Community is so much more than just a platform
When it comes to community building and management often the focus is on front facing technology and tools. Many founders and builders focus heavily on the community platform. The strong focus on community platform often leads to tunnel vision when it comes to the other things necessary to run a community. While there are many great discussions on how to choose the best platform for the community they are often missing the key point of looking at integrations for community tools. As a community grows, there are often things needed to support running it behind the scenes. That's where community operations comes in. Below you'll find a list of 10 things I encourage anyone building or managing a community to consider.
1. Member Management.
Whether the community is paid or not, members need to have a way to access and leave the community. Profiles, payment, notifications, and all the ability to make changes should be taken into consideration. Often community platforms or payment platforms have some form of member management, but each will have limitations.
Consider the ease of leaving the community without having to involve the Community Admins. Set up workflows to enable members to have autonomy over their membership to alleviate admin backlog later on.
2. Event Platform.
If the community is hosting events, you’ll need an event platform. Many community platforms have a version of events. Be sure to outline what things you’ll need when it comes to an event platform and whether or not to add on external event platforms as part of the community tech stack.
There’s a lot to keep in mind for events. Ease of event registration, payments, recordings and accessibility, notifications, multiple hosts, interactions, ability to add to attendee calendars, post-event follow up and adjusting to participant time zones. Choose the platform that best meets your community needs.
3. Community Platform.
While this is an important decision, it shouldn’t be the only decision when building the community. Understanding members, how and where they show up already, the goals and mission of the community as well as the community habits and offerings will help a builder with choosing a community platform.
Pick a platform that you as the community builder will be comfortable showing up to. It may not be a forever platform, communities evolve and grow and do change platforms as the needs evolve. Be sure to review and compare platforms for the community needs. Here’s an article comparing Circle, Heartbeat and Geneva to get you started
Often a newsletter is part of an MVC community building process. It’s a great way to engage with an audience and see if a community is the right step. As the community grows it’s a great way to keep building an audience and let potential members know what they might find valuable within the community.
Newsletters can be a great way to keep passive members, sometimes called lurkers, involved by provided community highlights.
5. Payment Management.
Paid communities need a way to collect payments and for members to manage how they pay. There are many payment platforms available which integrate on varying degrees to community platforms. Many times these are included in member management but can be two separate entities.
Make sure to look at processing fees from each platform, ability of members to adjust payment and cancel on their own, and admin functionality in terms of notifications of new payments and how and what member information is available to the community builder.
A website for the community isn’t ‘essential’ but it is a great way to build a presence for the community and allow for potential members to get a peak behind the curtains of the community. When communities are public facing, part of a larger brand or product, or are considered a business themselves, a website can build SEO, serve as a way to share reviews and answer questions about the community itself.
Be sure to include screen shots of inside the community, member testimonials, the purpose, mission and goals of the community and clear pricing when applicable.
7. Community CRM/Analytics.
Understanding the members and their interactions within the community and on other social platforms can help you start to gain a deeper understanding of trends, interests and content specific to the members. While data is only a piece of the puzzle, it is helpful to start to the overall community journey and how success is measured and presented.
Be mindful that you are measuring things relative to the community you are building and correlating numbers with a story. The ‘most active’ member in a product community might be the biggest critic but without the story the number is meaningless. Many valuable community members are passive or observe and won’t ‘show up’ in data but have stories that make them the largest supporter and promoter of the community.
Community Operations/CRM Tools
8. Internal Documentation.
The often forgotten tool in community is internal documentation. Starting from simple dates of when the community started, the software and budgeting to advanced SOP (Standard Operating Procedures), documentation helps community founders and builders keep on track and bring people on to help when and if need be.
Set-up documentation from the start even when it’s a small community. Keeping track of all the software, tools, budgets, content, in one place with steps on how to create posts, events, etc will help keep you on track as you build.
- Airtable (affiliate link)
9. Internal Asset Library.
Often logos, colors, fonts, images, event templates, post templates and more are needed to help keep the admin side running smoothly. Having a single place where all common items are stored and formatted for size and quality can be a huge time saver.
Consider keeping this library within your documentation tool or in a cloud based drive to access devices. Use templates for posts and be sure to save images, logos and other assets in the appropriate formate for your community platform.
10. Automation Tools.
A community requires a lot of software and lots of touch points. Adding in an automation platform can help with internal communication, content posting, onboarding and re-engaging with members allowing you more time to interact in the community. A common mistake with automation is to start to automate as much as you can from the start. This can lead to a robotic and disconnected feeling within the community and can start to add up depending on the tool you using. Be mindful of automating too much too soon.
Automation can’t serve as a replacement for human interaction but it can help you gain back some time in your day, week, or month. If you’re doing a routine action manually it’s possible you can automate the task. Keep track of what you’re repeating over a month’s time then add in automation.
Community is so much more than just a platform. Frequently left behind are all the other tools, technology and processes needed behind the scenes to make everything in the community run smoothly. That’s where community operations comes into play and while it’s a separate title and role within some larger communities, it’s still very much part of many community managers daily job, regardless of the community size. While you might not need all of these as the community starts, it important to remember community isn’t an overnight process, it takes time, patience and a willingness to experiment until it starts to come together.
With all the moving parts to a community it’s easy to get bogged down with doing the ‘right’ thing, having it all planned out before you start or not starting at all because of overwhelm. Understand why you’re building a community, the mission, purpose and goals then dive into the things you need to get it off the ground.
Here are the tools I use for community building:
Events: Circle for RSVP and Butter as host
Community Platform: Circle.so
Payment: Stripe and Convertkit
Community CRM and Automations: Burb.co
Internal Documentation: Notion and Airtable (affiliate link)
Internal Assets Library: Airtable, Figma