How to choose your online community platform

Choosing the right platform for your online community depends on what your members want

At Pensil, we know how hard it is to launch an online community.

You might have heard the advice to launch your community as soon as possible. While that might work for some products or services, we don’t think it applies to community-building.

Before you launch your community, you need to ask yourself some important questions:

1. What kind of activities do my members prefer: events or discussions?

A good online community should offer both events and discussions (and maybe other benefits, like discounts, jobs, etc.). However, we’ve learned from our experience that most people tend to favor one over the other. Most of our Community members love attending events. Hosting about one event per week, from casual chats that don’t require much participation, to action hours where you need to interact, focus, and network with others.

A smaller percentage of Community members engage in discussions. In fact, we have seen community managers almost giving up on the community after a month of launching, because it is very quiet. community managers being the only one posting things, and barely getting any responses or likes.

Community engagement is a common challenge for many community managers. Here are some strategies that can help increase engagement:

🎉 Welcome Each Member: A friendly welcome can make new members feel at home. Consider sending an automated email or direct message to each new member. You could also organize weekly or monthly ice-breaker events.

🎯 Encourage Profile Completion: Encourage members to spend time on their profile. This helps members open up with individuals with whom they have common interests.

💬 Be Responsive: Set a good example by being responsive. Respond to comments with insights, feedback, follow-up questions, or tag other members who may be interested.

🎮 Gamification: Engage the community with karma points, badges, milestones, etc. This can encourage members to participate more actively.

📊 Regular Surveys and Polls: Regularly ask for feedback from your community. This not only gives you valuable insights but also makes members feel valued and heard.

📝 Content Creation: Encourage members to create and share their own content. This could be blog posts, photos, videos, or other types of content that are relevant to your community.

🎈 Events: Host regular events, like webinars or Q&A sessions. This gives members something to look forward to and encourages them to engage with the community

🏆 Recognition: Recognize and appreciate active members. This could be a simple shout-out or a ‘Member of the Month’ feature.

Remember, building an engaged community takes time and patience. Don’t be discouraged if engagement is low in the beginning. Keep experimenting with different strategies and over time, you’ll find what works best for your community.

🌐 Events: Pensil’s live sessions or webinars feature is a hit among members who enjoy events. It allows you to host a variety of events, from casual chats to interactive networking sessions. This ensures that your community stays engaged and connected.

💬 Discussions: For members who prefer discussions, Pensil’s open discussion feature is a boon. It allows for the creation of various groups for different use cases, like forums, ensuring that everyone has a space to voice their thoughts and opinions.

Pensil’s versatility in catering to both events and discussions is one of its standout features. It ensures that all members, regardless of their preference, have a platform to engage and connect.

2. Do we need real-time or delayed communication?

Real-time communication is more like instant messaging, where people chat with each other in the moment. Delayed communication is more like social media, where people post things and others can reply whenever they want.

🌐 Real-Time Communication: Real-time communication takes place when information is shared, received, and processed in the same moment, or with minimal delay. Pensil’s live sessions or webinars feature facilitates real-time communication. This is akin to instant messaging, where people chat with each other in the moment. It’s beneficial for building relationships, real-time communication can foster immediate interaction and engagement, making the community feel more alive and dynamic.

📬 Delayed (Asynchronous) Communication: Delayed communication takes place when there is a delay or lag between sharing information and receiving a response. Pensil’s open discussion feature supports this type of communication. This is more like social media, where people post things and others can reply whenever they want. It’s beneficial for accommodating different time zones, allowing thoughtful responses, and reducing the pressure to respond immediately

3. Will members share short or long thoughts?

📝 Short Communication: If your community is focused on resources or is mainly a way to announce events and meetups, you’re probably looking for quick reactions, RSVPs, links to jobs, etc. This is short communication. Platforms like Slack, Discord, and Telegram are great for this. They allow for real-time, instant messaging-like communication, making them ideal for communities that require quick and frequent interactions.

📚 Long Communication: If your community encourages in-depth discussions, knowledge sharing, or detailed feedback, then long communication is more suitable. Platforms like Pensil, Circle, Mighty Networks, Tribe, and Discourse are best suited for this. They support forum-like discussions where members can share longer thoughts at their own pace

4. How much customization do I need?

Customization is a key factor when building an online community. It allows you to create a unique and branded space for your members. This includes having your own branding, space names, and even the ability to change how different spaces look. Plus, you can control the level of access each member has. This level of customization can make your community feel more personalized and engaging, thereby fostering a stronger sense of belonging among your members.

Platform Options: Different platforms offer different levels of customization. For instance, Slack and Discord allow you to change the names of your channels, but not much else. On the other hand, platforms like Pensil and Circle offer more extensive customization options. They allow you to customize your community forum with your logo and branding, domain name, and website layout, and customize themes to match your branding style.

In the context of online community building, the choice of platform depends on your specific needs and objectives. If customization is a priority for you, then platforms like Circle and Tribe might be more suitable. However, if you’re looking for a platform that’s easy to use and doesn’t require much customization, then Slack or Discord might be a better fit

5. Is this community free, paid, or a combo?

The decision on whether your online community should be free, paid, or a combination of both depends on your specific goals and the value you’re providing to your members.

🆓 Free Communities: Free communities can be a great way to build brand awareness, capture leads, serve existing customers, and network with many people. They allow anyone to join and participate, which can lead to rapid growth and a diverse range of perspectives. However, they might require alternative revenue streams to sustain.

💰 Paid Communities: Paid communities are typically centered around exclusive content, resources, or experiences that members are willing to pay for. They can generate direct revenue and often attract highly engaged and committed members. The challenge is to continually provide enough value to justify the cost.

🔄 Combination (Freemium) Communities: A combination, or freemium model, offers some content or features for free, while reserving premium content or features for paying members. This can be an effective way to attract a large base of free users, some of whom may convert to paid members to access additional value.

Pensil simplifies the management of paid memberships by offering built-in paywall support, allowing you to concentrate on enriching your members’ experience. Furthermore, Pensil’s ability to integrate with a variety of external services for membership and payment management provides you with the flexibility to select the most suitable tools for your community, without being confined to a single platform.

6. How frequently do we want people posting in the online forum?

The frequency of posts in an online forum is a significant aspect of community building. Here’s how this can be approached:

📊 Post Frequency: The pace of your community can be determined by the frequency of posts. If you want a slow and thoughtful atmosphere, optimizing for a few posts a week might be suitable. On the other hand, if you want a fast and real-time feel, daily posts might be more appropriate.

🔍 Searchability of Posts: The ability to easily find and access previous posts is crucial. This ensures that valuable information and discussions are not lost over time and can be referenced when needed.

🔔 Notification System: The way members are notified about new posts and updates can significantly impact their engagement. A well-designed notification system can keep members informed without overwhelming them.

🎛️ Customization for Members: Allowing members to customize their experience, such as adjusting the amount of information they receive, can enhance their engagement and satisfaction with the community.

🚫 Post Limit: Some platforms limit the number of posts or price according to the number of posts. It’s important to be aware of these limits when choosing a platform. Logistically too, some platforms limit/price according to # of posts. For example, many community-managers run into issues with Slack where you can’t search beyond a certain number of posts.

In summary, the frequency of posts, searchability, notification system, customization options for members, and understanding the post limit are all key considerations when building an online community.

7. How long-term is the community I’m building?

The longevity of your community is a crucial aspect to consider when building an online community. Here’s how Pensil caters to these needs:

🏗️ Long-Term Community Building: If you’re planning for the long term, Pensil is designed to evolve with your goals. It offers extensive customization options, allowing your community to grow and change over time. This is particularly beneficial if your community is the product itself.

🎯 Product-Based Community: If you’re running a product-based community with the aim to connect your customers and provide proactive support, Pensil can facilitate this. It provides features that enable easy communication and collaboration among members, enhancing customer engagement and support.

🚀 Feature Updates: Pensil is committed to continually improving and updating its features based on user feedback. This ensures that the platform remains relevant and continues to meet the needs of your community.

🧭 Narrowing Down Options: Once you’ve considered all these factors, you’ll likely have a shortlist of potential platforms for your community. Pensil’s versatility and adaptability make it a strong contender, capable of supporting a wide range of community types and needs.

Remember, building a successful online community is a long-term commitment. It requires a platform that can support your community’s growth and evolution, and Pensil is designed to do just that.

In conclusion, choosing the right platform for your online community is a crucial decision that can significantly impact its success. Pensil, with its robust features and adaptability, stands out as a strong contender.

Whether you’re building a long-term community or a product-based one, whether you need real-time or delayed communication, or whether you’re looking for short or long posts, Pensil caters to all these needs. Its extensive customization options, built-in paywalls, and integration capabilities make it a versatile platform for any community. Moreover, Pensil’s commitment to continually improving and updating its features based on user feedback ensures that it remains relevant and continues to meet the evolving needs of your community.

Related Posts