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  • Is there the best community platform for digital business? (7 free trials later)

    Is there the best community platform for digital business? (7 free trials later)

    Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

    I differ three types of online communities:

    • Enterprise: Established businesses and brands building customizable and branded community platforms. 
    • Digital Business: Entrepreneurs, creators, leaders, and coaches building digital businesses around their community. They require budget-friendly community features integrated with payment options. The goal is monetization like selling memberships, courses, events, paywalls, etc.
    • Personal: Individuals seeking free community platforms for recreational purposes. They usually opt for platforms like Facebook or Discord due to their accessibility. They do not need control of the data, monetization options, or branding.

    The platforms I talk about in this article should be suitable for digital business. Not over-priced, stable, popular and full of features we can use to monetize.

    The best way to find out the best platform is certainly a free trial. But this is not as easy as it seems. How many times have you registered for the trial and did not try at all? ;) Trials are time-limited and are faster expired as you find time for the test. The reason is often an overwhelming number of features the different platforms offer. How to compare them? 

    In this article, I offer you a road map of how to make the best choice based on your goals. 

    Brainstorm different communities sections

    Below you see the list of possible features, modules and functions the online communities platforms can offer. Go through the list and let you inspire with ideas:

    • Discussions and Forums: Should all members of your community be able to participate in threaded discussions on various topics related to the community's theme or interests? Forums allow interaction, questions, and sharing of opinions and experiences.
    • Groups or Circles: Should members of your community be able to create or join dedicated sections or smaller sub-communities within your main community? Groups are normally grouped around common interests, demographics, or goals. They usually require membership, and members must join the group to participate in its discussions and access its content. 
    • Articles and Blog Posts: Are you going to provide articles or blog posts written by you or experts on relevant topics? These posts can offer insights, tips, tutorials, or thought leadership content. Articles and posts serve as initial content to attract new members from search engines, show your expertise or give an added value to the discussions.
    • Resource Libraries: Are you going to offer exclusive content for your community members? These can be e-books, white papers, guides, templates, and toolkits. Resource libraries are often download sections, where you or your community members share free or paid resources available only for community members.
    • Webinars and Workshops: Do you aim to provide live or recorded webinars and workshops conducted by you or industry experts? Think also of scheduled Q&A sessions allowing members to ask questions, seek advice, and receive direct responses.
    • Polls and Surveys: Would you like to create polls and surveys allowing to gather feedback, opinions, and insights from members on various community-related matters, such as content preferences, interests, or satisfaction levels?
    • Events, calendar and meetups: Do you plan virtual or in-person events, meetups, and conferences? Or would you like to create an event hub related to your community's topic?
    • Directories and databases: Are you going to build a directory of related content items? Think of companies, web resources, tools, courses, or products. 
    • User-generated content: Should your members be able to share their content items, like images, videos, articles, or success stories? Rating and comments for the shared items can be the fuel for the engagement.
    • Challenges and Contests: Would you like to create and run community-wide challenges, contests, or competitions? Those formats encourage members to participate, showcase their skills, and engage with each other in a fun and interactive way.
    • Email Marketing and News: Are regular announcements, news updates, and community newsletters relevant for your community? They can keep members informed about important developments, events, and changes in the scope of the community's topic.
    • Courses and Tutorials: Would you like to create courses, masterclasses or tutorials for your community members? Courses can have different access levels, like paid membership to enroll.
    • Wiki and knowledge bases: Is your community based on something that requires wiki or extended documentation? The wiki serves as a collaborative platform where community members can contribute, edit, and organize knowledge and information on various topics relevant to the community's interests.
    • Interactive Tools: Do you need interactive tools like calculators, quizzes, tracks, tournaments, gamification, or assessments?
    • User's Showcases and Assets: Should your member community be able to create individual lists of their possessions like cars, pets, or DIY work? Those lists can be a source of inspiration for other members.
    • Ecommerce: Would you like to sell physical or digital items in your community? Offer coupons and discounts? Or should your members be able to trade with each other, like classifieds?
    • Monetization: Do you require paywalls and subscriptions to offer a premium content for paid membership?
    • Crowdfunding and Donations: Are crowdfunding and donations are essential to monetize your community? Your members can support maintenance costs, community events, and initiatives.
    • Advertisement: Would you like to monetize your community with ad networks like AdSense, or sell banner spaces to direct advertisers?
    • AI Assisted Content Creation: Are you eager to use built-in AI assistants that help to generate meaningful answers based on your existing messages? AI can also recognize NSFW content or automatically moderate unwanted contributions. 
    • Promotion: Should your community have a strong SEO and integrated social media promotion?
    • Wishlist and Ideation: Would you like your members to vote on new features? An idea hub can help to discover what members really need.

    Probably you have something else in mind, I have not listed above. 

    Create a list of 3 to 5 crucial features your community requires for launch. Do not try to cover all the features in the beginning. Focus on those that you can fill with content. You alone. You can save time using a generator for community ideas. But at the beginning, you will not have any members that will deliver a content. Having 15 empty sections does help nothing. Start small, grow after launch.

    The list of features entirely depends on the topic of the community. Thus, there is no common answer to what features are actually essential. There are some examples for features set based on the community's topic:

    Fitness Community

    •  Discussions and Forums
    •  Articles and Blog Posts
    •  Webinars and Workshops
    •  Challenges and Contests
    •  User-generated content like photos or videos

    Professional Networking Community

    • Groups or Circles
    • Events, Calendar, and Meetups
    • Directories and Databases
    • Courses and Tutorials
    • Interactive Tools

    Parenting Community

    •  Polls and Surveys
    •  Resource Libraries
    •  User's Showcases and Assets
    •  Ecommerce
    •  Crowdfunding and Donations

    Figure out, what your community requires.

    Free trials, free plan or self-hosted for free?

    There are some community platforms that offer free trials, free plans or free self-hosted solutions.

    • Free trials are time-limited but offer a full functionality while trialing.
    • Free plans are feature-limited solutions but can be used without time limitation.
    • Free self-hosted solutions must be downloaded and installed on your hosting.

    I suggest starting with platforms that have free plans: Bettermode and Podia. Then proceed with trials of Mighty Networks, Invision Community, Discourse, and Circle. And at the end you can test a free WordPress plugin Peepso.

    Bettermode

    Bettermode Community

    Bettermode is an easy-to-navigate community. It has a customizable landing page for your members to explore the community. Activity feed keeps members hooked with personalized and contextual content driven by members' participation in Spaces and preferences. Gamification is available with fully automated smart badges as well as manually created badges. You can choose a community language and enable your members to translate your community content in real-time. 

    Podia

    Podia Community

    Podia lets you build free and paid communities. Set up forum-like topics for your members to discuss, give access to products, or use your community as a private feed. Your members can access your products from within your community. You can make your community paid or "invite only" to keep the quality of conversations high.

    Mighty Networks

    Mighty Networks Community

    Mighty Network is a solid solution for digital business. They offer chat, courses, resource library, events calendar, polls and more. It is not as cheap as Podia, but if you see the possibilities Mighty offers you will know why.

    Invision Community

    Invision Community

    Invision Community is a well-known forum system. It is now a bit for “boomer". But they announced a major update that looks promising. The screenshot above is not the latest version. As you can see above, Invision Community moves from classical forums to an online community look. Considering decades of experience with user-generated content, this platform can be a great solution for a business community. It is a very robust engine with a lot of built-in functionality like blogs, gallery, events calendar, clubs, resource libraries, directories, and listings.

    Circle

    Circle Community

    Circle is as a comprehensive and user-friendly community platform that provides the essential features needed to build, manage, and grow an online community under your own brand. It provides features like live streams, events with RSVP, discussions, chat, and the ability to create courses directly within the platform. It also has built-in affiliate marketing tools.

    Discourse

    Discourse community

    Discourse is a discussion platform with integrated AI to make it easier to use and moderate. It is open source and can be used for free if you install it on your own hosting. You can use trial to test it before installing on your own. ;) This community platform includes a sophisticated discussion board and can be extended by various plugins. E.g., add subscriptions or integrate Patreon to reward your patrons with exclusive access. It is something for techies though.

    Peepso

    Peepso Community

    Peepso is a WordPress plugin. It can be used for e-learning, online communities with paid membership, marketplaces, job boards, completions and so on. It has a free version and a premium one. There is plenty of functionality, it is installed on over 4.000+ WordPress sites and is very well rated on the WordPress plugins directory. 

    Conclusion

    In conclusion, navigating the plethora of features offered by various platforms can be a daunting task when seeking the best solution for your needs. However, as discussed in this article, if you focus on essential features only, you can save time and hassle. Use the trial period as a strategic tool to ensure the chosen platform suits your requirements.

    As for me. I was very impressed by Bettermode, its simplicity and user-friendly configuration. It promises a quick start for non-technical community owners with limited time. I love Peepso because of WordPress. It gives me a full control over data, look-and-feel and SEO. 

    For my old community projects, I stay with Invision Community. This platform is the best for me because I do not need to explore any features. I know them all. ;)


    Sonya*
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    In addition to the above list: For me, legal issues like GDPR compliance or cookie management for internal and external cookies are important. And in this regard, I am not completely happy with IC. Furthermore, up-to-date translations in my local language (German) are needed. 

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