Terms like community marketing and brand communities might be relatively new on the scene, but online forums have been around since the dawn of the internet. As such, they’re tried and tested platforms for online discussion, and they form the foundations of modern social media. For companies, having an on-site forum enables peer-to-peer support, product ideation, and a place for people who have something in common to hang out. Today’s forum software builds upon the capabilities of old to empower sophisticated and scalable online communities. SaaS forum software is the new wave of solutions tailored to business users.
Why SaaS forum software?
As the world’s economy becomes increasingly service-orientated, software is less likely to be something you buy once and have to upgrade every few years and more likely to be delivered as a service. Although the total cost of ownership often appears to be higher, this model makes more sense to most businesses, since it gives them greater visibility into costs, provides built-in and ongoing support, and free updates for the duration of the subscription. Unlike freeware, pay-once, or open-source solutions, SaaS forum software is proactively supported, updated, and maintained, thus doing away with the problems of break/fix support and obsolescence.
Step 1: Match features with needs
Feature bloat is a common problem with many software products, SaaS platforms included. Because they’re targeted towards a wider audience, you’ll often find that your chosen solution has plenty of irrelevant features. While there’s nothing wrong with a little experimentation, it’s important not to overburden your community members with features they’ll never use. All that does is lead to a cluttered and confusing interface. Fortunately, most SaaS forum software is extensively customisable, allowing you to pick and choose features according to your needs. When you’re getting started, map out the actions you want your community members to take, and match them with the features that will help them on that journey.
Step 2: Customise your forums
Customising your forums isn’t just about choosing the right features. You also need to think about the look and feel. Most premium off-the-shelf and SaaS forum software offers extensive customisation options, allowing you to theme the user interface with your brand colours, fonts, menu structures, and logos. Open-source forum software is often even more versatile, but it usually comes with the drawback of being much harder to implement and maintain without the help of a professional developer. As when building your feature set, make sure the appearance of your forums aligns with your message and preserves your branding. That’s one of the main advantages of having your own forum-based community over relying on major social networks.
Step 3: Select integrations for your SaaS forum software
For most customer-centric brands, an online community is one of their most valuable assets. As a hotbed for ideation, support, and feedback, it’s important that you have a way to maximise the visibility and usability of the content generated in your forums. Some businesses also use forums to add additional revenue streams, such as paid subscriptions or online courses. If you want to do the same, you’ll need to integrate an online payments system. If your SaaS forum software features an application programming interface (API), you’ll be able to integrate your forum with other software solutions your business uses. These integrations will make it easier to share data, extend functionality and streamline management processes.
Step 4: Build your community homepage
Once you’ve got the underlying structure of your forum up and running, you’ll need to establish a way to welcome your members. While it’s often said that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, people do and always will. First impressions count for a lot, and a community homepage can make or break your forum project. A lot of forum software features customisable templates for homepages, which allow you to change the look and feel and upload your content. Visitors should instantly recognise your value proposition as soon as they visit the homepage. A brief video introduction, preferably no longer than two minutes, should also be clearly visible above the fold to help orientate new members. Other important content to include on your homepage includes content highlights and news updates.
Disciple helps brands enjoy all the benefits of having a community with an independent, valuable, and trusted platform in a safe space they own and control.