One of the most common questions I get, especially from brand managers and thought leaders who are new to the community-building journey, is: Where is this community going to happen?
Yes, social media is among the most effective tools that a brand has at its disposal. And it's easy to think that one would need to create their community in a place where people are already gathering in order to get people to interact with their community. It also helps that these platforms are cheap or free.
But that’s just it. You don’t want to build a community that is cheap and just like everyone else’s.
If your intention is to build something worth joining and participating in, don’t build it on a free platform where your strategy is to distract them away from their funny dog videos and into your content. Instead, focus on creating an easily accessible gathering place that adds value for your customer. Not only will they show up, but they will also engage in ways that support and grow your community.
The case against Facebook
Anecdotally, the only reason a manager tells me they want to create their community in a Facebook group is that they think that is where the people are. At the same time, I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people wanting to leave Facebook, but there’s this one group they are a part of that they love, so they can’t leave.
Stop building your community in a Facebook group. Your members are not keeping your group there, you are keeping your members on Facebook. If ease of use and a mobile app is what you are looking for, there are great alternatives, keep reading.
The case against Slack
I am a part of a couple of Slack communities and don’t get me wrong, they can bring a ton of value. But where I struggle with Slack is that the spaces are so one-dimensional compared to the multi-dimensional value of a community.
Community has three pillars: events, conversation, and content. Slack dominates conversation, but it falls abysmally behind as a tool that facilitates events and catalogs content. You’ll find yourself expanding to tools like Luma to house, host, and manage your events, and tools like Substack or Ghost to house all of your content.
Stop trying to make your Slack channel all-in-one, it’s not, and it’s confusing your community. If all-in-one is what you’re looking for, keep reading.
A couple options for all-in-one community platforms.
I’m happy to tell you that there are several easy-to-use, reasonably-priced, mobile-friendly alternative all-in-one community platforms on the market, and even more coming down the pipeline. I’ll do my best to keep this resource updated as they launch and iterate.
For the purposes of this article, I'm focusing on platforms that are able to host conversation, content, and events all in one place.
Heartbeat and Circle are great for communities that are trying to become businesses (makers, creators, podcasters, solopreneurs). These are often people with an audience through a newsletter or a podcast that they want to turn into a community. They are also great for course creators. More on the comparison between the two platforms below.
Gradual is a new-to-the-scene community platform for conference-based communities. If your community is centered around virtual events and specifically large live-streamed events, this is a great home for your community.
Bubbles is a new platform for SaaS customer communities. They shine as a glorified help forum where customers can get help but also get exposed to other community activities as well.
Vanilla is a cloud-based community platform with a business and FOSS solution used by midsize and enterprise brands in financial services, technology, consumer goods, and gaming. It has a gamification engine that allows users to earn ranks and badges and offers some of the most robust anti-spam tools in the industry.