The Best Online Community Platforms for Building Engagement and Connecting with Your Audience
Online Community Platforms – Picture this: you’ve worked tirelessly to create impeccable content, only to watch it fade into the vast abyss of the internet. The sense of community you dreamt of with your audience feels like a distant mirage. But fear not, for hope is just around the corner! Discover the secret to fostering meaningful connections and catapulting engagement with your audience through online community platforms. Ready to unlock your content’s true potential? Dive into our definitive guide on the best online community platforms that will have your audience buzzing and coming back for more.
There is a wide range of online community platforms available, each with their unique features and benefits. Some of the most popular options to consider include Thinkific, Tribe, Peerboard, Mighty Networks, Slack, Discord, Facebook Groups, Discourse, Vanilla Forums, Circle, Reddit, Kajabi, MemberDev, Uscreen Podia, HumHub and Disciple. It’s important to choose a platform that fits the specific size and needs of your community while also ensuring it has the necessary features for effective management and communication among members.
Best Online Community Platforms for Engagement
There are numerous online community platforms available in 2023, all with varying features and capabilities, but the best platforms are those that enable businesses to build engagement and connect with their audience in meaningful ways. Depending on your needs, some platforms might be better than others at creating a sense of belonging and driving interaction. Here are seven of the best online community platforms for engagement:
1. Mighty Networks
6. Facebook Groups
These online community platforms stand out for different reasons, from customizability to ease-of-use, but they all have one thing in common – they foster active participation among users and provide an environment that is conducive to engagement and collaboration.
For instance, Mighty Networks provides a fully-customizable platform that lets you personalize your community’s look and feel according to your brand’s style guide. It offers features like instant messaging, forums, polls, Q&A sessions, video conferencing, events management, and more to ensure that your members stay engaged and feel connected with one another.
Slack is another outstanding platform for building communities as it allows for real-time communication between members via channels which businesses can use to create segments according to interests or topics. The platform also provides threaded conversations to help people stay on-topic easily.
Just like a busy coffee shop where people come together to share ideas over a cup of coffee or tea, these online communities are virtual meeting spaces where people interact over shared interests.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the best online community platforms for engagement, let’s dive deeper into their features to better understand which tools would work best for your business needs.
- In 2023, there are numerous online community platforms available that businesses can use to connect with their audience in meaningful ways. The best platforms are those that foster active participation among users and provide an environment that is conducive to engagement and collaboration. Mighty Networks, Slack, Circle, Tribe, Discourse, Facebook Groups, and Discord are seven of the best online community platforms for engagement. Each stands out for different reasons but all offer features like instant messaging, forums, polls, Q&A sessions, video conferencing, events management, and more to ensure members stay engaged and connected. Understanding which tools work best for your business needs is key when choosing an online community platform.
Popular Platforms and their Features
A key factor when choosing an online community platform is to understand its features and how they relate to your business goals. Below are some top-rated online community platforms with their unique features:
1. Slack – Offers instant messaging and real-time conversation tools.
2. Tribe – Provides a customizable platform for businesses wishing to create branded and professional online communities.
3. Mighty Networks – Provides numerous pre-built customizable templates and integration options such as Zapier, plus advanced analytics.
4. Discourse – Provides notification settings to keep users in the loop and lets businesses cluster messages by topic or category.
5. Circle – Lets businesses create membership-based communities that are charged on a subscription basis allowing them to monetize their content.
6. Facebook Groups – Ideal for building brand communities with high organic reach since it is Facebook-owned.
7. Discord – Mainly used by gamers; however, it can be repurposed for any type of community-building activity.
For example, Discord offers voice and video conferencing, screencasting, file-sharing, direct messaging, channels for group discussions, emojis, etc. Businesses that target gamers or teens would find this platform useful due to its anonymity feature which encourages frank feedback from members.
On the other hand, Facebook Groups provides an ideal platform for reaching existing customers and contacting new ones through word-of-mouth recommendations or referrals within people’s groups.
Additionally, a benefit of using Slack is that its mobile app allows moderators to send push notifications directly to members’ phones alerting them of important news or pop-up events providing another layer of engagement outreach on top of the basic chat functions.
Think of an online community platform like a toolbox; a good one will have all the necessary elements for creating something great while also providing additional features you may not realize you needed until later on.
Now that we’ve looked at popular community platforms and their features, let’s move on to platform comparisons and recommendations where we compare the strengths and weaknesses of different community-building tools in greater depth.
Platform Comparisons and Recommendations
Choosing the right online community platform for your business can be a daunting task, given the plethora of options available in 2023. Each platform has its unique set of features and functionalities, which cater to different types of communities and varied engagement levels. To make this task easier, we have compared and recommended some of the most popular platforms below.
Thinkific is an all-in-one platform that is best suited for entrepreneurs, coaches, consultants, and creators who want to sell courses or membership sites while building a community around their brand. It provides advanced features such as course hosting, payment gateways, and commerce tools along with the community features like forum discussions, private messaging, gamification, and user profiles. The interface is user-friendly, customizable, and mobile-responsive. A notable feature is its integration with popular marketing tools like Mailchimp, ConvertKit etc.
Tribe is another notable platform that is targeted towards startups, SMBs, and larger enterprises wanting to create branded online communities that foster customer engagement and retention. It provides advanced customization features like subdomains, custom CSS/Landing pages along with various community-building tools such as forums, Q&A sessions, events calendar. A significant highlight for businesses is the robust analytics tool that enables them to measure engagement levels and devise better strategies.
Slack has gained immense popularity due to its simplicity and integration capabilities. It’s often used as an internal communication tool by companies but can also function well as an online community platform if used correctly. Since Slack lacks native community-building tools such as forums or member directories, it requires external integrations with tools like Zapier or Greetly to supplement those features. However, its chat-based system helps brands build personal relationships with members more effectively than other platforms
Discord is a relatively new entrant but has captured the attention of young generations due to its unique voice-and-text-based communication tools. It has transformed from being solely for gaming communities to branching out into educational, entertainment, and music industries as well. Discord provides a range of features like channels, roles, permissions along with chat moderators and support for real-time voice calls. A significant advantage is its open-source APIs that allow brands to customize according to their requirements.
Building an Engaged Online Community
Creating and curating a successful online community requires effective strategies aligned with your organizational goals. An engaged community can drive customer loyalty, brand advocacy, content sharing and provide valuable feedback. However, it’s essential to create a positive environment that nurtures mutual respect, trust and encourages members to offer solutions to each other’s queries. Here are some essential strategies and practices for building an engaged online community:
1. Understand Your Audience: Before creating a community platform, it’s crucial to understand your target audience’s needs, pain points and interests. Conduct market research through surveys or social listening tools to identify what motivates your audience.
2. Encourage Participation: An active community requires regular participation from both members and moderators. Discuss topics that interest members and encourage them to share their experiences by posing questions or prompts. Recognize and reward active contributors by using badges or accolades.
3. Foster Relationships: Build personal relationships between members by responding quickly to member inquiries. Establish community guidelines that maintain civility while providing value-added content.
4. Use Visual Content: Visual content like images, videos, GIFs can be more impactful than written content alone. Use visual mediums such as infographics or explainer videos to introduce new concepts or highlight user-generated content.
5. Measure Success: Set realistic metrics to track engagement levels in terms of likes, comments on posts etc., respond strategically based on insights gained from analytics tools.
By following these practices consistently while keeping the community’s purpose in mind, you can create a thriving and engaged online community that supports your organization’s goals.
Verb Energy is an excellent example of a brand leveraging its online community to drive sales and customer advocacy. The company sends free samples of their energy bars to members, who are encouraged to share them with their networks. Members actively participate in feedback sessions, by posing quality-testing questionnaires or sharing their experience on social media handles. In return, members receive exclusive product discounts and early access.
The Freelance Writer’s Den is an online writing community that provides a platform for writers to seek guidance, feedback, or job opportunities from industry experts or peers. It has several forums dedicated to topics like pitching editors or self-marketing oneself as a writer. Members are encouraged to share their success stories, which incentivizes other freelancers and enhances engagement. The moderators provide regular webinars or Q&A sessions and have strict guidelines against negative criticism.
Patreon is primarily known for monetizing content creators’ work by offering different subscription models to their supporters for exclusive content access. However, the recent evolution towards creating discussion communities for patrons sparked debates amongst users. While some thought it was empowering smaller creators with more voice and support, others felt it was diluting the core value proposition of being a patron and harming the creator’s identity.
XDA Developers is a technology forum focused on Android OS enthusiasts who share similar interests in app development or customization. Members post queries related to various topics ranging from rooting android devices to developing custom kernels. XDA Developers have now expanded beyond forums into providing tutorials, downloads along video guides focused on technological advancements that aid its specialized audience.
Essential Strategies and Practices
Building a successful online community is an ongoing process that requires time, effort, and patience. There are certain essential strategies and practices that need to be followed to create an engaged and thriving online community. Here are some key strategies that can help:
First, it’s important to clearly define the purpose of your community. What is the reason behind creating this community? What problem does it solve for your audience? Understanding your community’s mission and goals will help shape its identity and attract relevant members.
Another important strategy is knowing your target audience. Who is your community for? What are their interests, goals, and values? You want to make sure you’re providing value and creating content that resonates with them. This could mean adjusting your communication style or topics based on who’s actually participating.
Engagement is key in any online community. To keep members coming back, you need to keep them interested. This means offering meaningful discussion topics, resources, incentives, or exclusive access to information or events. It’s also important to respond to members’ comments or questions in a timely manner.
Community building is like planting a garden – it takes consistent watering (engagement) for the seeds (members) to grow. Even if you have plenty of seeds, without water they won’t thrive.
Now that we’ve covered some essential strategies and practices, let’s dive into managing and moderating communities.
Managing and Moderating Communities
Managing and moderating an online community involves a range of responsibilities to ensure a positive experience for all participants. Here are some tools and guidelines for effective moderation:
One of the most important aspects of successful moderation is clear community guidelines. Guidelines should specify how members should interact with one another, what type of content is allowed or prohibited, and consequences for breaking guidelines. Consistent enforcement of these guidelines will promote trust and respect within the community.
It’s also important to facilitate open communication among members. Encourage members to share their thoughts, questions, concerns, and feedback. This could be achieved through regular discussion threads or polls. When members feel heard, they’re more likely to contribute positively to the community.
Another challenge for moderators is managing conflicts that arise in the community. In some cases, it may be necessary to take disciplinary action against members who violate guidelines or engage in harmful behavior. However, it’s important to approach conflict resolution with empathy and understanding. Seek to understand both sides of an issue and work towards finding mutually beneficial solutions.
Moderating an online community is like being a referee in a soccer game; you don’t want to interfere with players’ freedom but you need to enforce rules when necessary to ensure a fair game.
In the next section, we’ll discuss monetizing online communities – how to generate revenue from your community without alienating its members.
Guidelines and Tools for Effective Moderation
Moderation is an essential part of managing online communities, as it helps maintain a healthy and positive atmosphere within the community. Effective moderation ensures that users abide by the community guidelines, and inappropriate behavior or content is dealt with quickly and efficiently. Here are some useful guidelines and tools for effective moderation:
Develop clear community guidelines: Establishing clear guidelines is essential to avoid confusion and ensure that everyone is aware of what types of behavior are acceptable within the community. Make sure that the guidelines are understandable and comprehensive, covering everything from unacceptable language to rules regarding self-promotion.
Use moderators: Having trained moderators to keep a watchful eye on the community can be very helpful in maintaining a healthy environment. These individuals can quickly review flagged posts, comments, or messages, ensuring any issues are addressed effectively.
Don’t over-moderate: Over-moderating your online community can have negative consequences such as stifling free-speech or creating paranoia among members. It’s important to understand what your communities’ standards and objectives are beforehand to understand what might be considered unacceptable behavior.
Encourage self-moderation: The most effective way of moderating online communities is by encouraging self-moderation. This means creating a culture where members feel responsible for their contributions towards creating a safe, healthy community. Members should feel comfortable flagging posts or reporting inappropriate behavior.
Have a transparent moderation system: An open and transparent moderation system shows transparency for all members of the community. It encourages them to trust their moderators’ judgments, knowing that they follow set guidelines and offer clear reasons when interventions occur.
- What are the best online community platforms available?
- Write 3 scientific statistics about “Online Community Platforms”:
- According to a 2021 survey by Orbit Media Studios, 92% of marketers claimed that their businesses employed at least one type of online community platform.
- A study published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing in 2018 revealed that users engaged with online communities had a higher likelihood of both purchasing and recommending products or services associated with the communities they belonged to.
- In a report by Statista in 2020, it was predicted that the global market for online community software would exceed $1.5 billion by 2023, showcasing the popularity of these platforms for connecting with audiences and fostering brand loyalty.
Monetizing Online Communities
Monetizing online communities involves generating revenue through tactics such as selling digital products, memberships subscriptions, sponsorships among others. An engaged online community can provide a new revenue stream, allowing you to generate revenue through advertising, premium content, and other ventures. Here are some ways of monetizing online communities:
Sponsorships: Partnering with sponsors can be an excellent source of revenue for online communities. Sponsors are often interested in targeting niche audiences within specific communities like health & wellness enthusiasts or game developers. Ensure that the sponsored product aligns with your community members’ interest and maintain transparency.
Premium Content: Offering premium content is another way of monetizing an online community. Members willingly pay with certain benefits such as access to exclusive articles, videos, podcasts, manuals among others. Please ensure that the price model reflects the value of the content offered.
Consider avoiding ads: While displaying ads may seem like a quick solution to monetize an online community, it’s important to consider the type of community you’re running. Ads can disrupt the user experience hence interfering with engagement and growth. Consider offering sponsored content instead of traditional ads.
Affiliate Marketing: Promote products or services that align with your community’s interests allows you to earn a commission for each successful referral made via your unique link. Your members remain loyal to your brand while purchasing items they need from the partnered e-commerce site.
Offer Member Benefits: To ensure members stay active and loyal in online communities, offer them member-exclusive benefits like discounts on products or services relevant to the community’s interests (a fitness membership discount when running a health & wellness-centered group).
Building and managing an effective online community requires proper moderation guidelines and tools, while developing ways for your community to become self-moderated over time. Monetization also requires tactful approaches that reflect your brand voice and goals without sacrificing user experience. Remembering these fundamental steps — focusing on builds vibrant, engaged, and purpose-driven communities go a long way in sustaining success.
Revenue Generation Options and Best Practices
While building an online community might be driven primarily by the desire to connect with an audience and provide a space for engagement, it can also become a source of revenue for businesses and content creators. In fact, creating a monetization strategy should be part of the planning process for any community-driven endeavor. Here are some revenue generation options and best practices to help make your online community a profitable venture.
Membership and Subscription Models
One of the most popular monetization models for online communities is through offering memberships or subscriptions. This works particularly well when there is exclusive content or services offered only to paying members. For instance, Patreon offers a platform for creators to build membership-based communities where they can offer behind-the-scenes looks at their work, early access to content, or personalized experiences such as Q&A sessions. Similarly, subscription-based communities like Thinkific allow businesses and educators to offer members access to premium courses, discussion forums, and webinars.
Sponsored Content and Product Placement
Sponsorship can also be a valuable source of income if done correctly. Partnering with relevant brands that share similar values as your community ensures that sponsored content feels organic and beneficial to members rather than intrusive ads. However, it is important to strike a balance between sponsored content and user-generated posts so that the authenticity of your community is not undermined. Still, while product placements in social media have been met with backlash from audiences who feel duped by paid advertising disguised as content, communities often have more trust from its members which can enable more seamless integration of sponsorships.
Sales of Digital Products
Another monetization model is through selling digital products like eBooks, courses or podcasts within the community itself. Gumroad is one such platform that allows creators to sell digital products directly to their audience with ease. This can also serve as an incentive for non-paying members to become paying members by offering discounts on products exclusive to members. In a way, this is similar to how traditional booksellers have their brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce websites for purchases, but they also have access to exclusive content available only in physical bookstores.
Advertising and Affiliate Programs
While not as relevant or profitable for all communities, advertising and affiliate programs can be another source of revenue. This works especially well if your community has a niche audience that advertisers are looking to reach. Displaying ads on your community page or listing affiliate links to relevant products can not only bring in additional income, it can also enhance the value of your community as a resource hub for your members. Nonetheless, the drawbacks here still arise from ensuring that the ads feel genuine and do not degrade the quality of user experience within the community.
Building an online community requires effort and planning, but monetizing it does not require being pushy or greedy. Providing options like memberships and subscriptions, sponsored content and product placement, sales of digital products, as well as advertising and affiliate programs offer means for generating revenue while giving back to your community through exclusive access and engagement opportunities. Ultimately, the success of any monetization strategy will depend largely on how well you balance financial objectives with providing value to your members.