The Community Club

loading...
Cover image for Recap: Choosing the right community platform

Recap: Choosing the right community platform

Andy McIlwain πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
Wrangling online communities since '02. Meetup organizer since '09. Amateur dad. Check out my new #nocode project: communitystacks.com
・5 min read

The following is a summary of my presentation at the #CommunityLed2021 virtual conference. This was originally published on on Community Stacks, my little side project.

Hi! I’m Andy

  • Sr Community Manager at GoDaddy, looking after our community platforms
  • Like many of you, it started as a hobby, early 2000s, building forums and fansites
  • In 2009, I started organizing local meetups and events
  • Joined GoDaddy in 2015 as the Community Manager for GoDaddy Pro

Building community

  • Prior to GoDaddy, I worked in various technical roles with teams building and managing websites, intranets and custom web apps
  • Learned a lot about gathering requirements, defining scope and timelines, thinking about how pieces come together, and packaging everything in written proposals
  • What I’m sharing today follows that approach

Let’s create a working doc!

  • You’re going to pull everything together in a single working document
  • Everything I cover in this presentation will be a section
  • Collaborate on it with your team to define your requirements and craft your proposal

Basic concepts

Your community is a connected group of people with something in common

  • Community of customers, coming together around your product or service
  • Community of purpose or interest, coming together around a shared cause or passion
  • Community of employees, coming together

Your community platform is where the group comes together

  • It’s an online destination, living on a website or app
  • It supports membership; users have a persistent identity
  • It’s participatory; users connect with each other

Your community platform is a shared asset for the entire organization

Alright, small rant here, warning! Community often gets silo’d under Support. The org gets tunnel vision about what β€œcommunity” is for. Anything outside of the β€œsupport” mandate isn’t seen as a fit.

That does a disservice to the platform, members and the organization. The org duplicates their efforts, creating new sites for similar purposes. PR, engineering, marketing, events, product - they all have their own destination.

Information gets lost, people don’t know where to look, it’s confusing and complicated. They waste time and money on building these redundant sites that all have a common purpose: keeping their community informed.

Instead, in a community-led business, we treat the community platform as the central destination; it’s a shared asset for the entire organization.

We invest in improving the platform, extending it to serve new purposes and objectives for other parts of the organization.

By having a central destination, we create more opportunities for discovery, participation, and getting a return on the investment we’ve made into the platform.

Let’s consider a typical customer community. What purposes can it serve?

  • Awareness & acquisition, aligning with marketing and sales
  • Activation & support, aligning with customer care
  • Retention & referrals, aligning with product, and closing the loop back to marketing

Choosing your platform

Choosing a platform is like going shopping, it comes down to three questions:

  1. What do you need?
  2. What are your options?
  3. What’s your recommendation?
  • We go through these questions whenever we’re hungry or run out of toilet paper
  • We’ll go through these same questions when choosing our platform

What do you need?

  • Who are your stakeholders? The people whose buy-in matters
  • What are their goals and challenges? What do they want?
  • How can you help? What could the community platform do to support them?

What are your options?

  • I’m going to deviate from the premise of this talk a little bit
  • Chances are you’re not going to find a single platform to do everything you want
  • More likely you’ll need to pull together a collection of tools and platforms
  • What you choose will depend on what your specific needs are

Common components:

  • Communication: Email, social, video, SMS
  • Discussions: Public, private, real time and async
  • Content: Blog posts, guides, documentation, video, audio
  • Events: Online and offline, discovery & registration, webinars & video calls
  • Management: Analytics, reporting, tracking, moderation, governance

What’s your recommendation?

  • Based on your research, what’s your preferred solution?
  • Build a business case. Why are you making this recommendation?
  • Remember, you’re the expert! Leadership is looking to you for guidance.

Let’s go through each of these in more detail.

What do you need?

Internal needs

  • This will give you a sense of what’s possible and what your potential hurdles are
  • You’re creating relationships across the organization
  • In large organizations, you’ll likely need their help to launch and maintain your platform

Common teams to start with:

  • Sales & Marketing, helping with marketing comms and promotions
  • Product, helping by gathering customer feedback and insights
  • Customer Care, helping by providing a place for peer support
  • Procurement, to ensure you’re following their process
  • Finance, to ensure you have the budget cleared
  • Legal, to ensure all the agreements, policies, etc are in place
  • Security, to ensure the platform adheres to their requirements
  • IT & engineering, to ensure they’re ready to assist with implementation

Member needs & wants

Your community platforms have to serve the needs of your members. These are the people outside your organization who will use the platforms

Using a customer community as an example:

  • What do your customers need? What are their wants and expectations?
  • What do your strategic partners need? Think biz dev, affiliates, channel partners
  • What does your market need?

Existing communities

  • Your potential members are going to come from somewhere else.
  • Look at their existing habits, the platforms where they already spend their time, and what the baseline experience is.
  • Where are your potential members gathering now?
  • What are your direct competitors doing?
  • What are your indirect competitors doing?

What are your options?

  • As I mentioned before, you won’t find one tool or platform that does everything
  • I won’t go into the weeds on each type of tool here
  • In general, this is what I look for, regardless of what type of tool or platform it is

First impressions

  • Does the platform pass the sniff test? Do you fit within their intended use case?
  • Feature fit vs your needs: Does it hit on your major requirements?
  • Case studies, testimonials, peer reviews: How has it worked for others?
  • Trials, demos (community has a community): Can you try before you buy?

Setup

  • What’s involved in getting the tool up and running? How complex is it?
  • Is it a hosted service, or do you need to find hosting separately?
  • Can you do it yourself, or will you need an implementation partner?

Look into:

  • Installation
  • Configuration
  • Customization

Usage

  • User experience: How easy is it to use?
  • Manager experience: How easy is it to manage?
  • Administrator experience: How easy is it to configure & maintain?

Support

  • Is there self-service documentation available?
  • Do they have a professional services team, or service partners?
  • Is there peer support available through the platform’s own user community?

Pricing

  • How is licensing priced?
  • How is support priced?
  • How are services priced?

What’s your recommendation?

  • You’re not asking for a favour; you’re proposing a solution
  • Focus on the benefits to the overall organization
  • Remember, you’re the expert; lean on your knowledge and experience

Make the case

  • Why do you need to build this? What problem are you solving?
  • What’s ROI?
  • Who will do the work? Who will manage the platform? (DACI)
  • What are the costs? What’s one-time up-front vs recurring?

Set tiers

  • Three major factors: Speed, scale, and investment
  • How quickly can you get up and running?
  • How big will the implementation be?

What will it cost?

  • Offer a range of recommendations at difference price points: low, medium, high
  • List the pros and cons of each approach

Thanks!

Discussion (12)

Collapse
benry profile image
Scott Baldwin

@andymci any experiences or advice you can share about what best to do when a platform choice, despite all the diligence, turns out not to be great? For example, do you just suffer through in the short-term until you can terminate and migrate? Do you cut and run and take the hit (if not using free tools).

Collapse
andymci profile image
Andy McIlwain πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ Author

Definitely not an unusual experience. :) It depends on the situation, the contracts in place, how much time you've spent with the platform, and other factors like the expected complexity/pain of replatforming.

One approach: question if the platform is an issue because the team isn't familiar/comfortable with it, or if it's because the platform isn't capable.

Generally I try to make the most of whatever is in place and look towards the contract expiration date as a milestone. Depending on the vendor, you may be able to leverage that to negotiate/push for the changes and enhancements you need.

Collapse
ashish_suyal profile image
Ashish Suyal

Loved this post, thanks for sharing Andy :)

Collapse
andymci profile image
Andy McIlwain πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ Author

Thanks @ashish_suyal !

Collapse
benry profile image
Scott Baldwin

Great talk today. Thanks for the recap.

Collapse
andymci profile image
Andy McIlwain πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ Author

Thank you!

Collapse
alex profile image
Alex Angel

Such a fantastic talk yesterday, thanks so much for sharing the highlights here!

Collapse
andymci profile image
Andy McIlwain πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ Author

Thanks for the opportunity to share, Alex. πŸ˜„

Collapse
kirstib profile image
Kirsti Buick

This is brilliant, Andy! One of my fave sessions at the summit so far β€” super engaging and practical.

Collapse
andymci profile image
Andy McIlwain πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ Author

So glad to hear that! I'm always nervous before and after these presentations.

Collapse
abbydoesdigital profile image
Abby Semple Skipper

@andymci Just wondering if you think choosing a platform for re-platforming differs much from this process.

Collapse
andymci profile image
Andy McIlwain πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ Author

Sort of. If you're replatforming, you have the added overhead of migration: How are you going to move the data over? (Users, content, etc.) How are you going to sunset the existing platform? What about URL changes and redirects? External links? Internal links?

Otherwise, the main considerations are the same: gather requirements, look at the options, come up with a recommendation.