In one of my previous posts, I spoke about 20 secrets on how to build a great online community in order to benefit. By now, you must be thinking about the platform to exercise this if you hadn’t used one before. Either way, you will get to learn something about selecting a good platform for your community. Today, I will be sharing with you some important tips on how to choose the best software for your online community. Online social engagement technology is available in many flavors offering a wide range of options. Even though there are many things to look for in an online community, here are 6 tips that I feel would help you make the right choice.

1. Consider Several Options
Good software should meet your needs – don’t rely on a single recommendation even if it was coming from a trusted colleague. Look at the bigger picture and the people who are targets for your online community. You will have to research your options. Go through a number of choices to fully understand the features. Ensure that you can get support for customization and training. This will save you from implementing a solution that is incomplete and instead make it possible for you to launch with features that fit your goals and objectives.

2. Friendly and Safe Environment
We can all agree that a friendly, easy-to-use platform encourages users to get involved. Request a demonstration and try it out prior to bringing others on board. Comments, discussions and ideas provided about the platform should be publicly accessible to guarantee focused feedback in a secure environment. The software should meet existing accessibility standards and guidelines and give you ownership and privacy.

3. Content-Rich Platform
The ability to access information is central to community engagement. This helps focus feedback and improve the quality too. Personally, I am always on the lookout for software with a resource library, image and video gallery capabilities. This way, my community can get updates via news feed and/or a newsletter. These features will keep your community engaged and informed. Make sure there is a calendar for listing activities and events. Other aspects could include slideshows, tools, social media and maps.

4. 24/7 Platform, Anywhere
Your choice of an online community software should take into account the ability to engage anytime, anywhere. Users should have the option of engaging at a time and place that is suitable for them. Most importantly, make sure that the software is responsive and mobile first to adapt to tablets, mobile phones, and PCs.

5. Support Services
To advance the cause of your organization, you need continuous engagement of your online community. Therefore, strategic and technical support is a must for you. I always ask for more than just an IT sales person or a helpdesk technician. You need real-time support to keep your community going.

Make sure that your software provider is a renowned software developer with a keen focus on building quality online communities. Your service provider should give you access to community engagement professionals and knowledgeable support staff. Ask about the frequency of updates. I would not recommend going for software that has not gone through at least two major releases in the past year. Software that doesn’t get updated often may mean that issues are not addressed in a timely manner. If your community can’t adapt to your member’s needs over time, they may become disenchanted. For more details, read Nadia_Kovacs’ post on The Importance of General Software Updates and Patches.

6. Check Feedback Tools
Building your organization through online communities requires different feedback channels to suit each objective. You should be able to incorporate individual, combined or sequential feedback tools in all your strategic goals. Members should be able to choose the feedback tool that they feel comfortable using. Here is a list of some of the tools you will need:

  • Quick polls – to poll your community members and capture their general perceptions on a specific issue.
  • Discussion forums – this tool offers public debate and dialogue. The software should have focused discussion groups for members to participate with ease.
  • Blogs – these allow stories of personal knowledge and experiences to be told in images, video, text and audio formats.
  • Discussions open to Guests – these are usually designed to collect text-based feedback from the public and are free from community debate.
  • Others tools: surveys, Q&A, directories, and forms among others to suit your needs.

One of the mistakes that associations make when building an online community is the wrong choice of software. We all have different needs, but I would encourage anyone who wants to enjoy the advantages of a good online community to follow these 6 tips.