Selecting Your Platform
In last week’s post, I introduced the seven key elements I believe must be considered to build the perfect online community.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll explore each of these elements in a series of posts. This week’s post is about the first, and possibly, most important element – the platform – without this component, there would be no community at all!
Many community platforms come with an extensive list of features. Here are three key features I think are critical to have:
Accessibility – in my view accessibility goes beyond member reach – that is where the platform works across all devices, and members are able to log in when it suits. The best platforms make web content more usable, particularly for people with disabilities, including visual impairment and limited movement. This means having a platform that is fully navigable by using the tab, space, enter and arrow keys, and follows the international standard as defined in the Web content accessibility guidelines version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). An accessibility compliant platform ensures that an online community and its content is available to the widest possible audience.
Content creation tools – if the very reason for building an online community is to develop a deep understanding of consumers and to test their responses to ideas and initiatives, a variety of content creation tools is essential in collecting meaningful results. Some questions are better suited to a conversation-style format where members can provide considered responses or post their own images to create mood boards; other questions may be answered by a quick poll tool; and sometimes, it’s a detailed study where a survey creation tool is best. The most effective platforms have an almost unlimited range of content creation options.
Sampling tools – having a group of people with shared-interests who are readily available to complete surveys is great. Sometimes, you might want to invite members who meet a specific criteria, or collect nationally representative responses. A platform with an audience builder tool enables creating customised sample lists and opening content to a subset of the community, while a project quota tool allows setting a desired number of members in each cohort to complete a survey. Everyone’s time is valuable, so only inviting members to engage in content that is relevant to them is ideal.
It goes without saying that the above three features are meaningless if they are not easy to use and that a user experience (UX) designed platform that has been usability tested is more likely to be easier to use! From a community manager perspective, where tasks involve creating content, building target lists and setting quotas this means using the tools on the platform should be as simple as clicking buttons, dropping and dragging, and filling in the blanks. From a community member perspective, having an integrated look and feel, and functionality that is efficient and fun ensures that member acquisition, retention, and participation is high.
In summary, a UX-designed platform that is accessibility compliant, and offers a range of content creation and sampling tools is a great foundation for an online community that is: non-discriminatory for those with disabilities; uses the right medium to ask questions and achieve good response rates; and does not waste peoples’ time.
Part 1 – Building a perfect online community Part 3 – Community member engagement
Next week’s post is about engagement – what is done to ensure there is always a group of people readily available?