It’s increasingly common that AMS/CRM come with built-in online community options.

This has some great advantages compared to dedicated community software, such as low or no additional costs, and out of the box integration. So why pay more?

The main difference between a built-in community and a dedicated community has to do with the features. I’m a big believer that the core features are what matters most, and by that I mean the communication options. At its core a community is a communications platform.

Built-in communities are typically forums… sometimes open source or 3rd party forums that are duct taped together with the AMS. Building a robust community platform takes thousands of hours, and is not part of the core agenda of most AMS companies. AMS are focused on data storage, business operations, transactions, and organizational information.

If you don’t have the budget or buy in from your board, the built-in community for your AMS is a great starting point to gauge member interest and value. Once you can quantify the value of a community for your members, you can more easily justify the additional costs. (though you should first confirm your built-in community is actually a cheaper option!)

So what is your AMS community probably lacking? Most forum software can send emails but cannot receive them. Receiving emails is tricky because you have to parse old messages from new messages and it requires complex DNS setup. Typical forum and listserve software is also missing more complex features such as marketing automation and content personalization.

If you already know that your members would benefit from a community or you’ve tried low cost options, it may be time to purchase a more comprehensive solution.

Here at Sengii, some of our best customers started with more limited options, such as low cost or free 3rd party solutions that lacked good integration with their AMS, or minimally featured AMS integrated options that are enough to get things started; but lack the comprehensive communication features required for the best member experience and engagement.

Keep in mind that sometimes a community fails to gain traction because the communication options are limited and unideal. We’ve had customers start with 100% web based discussions and within less than 30 days become 100% email based discussions. Convenience and simplicity are extremely important for creating member engagement, retention, and ongoing value.

Staff time is another factor to consider – if your staff have to spend a lot of time monitoring and administering your existing community, it’s probably time to maximize efficiency with a better solution. Your staff’s time has a cost, and if you can use time more effectively, you can focus on improving other areas of business as well.

If you don’t already have an online community, I encourage you to give one a try and see how your members respond. If the difference between an Online Community, a Forum, and a Listserve are clear as mud, refer to this article that outlines the pros and cons of each option.

Check out our community features and pricing if you’re interested in a robust, highly integrated, and affordable option.