Community Software Is Alive and Well
According to a recent article by Dave Hersh, “You can no longer throw up a forum and expect people to come, learn how to navigate and fulfill their goals, much less feel connected. You can’t just "create community with a portal on your website.”
The statement rings true in many ways, but it’s much too broad to stand as the definitive case. There are software solutions out there that tend to cause more harm than good, that much is true. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the entire industry is a bust.
According to David Spinks, founder of CMX, what’s really needed is a "community software shakeup" or transformation for the areas that have indeed refused to evolve.
Modern community software DOES generate measurable engagement
The difficulty of both acquiring and maintaining engagement does play a significant role. Community managers are responsible for growing membership within their platform(s), until critical mass is achieved. This is "numerically defined as [the point] when more than 50% of growth and activity is generated by the community (as opposed to the community manager)". Beyond the critical limit, the community basically keeps itself going.
Of course, managers must also continue increasing levels of engagement even after reaching said point. It’s difficult to build that kind of attention and exposure, let alone keep it for an extended period of time.
As a result, community managers have an incredibly difficult job, which is made even more complicated by the fact that they cannot always demonstrate a clear ROI. If they don’t generate consistent engagement, they are held back in many ways. Furthermore, it’s difficult to quantify and explain true engagement levels to investors, executives and decision makers.
Good community tech, however, eliminates the need to show-off by driving a clear, visible level of activity to the platform in question. It can do this by serving as a hub for communications, which works to draw users back into the fold through notifications, alerts and personalization. For example, users might receive a push notification when there are replies to a conversation they’re following, whereas conversations become stale on traditional web based platforms. It provides a real-time alert and experience, bringing them back to the necessary platform.
Good tech solutions are adaptable
Just like every company is different, so are online communities. The tech being used to power these communities must be tailored for their specific needs. It should always follow the core principles of a positive customer experience strategy.
For example, an online community app should integrate with the right tools that the community needs, not all of them. One group might not need social features. Another might not need regular content or marketing tools.
Whether it’s notifications, news features, social media, or video-based content, the tech solution should deliver only what’s necessary for the community to thrive.
To make this happen, you must establish a close relationship with a tech vendor who has the ability to tailor products to your requirements. The UI and UX must also be sleek and streamlined to match your brand. Failing such customizations, you will see less than nominal engagement within your community.
Change is good
The 'good' technology associated with online and digital communities has changed dramatically in recent years. For the platforms that have not changed, they've outlived their usefulness to community managers.
Instead of 'a portal on your website', for instance, many companies now have dedicated mobile communications hubs, meant for their internal and external communities. Sales enablement and partner communities are just a couple examples of niche groups that find value in good community software, especially when it comes to a mobile mindset.
Older, outdated community tools that are negatively influencing this mindset might have included newsletters, wikis, and conventional “online platforms” that were website-based. Newer tools revolve more around mobile technology, providing instant access to eContent, integrating with social media, and enabling user-generated content. These new features essentially address the basic fundamentals of any community: insight, networking, conversation. After all, user-generated media streams offer some of the most engaging and lucrative forms of community content.
The software is not 'dead', nor is it going anywhere. It’s just about choosing the right software, specifically platforms that will provide convenience and support.
LinkedIn recently announced their new Pages feature, which they’ve taken to calling a 'community' experience. This not only shows that community software is alive and well, but the benefits it can offer are still recognized by some of the biggest players in the space. More companies are trying to reap the potential rewards of a thriving, online community space.
You must inspire your community
Any successful online community has a clear purpose, which serves as a fuel of sorts to keep users engaged and participating. Without that purpose, even with modern community solutions, failure is nothing short of imminent.
Great software and design principles do not provide a substitute for a powerful message. It’s the message that will start a movement, empowering community members to participate, get active and connect.
You need skill if you want to succeed
We’ll be the first to admit, it’s true that 'you can no longer throw up a forum and expect people to come'. Yet, that whole, 'build it and they will come' philosophy never worked out for certain communities anyway, especially when engagement and participation is an active component. Without users to fuel the system, those who do come around will drop out and everything connected to said community will suffer — including revenue.
Today, a successful online community requires a skilled community manager at the helm, armed with the right tools and the right principles.
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