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16 May, 2024 6 min read

14 questions to ask yourself when picking a community platform

The road to finding the right community platform can feel overwhelming. What platform will align with your community goals and the expectations of your members? Do off-the-shelf platforms have the features you need? Let's discuss.
14 questions to ask yourself when picking a community platform

Selecting your community platform is a significant step. The right platform will elevate your community and inspire members to get involved, whereas the wrong platform can cost you time, money, and members.

Whether you’re starting a new community or migrating to an existing one, asking the right questions can guide you to the best platform for your needs. 

Here are 14 essential questions to consider when evaluating your community platform options.

What's the primary purpose of your community?

Identifying your community’s primary goal is crucial before selecting a platform.

The platform you choose should make sense to your community's purpose and support your mission, whether that's: 

  • Customer support 

  • Collaboration 

  • Networking 

  • Product/service feedback

For example, if the aim of your community is to improve customer support, you need a platform that allows for easy communication between members and staff.

Different platforms will cater to different needs, so think about your community's purpose to help narrow your options and find the best fit.

Who's your target audience?

Consider the demographics, interests, and online habits of your potential members. 

If your target audience doesn’t typically use WhatsApp, creating a WhatsApp community group would feel unnatural. The platform you choose should be one your target audience is comfortable using.

The easier it is for your members to access the platform, the more likely they are to engage with it regularly. 

Who owns the platform?

Knowing who owns the platform and how long it’s been around can give you great insight into its stability and reliability. 

You also want to know if you, as the community owner, have rights over your data. Understanding the ownership and control of your data is crucial for protecting the interests of your community and data privacy. 

Nobody starts a community on one platform thinking they’ll move to another, but it’s important to know how easy it is to migrate if needed. Transitioning to a different platform can be a long process if the platform doesn’t support this well.

What features are essential for your community?

The most successful online communities provide certain features and functionalities that make engaging on the platform enjoyable for members. 

List the non-negotiable features that your community needs to function. This could be: 

  • Forums

  • Direct messaging 

  • File sharing

  • Event calendars

Your chosen platform should easily support your key functionalities. Without these features, your platform won’t work in the way you or your members would like.

Should you build bespoke or off-the-shelf?

This depends on your size and budget. 

Of course there are benefits to a bespoke platform, one of which is that it provides a personalised experience for your members. A bespoke platform also lets you stay in control and have the final say on design and features. 

If you're looking to bootstrap your community, it may be worth testing your community on a free option. However, if you want to grow, scale, and create bespoke features, reach out to our team. 

You can read more about bespoke vs off-the-shelf platforms by checking out our article here!

Is the platform scalable?

You may only expect a small number of members to join your community, however the growth of a community can quickly change. 

Your platform choice needs to handle increased traffic and engagement without compromising performance. 

Additionally, it’s important to know how the cost of the platform changes as your user base grows. Be sure to check whether there are extra costs associated with increased usage or whether the platform offers pricing plans.

How customisable is the platform?

Being able to customise the look and feel of your platform and integrate with third-party tools or CRM systems is so important for brand continuity and functionality. 

The majority of platforms will allow for a basic level of personalisation, such as adding a logo or company colours. But for many community leaders, this won’t be enough. 

Consider platforms that offer the level of customisation you need.

What moderation tools are available?

Effective community moderation is necessary in every online community and should be part of your decision-making process when choosing a community platform. 

Community moderation sets the tone for the entire community and is a vital component in maintaining a healthy and aligned environment. 

Look for platforms that provide comprehensive moderation tools, including spam filters, user blocking, and content moderation features.

How does the platform handle data privacy and security?

In an age of increasing data breaches and privacy concerns, securing your community's data is paramount. 

Investigate the platform's security measures and privacy policies to ensure they meet your standards.

What's the cost?

Budget constraints can significantly influence your platform choice. To avoid any nasty surprises along the way, take a good look at the total cost of platform ownership, including:

  • Subscription fees 

  • Customisation costs

  • Additional charges for premium features or increased capacity

Always check how the cost scales with off-the-shelf solutions. 

Bespoke platforms tend to have a higher initial cost, however, this is typically followed by a smaller hosting agreement.  

How user-friendly is the platform?

Platform ease of use for both administrators and community members is essential. 

Platforms with intuitive interfaces and straightforward navigation have higher user satisfaction rates and naturally encourage user engagement.

Consider things like loading times and whether the platform is mobile-friendly as well. Nearly 40% of people will stop engaging with a website if the images take too long to load, so make sure your community platform prioritises speed.

What type of customer support does the platform have?

It's important to have access to responsive and helpful customer support should any issues arise. Make sure the platform you choose offers support channels you're comfortable using, such as live chat, email, or phone support. 

It’s also worth checking whether you can speak with the platforms’ decision-makers directly. If you can, this will typically lead to faster resolution of any issues.

What analytics and reporting tools are available?

Understanding your member's behaviour and preferences is vital to the growth of your community. Knowledge is power, and this type of data can help community leaders make informed decisions and build solid engagement strategies.

However, obtaining this data isn't always as easy as it seems. Did you know 18% of community managers say a lack of access to data is one of their top community-related frustrations? When looking for platforms, prioritise those that offer detailed analytics and reporting tools to set your community up for success.

What are other communities saying about the platform?

Just like you would for any other online service or product, make sure to check the reviews.

If you can, go one step further and ask for opinions from other community managers who have used the platforms before. First-hand experiences can be invaluable, as some issues or challenges may only become apparent after you've committed.

Build you perfect community platform

By thoroughly considering the above questions, you'll be better equipped to choose a community platform that supports your goals, engages your audience, and encourages a thriving online community. 

Remember, the best platform aligns with your specific goals and budget, while offering the flexibility to grow and evolve with your community over time.

At Steadfast Collective, we help companies build community-focused websites and applications. If you want to discuss your community’s needs and how we can help, let's talk