If you’re looking to create a virtual community, then you probably know that we’re living during an incredible time for online community building.
Now more than ever, people around the globe are looking for new ways to connect with others who share the same interests as them. The problem is that with so many options to choose from it can be hard to know how to evaluate community platforms.
Ahead, we’re providing clear criteria for evaluating community platforms, so you can pick the one that makes the most sense for you. But first, let’s define what an online community platform actually is.
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In this article...
What is an online community platform?
So, online community platforms are all based around building a virtual space that brings people with similar interests together to interact, accomplish goals, and build connections.
And the key to creating those kinds of virtual spaces is choosing a platform that has a robust set of features, great community management software, and multiple ways for you to monetize your work.
But now that we’ve gotten the basic information out of the way, how about we break down how you go about evaluating community platforms.
4 key criteria for evaluating community platforms
We’ve broken down our criteria for community platforms into four key categories: native features, monetization, availability, and opportunities to expand. While there are a number of ways to evaluate a community platform, we believe these cover the most important aspects.
1. Native features
At the end of the day, the most important aspect to evaluate community platforms is researching what kind of features they have to offer.
When you’re building an online community, the more options you have for designing the virtual space you want to create for your members, the better.
But one thing to look out for right off the bat is whether the community platform features are native or integrated. Native features are designed by the service creators and are specifically made with their platform in mind. Integrations, on the other hand, are often marketed as being easier, and quicker for creators who have an existing business somewhere else already.
The reality is that the small benefit you get from using integrations doesn’t outweigh the added work and time you’ll be investing juggling multiple platforms for your online community. Unlike native features, which are seamless.
You might be wondering what kind of native features we’re talking about, so here’s a list of some that we love:
Your community on Web, iOS, and Android apps.
Discussion board posts, polls, and Q&As.
Livestreaming and recorded video functionality.
Virtual Events, paid memberships, online courses.
Direct & group messaging, member profiles.
These features will allow you to build a community with a diversity of content options and ways for your community members to interact.
2. Multiple ways to monetize
Another important aspect to evaluate community platforms is understanding their monetization options.
When it comes to evaluating monetization options on a community platform, it’s good to remember that features and monetization go hand in hand. Think about it this way, when you have a multitude of options for creating content and experiences for your members, that also means you have more ways to monetize that content.
One of the most basic community platform features that you’ll want for monetization is the ability to charge for paid memberships. This could be a one-time, annual, or monthly subscription fee that members of your community pay for access.
Another community platform feature that has proved to be important is the ability to host virtual events.
Virtual events are a great monetization option because they can take a plethora of scopes big or small, and you can charge for attendance.
When you’re running an online community, you might have big-name presenters be guests in a virtual event for your members. But you can also have something as simple as a networking mixer or mastermind group.
An online course is another community building feature that you might consider in your monetization strategy.
It might seem like this is something not quite in your wheelhouse (and it might not be…yet!). But online courses are a great way to spur member interaction, monetize old content, and expand your business.
In the same way that online communities bring together people around a common goal, so too, does an online course. When you create an online course you’re creating a community with a very specific goal in mind that you will help your members achieve.
When you evaluate community platforms that offer online courses (which you should!) these features should be easily implemented and native. There are platforms like Circle that will try and sell you on simply integrating a community into your online course or vice versa, but why have two platforms when you can have one that does both?
It doesn’t matter if your community is about spirituality, finance, art, self-care, or something else. Online courses are a great way to get new eyes on your online community and re-engage people who’ve fallen off. A great community platform feature is being able to offer a deal on a community membership when someone takes your online course too.
We are living during a time where more and more people utilize their phones and tablets over sitting at a desktop computer. An important factor in evaluating community platforms is seeing how available their platform is.
What do we mean by this? When we talk about availability, we’re talking about the importance of having a stellar web and native mobile app experience. Many platforms don’t offer this function at all which means your members will have to access your community from a mobile web page. That’s…not great.
The good news is that there are a few platforms out there that offer native mobile apps that are available on iOS and Android devices. If you want to go a step further, however, choosing a platform that allows you to create a white label app with your own branding will put you in the best possible position.
4. A great support system
The final criteria for evaluating community platforms is something you might not think about: having a support system on your platform.
At the end of the day, you can have all of the community platform features you want, a plethora of ways to monetize, and an amazing mobile app. But, the reality of the situation is that you’re still going to have questions.
Whether you’re a creator who is building your first online community or transitioning an existing one over to a new platform, the software provider you go with should have great resources to help you along.
For example, at Mighty Networks we offer a free community called Mighty Hosts that anyone can join and connect with other creators building communities. So you’re not only getting an ever-growing well of community connections, but also an immense amount of resources for building your community, launching it, and bringing it to the next level.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how many options you have at your disposal if you don’t know how to utilize them. Making sure that you choose a platform with a great support system is a must.
Ready to start?
Mighty Networks offers you a powerful cultural software platform that lets you bring together community, courses, content, and commerce. Plus, Mighty's flexible Spaces give you the option to create what YOU need for your community, not what a platform decides you should have. You can choose from features like live streaming, courses, events, discussion forums, member chats, long and short-form content, and more! And you can sell access in 135 different currencies or with token-gating.
On top of that, with a Mighty Network, you’ll be able to offer all of these pieces together under your own brand, instantly available on web, iOS, and Android. Don’t underestimate the power of your members being able to access your brand wherever they are.
Let’s start building the community you’ve been dreaming of.