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Choosing an Online Community Platform: How to Approach the Decision Process

By: Stephanie Pelch 03 Mar 2016

Online Community Platform Decision Making Process

Maybe you already know that an online community is only as good as the people who fuel it. 

Maybe you also know that having an online community is a big time and resource commitment, with equally big rewards.

Despite all of the research you completed that lead you to these realizations, starting the process from scratch is daunting.  Choosing an online community platform is a huge decision that will eventually affect every branch of your organization. 

If your Marketing and IT Departments don't have a cozy relationship already, they will soon.

So, you just need to round up the troops and pick the platform that checks all the boxes, right?


First, you need to know exactly which boxes you should be checking in the first place. And why. 
One size does not fit all. You need to establish specific criteria and goals for the community and how it will fit into your organization before you start shopping around for platforms.  

If you want to accomplish all of those verbs you pitched to your board in that PowerPoint presentation — Attract, Engage, Involve, Inspire, etc. — then you need to be utilizing a community platform that directly supports your unique goals and capabilities. Here are 4 tips for managing the decision with your team. 


1. Invite the right stakeholders to the conversation, starting Day 1.

Planning, implementing and managing an online community is quite the undertaking. The fact that you're setting your sights on something with so many moving parts should indicate that you need to bring the right minds together to make the decision. Specifically, you need to make sure that the IT department is well represented. Online communities can feel like Marketing and Membership's show, but don't forget who needs to be there to set up and manage the stage. IT needs to be there from the beginning to discuss support, requirements and integrations. The IT department, along with your future self, will thank you for being so thorough from the get-go.

Want to analyze how your current IT structure could support a new online community platform? Check out our post- The Technology Analysis Your Association Should Be Doing.


2. Communicate clear goals for the platform.

Everything rides on the right people showing up and participating on a regular basis. The best way to form a plan internally to motivate people externally is to be standing on solid ground when someone asks you "Why are you doing this?" and "What are you trying to accomplish here?" 

Aside from the qualitative goals motivating you to begin this process, set some quantitative, optimistic KPIs for the first 6 months. Some examples:

  • 700 new sign ups in the first 6 months
  • 80% retention rate on returning visitors
  • Average of 10 comments per user post 
  • 500 RSS Subscribers in the first 6 months
  • 200 Direct Conversions 
  • 1500 page views
  • Over 60% of unique visitors log-in daily 

Bring these types of goals into focus will spark meaningful conversation. Essentially, they force your team to continue talking not only about features, but the results that you want to see from those features when you start looking at specific community platforms. 

3. Refine the list of ideal features

Know what tools and capabilities your Membership, Marketing and IT people all want to see in a platform. Discuss the motives behind each of them and if they all reasonably support the goals and visions you've highlighted above. These will be process enablers and tools such as:

  • Easy to digest Home environment 
  • Intuitive presentation of content structure and taxonomy
  • Easy to customize design and branding
  • Direct messaging and notifications for the community manager
  • Universal user tagging and reply capabilities
  • Responsible management of personal information 
  • Customizable profile and content settings  

4. Identify the the best type of community structure

If you want to lead a well-developed and proactive community, your platform needs to be a robust, flexible and intuitive. Use the first 3 discussions as a launch point to define the best way to structure the community from both a front-end and back-end perspective. 

One of the largest, most positive shifts in community structure in recent years has been the decrease in forum-based communities. The forum may be trying to hold on tight, but it's 2016, and RSS feeds and newsfeeds have shown us how much smarter we can be at information sharing. The structure you choose needs to be easy to navigate and more than just a list of one-way responses. Regardless of what you choose, at the end of the day, your structure should support the 2 most important outcomes of this entire process, being that:  

  1. Users feel self-propelled to contribute to the community 

  2. Users understand that they will receive intrinsic rewards from participating 


Online community platforms can bring powerful change to your organization. Change through interaction, ideals and inclusion. By managing the platform selection process in a smart, measured way, you will develop insightful community goals and narrow the field to the right set of offerings to explore. 


Stephanie Pelch

Written by Stephanie Pelch

03 Mar 2016 in strategy, community

Staff Writer at rasa.io

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