“I’ve already reached out to a few platform vendors”
….is a sentence message I’ve learned to dread.
It’s usually a sign they’re trying to select a platform before determining the best approach to a community. Once people reach out to vendors, they fall in love with a particular vision for the community which is hard to shift.
A friend of mine recently reached out for advice on which platform to pick.
He had narrowed the list down to four options.
What surprised me was how different the four platforms were. One was a major enterprise platform, one was a forum-based platform, one was an instant messaging platform, and one was a hybrid of all three.
Each platform was suited to an entirely different approach to building a community.
One would’ve been great as a customer support channel and enabling members to share content with one another. Another would’ve been great for creating a tighter, more intimate, sense of community.
One platform might’ve been ideal for an organisation that needed to tightly integrate the community with existing systems, another was perfect for a separate, undercover, experience that could be launched quickly and cheaply.
You should decide the approach your community is taking before you shortlist (and contact) potential communities.
If you’re trying to decide between different platforms in different categories, you have a strategy problem.
This is a terrible way to build community!
For starters, you’ll end up picking the platform with the most persuasive pitch (often the one that promises success in the most hyperbolic terms) instead of looking for the platform which best suits your needs (you don’t know your needs yet).
Second, you’re beginning with the needs of the vendor rather than the needs of your audience and your organisation.
For sure, you might get lucky. The platform you pick might wind up being the perfect platform for your community’s needs. But if you haven’t undertaken your audience research, gathered detailed requirements from your stakeholders, prioritised a list of items you need, you have no way of knowing that.