When you’re deciding which SaaS platform to use for hosting your community, it’s tempting to just race to the web and start browsing.
There are so many options! So many features! Bells! Whistles!
But this is the wrong way to approach your platform choice. Your search should never start in a platform-first or feature-first direction.
Your initial mindset when choosing a community platform needs to be all about the behaviors you want to establish with your members, and choosing the best platform to facilitate those behaviors.
Why you need to think behaviors first
Thinking in terms of behaviors first is more effective because it forces you to drill into how you want to engage your members, and how you want your members to engage with each other.
It approaches the question from a strategic mindset, rather than a tactical mindset. And strategy always needs to come before tactics.
So rather than getting caught up in what features a platform has, you need to translate those features into the behaviors they’ll help you facilitate.
This focus on behaviors needs to persist throughout the life of your community.
Let’s look at a few examples.
One behavior you might want for your community is for people to show up for live webinars. If that’s the case, then some features you might look for include: an Events section, integration with webinar software, easy ways to send notifications, the ability to pin posts, etc.
How will you know to give these features extra weight unless you have a clear idea of the behaviors you want to establish?
A particular platform might not be disqualified if it isn’t perfect in this area, but it does mean you should have a vision for how you’ll work around any shortcomings. You also need to be able to adjust midstream if you’re not seeing the desired behaviors occurring as the weeks and months pass.
Another behavior you might want is for people to be able to help each other with accountability. In that case, an important feature would be the ability to create separate Groups or sections where cohorts of people can communicate in small groups.
Do you want gamification to be a part of what motivates your members to participate? Then you need to identify it as a priority and choose a platform that facilitates gamification.
The key here is to start with the behaviors first so that you’re clear on the essential features you need, rather than just browsing to see what looks cool or having a soft checklist of features that sound nice or that you’ve seen in other communities.
If you embark on your shopping expedition with a completely open mind, you run the risk of falling prey to each platform’s spiffy website and professionally written copy, all of which is geared toward making their platform sound irresistible. Don’t do that.
Be clear about the community you are building before you start searching, and the hold each platform to that standard. It will help you narrow down your choices much quicker, and set you on the path toward making the best choice in the end.
Choosing the right community platform requires having enough humility to deeply understand your members and to put in the research necessary to know what works for community engagement. Your job is to find the intersection between the two.
Once you find it, take pride in being the visionary for your community. Don’t outsource this responsibility to the platform feature lists.
In other words: find the platform that works for you and your members, not the other way around.
Now here are some additional links on this topic …
The right choice starts with strategy
I outlined my essay above, and then came across this article by Rich at FeverBee … and knew I was on the right track! Not being clear-eyed about what you need from a community platform is a sign that you aren’t clear-eyed about your community strategy.
The Wrong Way To Pick A Community Platform | FeverBee
A case study in choosing a platform
I’ve shared Jay’s epic post before, but it’s worth sharing again here. It’s a good example of how to think through your community and then come out on the other side with a firm understanding of what you need in a platform.
How to build an online community | Jay Clouse
Put in the work to make the right choice
This post provides a detailed model for how to approach your community platform choice. In the section “Behaviors, Not Features,” the author provides examples of non-negotiable features they want in a community platform.
Here’s an example of how not to do it
This post does provide some good basic information if you’re a beginner, but I want to highlight its list of steps to take when launching an online community. Number one is choosing a platform; number two is determine your goals. No. It needs to be the inverse of that.
Community Platforms: A Complete Guide | Disciple
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