Something I get asked a lot is, “How is an Online Community different than a Listserve or Forum?”

On the surface the differences are minor, but when you look deeper they really add up:

  • A forum typically has limited email support; if it does send emails, it usually does not have the ability to receive replies by email.
  • When a forum can receive emails for replies, it often does a poor job of handling emails properly in terms of new topics, separating the reply from the previous post, properly handling attachments, etc.
  • Looking at our own numbers for professional member associations, about 90% of engagement is by email alone. This represents a tremendous lost opportunity when compared to forum software. Many of our customers were originally using forums and switched because of this issue.
  • A Listserve addresses the 90% engagement issue; but, generally has very limited web capability. Lyris and many other listserves have poor indexing of information and barely or unusable archive searching ability. A primary reason for using a web interface is for searching historical discussions. Many of our customers were originally using listserves and switched because of this issue.
  • Another aspect of increasing importance is privacy. Many listserves do not keep member email addresses private. Instead they display the sender’s email address plainly in all threads. Maintaining privacy in group discussions and messaging is important to protect identity/personal access and reduce the potential for harassment.

A good Online community solution combines the best of Listserve and Forums. Additionally, it provides enhancements for each discussion group to have its own branding, news, events, resources, links, and more.

Some Association Management Software (AMS) solutions also include an “Online Community”. Just because something gets that label slapped on it, doesn’t mean it will meet and exceed the ideals of a dedicated Online Community solution. While it’s better than nothing, it’s often not great.

Open Source (OS) Forums, Listserves, and Online Communities are also appealing options; but, without the expertise for customization, integration, patching, maintenance, code merging, and best security practices, they can become problem instead of a solution. If your association can’t afford a managed Online Community solution, try to find a firm or hosting provider to handle the details of managing an Open Source alternative. The last thing you want is the personal information of your members being leaked or exposed.

At Sengii, we spend a lot of time fully addressing our customers’ evolving needs by extending our offerings and perfecting our solution. When new ideas come along, they are developed, and all our customers benefit – typically without added cost. We look out for edge cases with email handling and refine our software. We monitor statistics and interactions to better understand how people are using the system. Most importantly we build the strategies for adoption and guide our customers to maximize return on investment (ROI).

If your current solution is starting to sound less than ideal, please contact us to find out more!