Customizations can simultaneously make your community unique and costly.
Yet, every customization you add to a community website is also a liability.
It’s something you have to develop and maintain. If it extracts data, you have to worry about its security. If your platform vendor releases an update, your customizations can suddenly break (or find themselves unsupported).
Yet, customizations are also what can make a community unique.
Our work helping develop and design the BecomeAnEx community involved customizations. They weren’t easy but made the community unique and invaluable for members.
Some rules here.
- Only use customizations when it is an absolute, critical, deal-breaker for the success of your community. Bodybuilding.com, for example, has customizations which allow members to share their before/after photos. What is the one (or maybe two) completely game-changing customizations for your audience?
- Show precisely how it looks (literally, sketch out every screen). Before you begin developing anything you should have the idea fully formed and tested with the audience.
- Describe precisely how it works (write every action which takes place – even those behind the scenes). Where is the data entered, how does the event-tracking work, where does the data go, etc? What happens when members delete their profiles? Update their names? Or things change?
- Budget as much for maintenance as development. Treat customizations like mini nuclear reactors. Building them is one thing, but maintaining them in a state of constant updates/flux will cost equally as much. Assume they will take a lot more time and resources than you’re first quoted.
Customizations can help you stand out from the crowd, deliver value no other community can easily match, and ensure you’re supporting members with exactly what they need.
But be aware of the costs. Some companies find they have so many customizations to maintain it’s more effective to develop their own platform.