In the era of empowered consumers, online communities elbowed and wrestled their way into becoming dependable pillars of growth, unequaled in their ability to encourage customer engagement, loyalty and feedback.
As our digital technology has improved, an increasing amount of community forum software has popped up with each having their own strengths and weaknesses. But this puts forward the following questions:
– What makes each community forum software different?
– How well can they solve the problem that people are having?
With such a large amount of choice, from free vs. paid to social media vs. owned, each software comes with their own variations in cost (as there are plenty of new players competing with established platforms), whilst some might be restricted to mobile-only. This is why we are outlining these 5 tips to help you narrow down your choice when choosing your community forum software.
Looking at the initial requirements for your community comes as a given when choosing your online community forum software. Yes, building for your current needs is a necessity, but a lot of brands fail to consider the needs of the community after a period of growth. What makes sense for a community of 1000 members, won’t for 10,000. If you can’t evolve past the core functionality, you will hit a glass ceiling of what the platform is capable of.
At which point you’ll be faced with frustrated users, and what many community managers fear most—a migration.
This is why it’s important to choose a community forum software that also offers clear extensibility. No single platform can provide for the endless amount of communities out there, so a platform you can add your own customisations to, whilst building out additional functionality is essential to meet your members’ needs as your community grows and expands. An existing partner ecosystem can assist with this.
It is important to understand the long-term costs of building on your community forum software. We are talking 5-10 years down the road. For larger brands, this might seem less of a worry, but regardless of size, you can easily pay far more than you need to.
Of course, all of this depends on the features you need to align with your customer needs, but you should consider prioritising platforms that offer everything out of the box rather than platforms that charge you per feature. Likewise, a common frustration with these platforms is introducing new functionality but charging extra to add the functionality to their community.
Even if this means paying more initially and not fully utilising all the advanced features until later on, it beats having to pay for add-on functionality that can double your licensing costs.
Remember, building a community is a marathon, not a sprint, so over time, you can easily end up paying far more than necessary.
As we mentioned, building your community is a marathon – member needs evolve over time and can change depending on what you are trying to accomplish as a brand, wherever you are in terms of size.
Therefore, it’s important to invest in an online community forum software that is itself investing in itself.
User interface upgrades are obviously of paramount importance for maximising engagement, lest you risk your community becoming a digital ghost town. But also look for platforms with a rich history of upgrades — better features, better support and better integrations are all examples of what you need to keep an eye on.
If you tie this into point two and opt for an everything out-the-box platform, these upgrades should also come at no extra cost to you.
Having one self-service channel is great, but having all your self-service channels integrated will unleash the true power of your online community forum software.
Firstly, integrations with your CRM of choice is a necessity.
Data is everything. And linking community data to sales data is a great way to showcase ROI. For example, if you can show community members spend more than non-members and remain customers for longer, it makes it easier to ask for more budget to scale.
We are also huge advocates for integrating communities with other self-service channels like chatbots and knowledge bases. For example, you could have community threads or knowledge articles that appear in automated chatbot conversations.
Connecting these dots means you can surface answers from various channels, making it easier for customers to solve their own problems and elevating the value of each channel.
If you want to truly realise the power and potential of online communities as a genuine customer touchpoint and a way to maximise brand loyalty and retention, this is something you will need to do.
Most people consider the member interface, but a lot of times, they forget about how the experience is for the people working behind the scenes. If administrators aren’t able to make the changes they need to easily, this will increase the dependency on third parties. Obviously big upgrades to your community forum software still need developer assistance, but admins should be able to manipulate pages to make the necessary changes.