It’s no longer product and pricing alone that shape purchase decisions and drive brand loyalty. More than ever, it’s the community that grows around your brand that solidifies its place in an increasingly competitive market.

In an age of online reviews and social media, businesses are no longer the ones calling all the shots, but that doesn’t mean they’re powerless when it comes to their communities. Sure, your customers will be talking about your brand on social media and elsewhere, but if you can get involved in the conversation too, you can influence and learn from your customers. An online community management platform provides the foundational infrastructure for building a brand community of your own; one over which you have full control.

A community management platform is a digital space where members can engage with your brand by sharing ideas, concerns, and more. In many ways, it’s the digital equivalent to a real-world fan club.

Why you need a community management platform

Online communities are used in many industries, including non-profit and government sectors. Almost every business can benefit from having a community management platform, whether it’s a consumer- or business-facing organisation. Your community can address a wide range of business goals, all of which come together to build stronger customer relationships.

Reason #1. Empower customer success

Customer success is a business methodology that puts the needs and desires of customers on the centre stage. It’s about ensuring they achieve their desired outcomes when using your products and services. An online community empowers peer-to-peer support with things like shared customer experiences, user-created tips and guides, and answers to common queries.

Reason #2. Add revenue streams

You can also sell directly to your community. Unlike mainstream social media, where people are less likely to be in ‘buying’ mode, having your own community puts your brand at the front. By integrating online shopping features, you can add additional streams of revenue. Another option is to add paid subscription tiers offering extra benefits.

Reason #3. Nurture brand advocacy

Having your own community will make outreach a lot easier by having customers gathered in one place where you can engage with them on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis. This gives you more opportunities to address customer concerns and build brand loyalty. By recognising constructive discussion, community managers can also inspire brand advocacy.

Reason #4. Gather valuable feedback

One of the most common reasons for establishing a brand community is to give customers a space to share their opinions and provide valuable feedback. They’ll be doing that anyway on review websites and social media, but having a community of your own gives you a direct line of sight into customer sentiment and reveals fresh opportunities to grow your brand.

5 key features of every community management platform

Community management platforms come in many different types. Some are tailored to the needs of specific industries, while others tend to focus on a singular goal, such as social media management or internal collaboration. But there are a few things that every platform should offer. Here are the most important features to look out for:

Feature #1. Mobility

People are spending more time using their smartphones and tablets than ever before. Recent years have also seen a dramatic rise of the mobile-only user, who doesn’t even own a desktop device. That’s why every digital community experience should take a mobile-first approach. A mobile app is a must-have for any online community.

Feature #2. Scalability

One of the main attractions of mainstream social media is the practically limitless scalability it offers, but there’s no reason why brand-owned communities should be any different. You need a platform which can accommodate the anticipated future needs of your business, rather than locking you in to limitations like maximum member counts or storage quotas.

Feature #3. Usability

You can have the best product and pricing on the market, but it won’t get you very far if your customers have a hard time interacting with your brand. A community experience should have a minimum learning curve, and preferably none at all. Be wary of using experimental features, and instead focus on delivering an instantly familiar user experience.

Feature #4. Reporting

Building an online community is only the first step. The lion’s share of the work involved goes into managing it thereafter. You can’t expect to do that if you don’t have a way to understand your community and what makes it tick. An analytics and reporting dashboard offers insights that help you continuously improve your community strategy.

Feature #5. Integration

A lot of companies have portfolios of tools that are so large and diverse they’re near impossible to manage. When that happens, technology becomes a costly burden rather than a key asset. Your community platform will become one of your most important digital assets, so it will need to integrate with the rest of your technology ecosystem.

How to choose a community management platform

Now that you’re familiar with the defining features of a community management platform, it’s time to delve into the details of what you actually want to achieve. Online communities come in many forms, such as white-label social media apps, online forums, and even custom-made platforms built from the ground up for a specific brand.

Step #1. Focus on desired behaviours

Once you’ve validated your community concept, it can be tempting to focus on all the features you need to make it work. But this approach can lead to so-called feature bloat, in which you end up with a lot of extra features and functions that people will never use. Instead, focus on the behaviour you want to establish by drawing up user stories.

Step #2. Translate behaviours into features

A user story is a single sentence describing what you want your end user to achieve by using your software. You can then translate this into the features required to make the vision happen. For example, if you want your members to join online seminars and training sessions through your community, you’ll need a platform that supports live streaming.

Step #3. Anticipate your future needs

Chances are you have multiple goals in mind for your online community, but unless you have a large team and the funds to support their efforts, you’ll probably want to prioritise. Far from being a static platform, an online community evolves over time, so you’ll need to think about likely future needs to ensure you choose a solution that’s sufficiently scalable and adaptable.

Step #4. Determine your integration requirements

The most efficient technology infrastructures are those which work as a cohesive ecosystem. At the very least, you’ll probably want to integrate your community platform with your customer relationship management (CRM) software. Look out for platforms which offer out-of-the-box integrations or, better yet, an open application programming interface (API).

Step #5. Decide on your budget

It might seem intuitive to establish your budget in the first step, but it’s likely to be unrealistic. Sometimes, your requirements might be so unique that they warrant building a new platform from scratch. Naturally, this is by far the most expensive option. Fortunately, most businesses will do just fine with a managed white-label solution that offers extensive customisability.

Disciple Media provides everything you need to build a branded, mobile-first social networking and community management experience. Contact us today to request a demo.