Often initial enthusiasm gives way to disinterest and the handful of members that did use it dwindle until a small core is passing the time nattering about last night’s dinner.
If it is being used, the platform often falls short of the features, design and customisation needed for your membership. It’s not the fault of the product – it was designed to be an entry-level, basic one-size-doesn’t-really-fit-anyone solution and it’s not cutting it.
The Expensive Enterprise
Less common, but not unheard of. Here, the organisation has either invested directly or indirectly (it came as part of a bigger company-wide technology solution) in a robust platform. It’s given more priority but in many ways, the features, raw power and potential are often lost because no one has really been taught to use it, or specifically tasked with making it work.
It sits like an abandoned behemoth that occasionally gets an influx of enthusiasm when time permits but generally is overwhelming for both staff and members alike.
The New Choice
Most common, this is where a membership organisation wants to invest but has no idea where to start. With 100s of options on the market, to cater for all budgets and needs, how on earth do you select the right one?
The pressure is on. No one wants to overspend unnecessarily, but the platform also has to be able to cope with growth and provide features and design solutions that reflect the needs of the organisation and, more importantly, the members.
The is one common element in all these scenarios that is vital to your success…
The Community Manager
Too many membership organisations completely underplay the need for this role. This isn’t a social media manager, it’s not a part-time “pop on when you get a sec” role and nor it is something that Bob from Marketing can do in and around his other duties.
The Community Manager is a trained, experienced professional who understands how successful communities that attract, retain and offer value to members continue to thrive and grow.
The Community Manager is the person who can build an effective vision roadmap (see blog 2), become a unifying presence to align internal stakeholders around the vision and evaluate and help platform selection.
Take time to recruit and onboard someone who is responsible for owning the online community and regularly reports back on successes and learnings that can improve and scale your efforts.
Community Manager Platform Selection Tips
If you are the person tasked with this heavyweight process, in any of the scenarios above it’s important you take your community vision document and evaluate what your member’s needs are. Make sure you:
1. Build a spec sheet of features you need
Vendors like to dazzle you with things they can do. Make sure you are clear on what you need.
2. Understand the budget range
Have some honest talks with the financial team / your boss about the scale of budget. It’s useful to understand what business case you might need to put together to get a bigger investment.
3. Align current membership numbers with reasonable online community use expectations
Many vendors charge per amount of members you have coming onto the platform in stepped ranges. Use the data you have to evaluate or make some educated predictions on what you might need.
4. Audit the gaps
If you do have a platform already, evaluate where it falls short and what it needs to do to work for your members.
5. Identify any specific requirements
Do your members have specific needs that you want to support? Customisation requirements should be set out at the start.
6. Consider the cost of implementation
Most vendors are selling you a yearly license to use their platform. They often work with trusted partners to design, customise and implement your solution. This is an additional cost to ensure you are both expecting, and have a budget for this. This can be done in-house if you have a robust enough team but it’s often easier to use the experts.
7. Make them pitch
Once you have narrowed it down to 3 or 4 vendors that match your requirements, have them pitch to you (in person where possible). This is a competitive space and they want the business. Make sure they are not only technologically capable, but their support team is both efficient and pleasant to deal with.
The recruitment of a full-time community manager is paramount to the success of your project. By driving the agreed vision roadmap through a frank and robust surmising of platform requirements, the expertise this person brings greatly increases your ability to select the right platform and give members something they want to engage with.
4 Roads have worked with a plethora of membership organisations and has been responsible for some of the largest community deployments across the globe, creating communities consisting of millions of members. Contact us to find out how an online community could help you get closer relationships with your members.