20 Top Resources to Help You Make That Dream Online Community You Always Wished To Have
Even as the online world is becoming as significant as–if not more than–the physical world from a sales and marketing standpoint, companies are looking at using every possible avenue to connect with customers and influencers. Your company too is no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated that process of embracing online tools, technologies, and platforms to help you create a strong consumer-connect. One such important avenue for you is a proprietary online community hosted on your own website. Built and managed by you, a proprietary online community proves immensely beneficial to your organization.
Companies, therefore, are using community platforms, like never before, to influence a broad target audience for their products and services without making a sales pitch. According to a Facebook and NYU's GovLab report published in February 2021, ‘The Power of Virtual Communities,’ 91 percent of the respondents globally said they were able to provide at least some form of support via online groups and communities.
Organizations, worldwide, are connecting in novel and fascinating ways by building or rebuilding their own (read: proprietary) online communities. Two factors are driving this shift. One, every community or group is niche and consumers expect products and services to cater to their specific niche. Two, today’s consumers are technically savvy to quickly scan countless platforms and turn to the ones suited to their specific needs.
Numerous online forum solutions are helping business owners create and support large communities behind their brands while facilitating communication between business/staff and customers, and among customers.
The magic that helps you connect with your community
Creating a community site can be an effective way to engage with your target audience and foster communication among different communities. An online community typically focuses on a niche, such as technologies, education, politics, sports, lifestyles, hobbies, fashion, and/or business. With the rapid technological advances, especially artificial intelligence (AI), you have a slew of community tools and platforms that can help you build / rebuild an online community speedily and effortlessly. The key is to find the ones with features and functions that promise to turn your community site appealing and efficient.
Given below are 20 top software utilities and platforms that you can use to build and / or transform your proprietary online community website with. These software tools have been selected keeping in mind the parameters such as Ease of Use, Features and Functionalities, and Scale-up or Growth Potential for creating and growing an online community.
- Tribe – It’s a community platform that you can integrate with the software you’re already using, to deepen user engagement, retain customers and improve their lifetime value. You can create an integrated community website and enable features such as user discussions, likes, upvotes, and shares. Using widgets as social components, you can grow organically and deliver great customer support.
- Crowdstack – Essentially an extension of your website, it functions as a social community for your audience to help you grow. You can set your own engagement rule and protect your content privacy. It offers easy management and customization experience. The user-generated marketing assistance facilitated by Crowdstack helps boost your SEO efforts and increase your customer-base cost-effectively.
- phpBB – A highly customizable, free forum software, phpBB enables you to create boards, and customize posts and profiles. It offers you numerous moderation options, and plentiful free extensions to access the features necessary to start an online forum. Its responsive design gives the best user experience across devices. Finally, phpBB is an open-source utility with the ‘active community’ advantage.
- AtomChat – This versatile chat solution gives you a clear advantage — easily integrates with 30-plus platforms and keeps your community engaged via group text chat, audio-video chat, collaborative tools, multilingual interface, stickers emojis, real-time translation, etc. AtomChat’s other key features are role-based access control, credit-based billing, advertisements, and analytics. Its powerful admin panel empowers you to manage users’ activity and all the features.
- MyBB – This free and open-source software has many functionalities — message boards setup, user registration, moderation, etc. Powered with plugins and themes, an active community, and ease of use, MyBB’s feature-rich control panel lets you view and moderate various aspects, such as statistics, posts, users, and groups. Its gamification and communication plugins ensure deep user engagement. But MyBB doesn’t offer that many extensions.
- Website Toolbox – It offers you one of the easiest ways to create a forum in a few steps. You have a collection of themes to choose from and integrate the applications or even go standalone. Integrations on offer include Wix, WordPress, Shopify, Squarespace, etc. You can then earn in various ways, including advertisements, subscription-based plans, etc, and even accept donations and get sponsors.
- Glue Up – Glue up promises to help you grow your community and network with ease. It offers an event, community, and membership management suite so that you can separately and seamlessly manage all the aspects of an interactive community, keep your audience engaged and attract new audience members. You can collaborate across teams and automate manual tasks to be more focused on your core or more important activities.
- WordPress Community Plugins – With its massive collection of themes and plugins, the content management system (CMS) WordPress offers useful plugins such as Asgaros Forum, wpForo Forum, and bbPress enables you to create a basic online forum. The CMS is among the best choices to launch a regular website and a forum side by side. But it requires some technical knowledge to get a forum up and running.
- Forumbee – A community forum you can use to engage your customers with powerful tools and automated welcome messages and scale your product support. Customer support and smart self-service help you empower your audience, while your employee community facilitates better employee collaboration and engagement. While being a cloud-based platform with intuitive interface Forumbee is also highly customizable, enabling you to add features such as discussion fora, Q&A sessions, knowledge base, ideation, etc. to your community website.
- Joomla! Community Builder Extensions – It is another highly customizable CMS with a powerful plugin and theme collection. Joomla! enables you to build almost any type of website, including feature-rich online fora, and provides powerful built-in security and SEO features. Compared with WordPress this CMS provides more control over your website out of the box but caters primarily to users with more web development experience.
- Drupal Community Builder Module – One of the most powerful CMS, Drupal ranks above WordPress and Joomla! in terms of default enterprise-level features and scalability. You don’t need to use additional plugins/extensions to set up a forum because of the built-in forum functionality. A strong collection of modules and themes simplifies customization of user experience. But without any development experience, using Drupal could be daunting.
- Disciple – Helps you build a passionate community, sell courses, and memberships. You can brand it as your own and explore millions of users from your mobile app store. Disciple gives you total control over your content and community members. Other key features include live streaming, event calendar, moderation, analytics, and content reporting. Its public API enables the integration of the community platform with existing tools.
- BuddyPress – A completely free-to-use WordPress plugin intended for building community websites easily, BuddyPress offers features, such as individual member profiles, direct messaging, micro-communities or groups for people with similar interests, instant notifications, and read/unread signals, and the ability to add members as friends. Being flexible, it can be connected to other third-party apps to extend the functionality further.
- Discourse – Another free, open-source forum software, Discourse offers a stylish-yet-simple user interface for community interaction. Its scroll navigation bar makes readability easy and conversations flow better. Discourse provides seamless login integration with third-party applications such as Slack and GitHub and social media platforms, and plentiful features to help you acknowledge experienced members and assign them for user moderation and community management.
- LiveAgent – You can use this comprehensive cloud-based forum software solution with abundant features to build a public or internal online community with exceptional customer support. It enables you to automatically transform forum entries, posts or replies, into a ticket, which your agents can access from a central inbox. You can also monitor the forum and reports via real-time notifications.
- Vanilla Forums – Primarily intended for enterprise-level customers, Vanilla Forums offers both open-source and premium versions. The free version has enough features to build a regular community forum along with “Best Of” sections, gamification features, and post autosaving. The built-in knowledge base enables businesses to create centralized content on their products and services, letting customers find resources and tools.
- Flarum – This free forum software ensures deep user engagement via an interface powered with animations and other engaging features. Its design is intuitive and adapts across various devices. While drafting a message, users can scroll through discussions. On installation of ‘32 localization packs’, the system translates the original interface and helps users across the world to be part of your community.
- Simple Machines Forum – You can use this SEO-ready excellent software for building, publishing, and managing online communities. It offers phpBB-like features, easy customization, reporting and analytics, and advanced user management and permissions. With its theme and the modules system, the software offers excellent flexibility. If you know how to handle this open-source solution, you can tweak here and there to fulfill your specific needs.
- Spectrum – The platform helps you launch a free, public community with a real-time chat-like conversation. The conversations on Spectrum can be found by search engines and indexed, giving you both threaded discussions and real-time chat. Other offers are brandable signup page; secure, private channels; email member invitations, etc. Spectrum has its limitations on customization, SSO, moderation tool, integrations, reporting, and analytics.
- Slack – A popular business messaging and collaboration tool, you can use to build communities too. It offers a free plan, top-notch usability, and wide app distribution. But the free plan can easily hit its limits. Besides, you cannot build public communities, as it blocks discovering your community via search engines. Besides, there is no capability for customization, moderation, and analytics.
Online communities are intended for collaborative help in diverse activities, one of them being buying products and services online. The quality of interaction and the sense of belonging to a community are increasingly assuming significance.
Now, a great number of people across the planet, mostly connected via fora, are spending a lot of time in the virtual world seeking solutions to their needs. Experts foresee a seismic shift in how people and business owners will view and use their online communities going forward. Spending time online meaningfully has already increased.
Online communities have emerged as a powerful tool in building a sustainable business by empowering business owners to connect and engage large audiences under their brand. But sometimes selecting the right community resources can be challenging. The 20 resources briefly discussed above are mighty powerful for building an efficient, engaging online community.