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22 Comments

How do i make my community more than a forum?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of forums, like IH : ). And I'll build a forum on my product. But I feel that if all i do is add a forum to my site, then i won’t succeed in building an active and engaged community. I want to build the product around the community and to do that I need to figure out what community ‘products / platforms’ I should offer

For context; I’m building an advisory platform (Dosen) that supports the knowledge community. It integrates all of the tools required for anyone with expertise to operate as an advisor (scheduling, video, payments, promotion etc).

I'm very aware of how lonely independent consulting can be. It’s hard to get advice about challenges like pricing, promotion, delivering a quality service etc as those in the same role are technically ‘competitors’. I want Dosen to be a place where experts can feel comfortable supporting one another through advice, referrals and growing the industry as a whole

So what product / features / activities worked for you to build your communities? Would also love to hear from any community builders on IH : )

  1. 4

    When dealing with a largely asynchronous platform like forums, it's always helpful to have folks meeting synchronously as well, it offers some sort of delight to meet with folks in real time.

    However, it can take a lot to scale those, and in real time events can be time consuming to plan — I second @rosiesherry's list to looking at ways you can diversify that.

    Lean on your core members: do some have a blog already? Do some enjoy writing? Maybe you have a few natural course creators? Lean into this and I'm sure you'll find a solution that works wonderfully for you :)

  2. 4

    Previously I started with a forum a foundation, then worked my way into other things like:

    • IRL events
    • online events
    • (online) training
    • member led meetups
    • newspapers
    • collaborating on events
    • publishing content

    I guess, really you need to look for cues from your people, figure out what it is that they need.

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      Thx @rosiesherry to my reply to Robert would love to know which of these worked well and any tools you use to manage them

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        Hard to say without understanding your current position. What do you have now?

        Usually, I'd recommend starting simple with a simple website and an email list.

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          @rosiesherry I'll be launching the site next week and will have an email list of members. I have content ready to share eg podcast, newsletter, social posts. I'm really happy with them but they all feels like I'm talking AT the members as opposed to creating a conversation between members.

          I'm going to look into the various features available through https://preview.themeforest.net/item/socialv-minimal-social-network-community-admin-template/full_screen_preview/26215899?_ga=2.244120709.1478310829.1607719024-1648622003.1607719024 and talk to members about what they would like to see as a next step. Any and all thoughts very welcome : )

  3. 3

    I don't think I understand, because consulting isn't itself an industry. Like project management - it is instead a vocation, spanning the entire spectrum of industry and commerce. The techniques and Methods are well canonized, but there's the requirement of, familiarity with, if not actual expertise, in the industries and commercial sectors of chosen focus.

    I belong to a few member organizations that are either trade or industry related, consultancies with some overlap comprise some of the membership.

    Each of these member organizations offer some form of multiple benefit to their membership, and although discussion forums are a part of the exclusive offerings to the membership, it certainly isn't the focus by any means. There's every kind of discussion forum you can imagine at groups.io already (Yahoo groups just shut down today, in part because the data farming model is no longer in vogue).

    I would begin first by defining for yourself just what "industry" you are catering to. Second, what it is that you have as trade organization, lobby group, professional society, etc., to provide any membership that will benefit them.

    The usage of a forum is fine for engagement of active participants, but most will be reached via their inboxes, who are watching for those emails that bring substance of value to their businesses - in your case these businesses are consultants? In what industry (criminology, construction, accountancy zoology...)?

    Any software you incorporate I would recommend be FOSS, that is a powerful point of attraction, in and of itself, since most professionals are not just leary, but quite wary of involving themselves in arenas that track and gather metrics about them - those who aren't are already participating in whatever your focus is at Faceplant, which has all of the tools you just mentioned, some of those being developer apps written specifically for Faceplant users that can further exploit them and farm their data.

    For example, WISPA offers a myriad of benefits for it's members, tools for calculating reach and coverage that sources otherwise hard to use public geospatial data that is invaluable if you are a consultant or a service provider; Exclusive discounts for members on equipment from manufacturers; Blog and email news on upcoming FCC rules or judicial rulings in the wireless telecommunications industry; Sponsored video workshops and seminars on the latest or emerging technologies and laws, etc.

    If you're a consultant then you might be working with businesses that are seeking service for their facilities, or your specialty might be working with the providers who are seeking to expand their coverage area or drill down into a particular geographic area within their coverage area that has been typically difficult to deliver to - things outside their specific areas of expertise that your firm specializes in.

    They also provide tools, templates and workshops for securing Government funding (USDA grants, etc.) in their respective territories of under represented rural areas and locales.

    As far as invoicing and CRM or inbound marketing goes, those tools are already available for free, as self-hosted solutions so as to insure the integrity of intellectual property, and if a consultant doesn't have these along with their own merchant accounts, they aren't actually in business at all... What those folks probably need is advice on how to start a business - incorporating and securing a business license and merchant account and the software they need, with perhaps leads for securing a graphic artist to help develop their brands.

    When it comes to hosting services for professonals in any industry, I see a plethora of proprietary, closed source solutions that allow some measure of private white label branding for aggregators to create communities where they can farm the personal data and intellectual property of their target participants/membership - that's really bad juju, but there's a lot of less than ethical business model out there and folks seeking to launch these sorts of communities with the assistance of software publishers catering to their business product.

    Whereas those folks have stiff competition with places like LinkedIn and Faceplant that are the behemoths in that field, so to peel off new product for these ventures (product = members), the best place to farm these resources is probably directly from within LinkedIn and Faceplant in the first place - those marks are already soft targets, and readily exploited. To do this, however, participation in the specific groups that is rife with the desired livestock is necessary, then an offering of exclusivity to take the discussion or tool offerings elsewhere should net a decent daily catch.

    Industries like real estate advisors, holistic and new age therapy, veganism, and sports or gambling centric industries are full of luddites ripe for the picking. And by virtue of their nativity they have little awareness or concern for their own privacy, eager in their ignorance to let anyone else farm their private information or trade secrets.

    I think I saw some pondering by you in the comments about WordPress plugins (apologies if I'm mistaken there). Beware of pursuing this tract. There's a bit of overhead there and Although you can harness a lot of functionality out of the box, the scalability is quite finite there. It's one thing to have a blog and a few social plugins, but if you think you're going to build a community at scale then other technologies are probably better to be considered. Plus, you may be categorically summarized as small potatoes if not going with something else... I dunno, Drupal, Django, or one of the newer, really kewl headless Jamstack CMS solutions that will actually scale without breaking a sweat.

    If your offering is focused towards those in the tech community, this will be one of the first things that is noticed - you don't get to make a second impression and WordPress doesn't say high tech, regardless of what you can do with it with only a couple of hundred community members with a social networking plugin environment.

    A SocialV template only offers responsive design principles, which is already going by the wayside, and it looks pretty much like any other out of the box WordPress based solution - consider deploying your site as a PWA instead, since nowadays people (ESPECIALLY those in sales or consultancy) are increasingly dependant upon their mobile devices. Responsive web design doesn't address this at all, notwithstanding the singular notion of page rendering.

    You'll most certainly find, or rather, you'll hear from your users on phones and tablets, that there's clunkiness about here and there on your site functionally, and that's a total turnoff for anyone paying for a quality subscription. Big time. Yes I wholly recommend you seriously consider launching your offering as a site deployed as a progressive web app (PWA). Twenty dollar templates are with just that - twenty bucks, and your professional subscribing members expect what they are saying for - something that feels much more professional than a clunky, twenty dollar website.

    There are a lot of FOSS suites that you can incorporate and integrate together to achieve so much more than a bargain basement Faceplant clone inside WordPress.

    I've actually got a few clients that didn't take this advice seriously and now they're scrambling at high cost to outrun the lack of scalability and functionality, including their difficulty in migrating some of the integrations that have to be scrapped and started over from scratch with migrating databases and such to new available platforms.

    You can deploy sites that leverage calendaring and contacts (with actual supporting Android apps - for free) and discussions and group collaborative editing/authoring/publishing with granular security at both group and user level, with things like NextCloud, that support enterprise SSO via OAuth (same as Facebook and Google, but yours). Aside from the secure Dropbox and Gdrive like storage and sync this integrates well with other offerings like Pico instead of WordPress for yours and everyone else's blogs and news articles in a fast, statically served CMS, and you can liven up data sharing and collaboration even further by giving your users the capabilities to publish, share, display, and input data from Excel or Google Sheets with the incorporation of automagical utils like https://sheet2api.com/ - let's say you have some folks in a group collating results from an inbound marketing campaign they accumulated from the integrated Mautic server at your site and they want to publish it in a private area of the CMS but only to be shared with two other groups in the social network you've chosen to call Dosen - no prob. Easy Peasy, and scalable and lightning fast.

    You'll reap what you sow. Twenty bucks worth of WordPress template seeds? How much will that reap? And truth be told, you're already wondering what kind of value you can deliver with it, ergo... Your question that started this thread.

    There's a big difference between a professional services community and site with real enterprise tools and scalability that prople want to pay for, as opposed to a hobby social community website.

    Just the calendars and Todo lists, people want to use the calendar apps that are already installed on their phones when they bought them - they don't want to have to login to a website when they're sitting at a cocktail lounge with clients or stuffing their lunchtime face at Carl's Jr; and they want those draft contracts synched and ready to share from their phones. Invoicing too. Whatev, think how we work today. Sure, SOHO at your desk at home, but how valuable are the web based tools really if their not also already inherrently existing on our phones?

    I'm just sayin', and the difference between the barriers to launch a hobby-sized website verses a truly scalable and extensible enterprise framework is negligible if you think you're going to launch with interest by even 50 subscribers.

    And every single thing is private, secure, and e2e encrypted talking (voice telephony, even supported in an Android app) and discussions (written) and video conferencing is also supported out of the box in the (FOSS) solutions I just mentioned, and screen sharing too.

    Is merely having a discussion forum instead, leveraged on a twenty dollar WordPress template something that you think your target audience will find more valuable?

    Just my personal observation here, but you seem to have a big idea there, yet you also seem to be trying to figure out what you can deliver within a single blogger platform like WordPress instead of just throwing the touchdown pass and deciding on the quality software that will deliver the kind of things a paying community can actually base their respective businesses upon.

    I see great ideas from you. Not so much exec

    Also, in launching your exclusive membership organization, basing all of the tools you offer upon software that ensures the respect of their privacy and intellectual property will put you way out in front of 95% of all the pretenders out there who are just doing this to farm user data. It's a selling point all it's own that will find new members flocking to your offerings - even if many of those folks don't really understand what is being stolen from them elsewhere.

    You're charging people here, your business process is based on a monthly recurring income from membership instead of farming and selling them out like so many others offering the same thing as you for free.

    Make that a big deal. Perhaps even a cornerstone.

    After all, that's part of the exclusivity that you're offering these professonals - a safe harbor for those who may not be able to build these tools for themselves, right?

    Just some thoughts off the top of my head since your question was framed in such a vague way.

    I hope that helps :)

    .

    1. 2

      Wow, thank you @tallship Really appreciate you taking the time to write it. That's one of the most thorough responses I've gotten to any question I've asked!! I'm going to share with the team and do a session on this (and the other responses from @rosiesherry etc this week). I'll post again with our plan / first build to get your thoughts again

      1. 3

        You're very welcome @Ronana :)

        You've got a lot of of options and you've received a lot of good advice from a lot of people.

        There are indeed a confusing and seemingly endless array of canned applications hosted by others that you can take advantage of if what your looking for is to build a community.

        I've been in this industry since the mid 70's and have admittedly developed my prejudices, opinions, and philosophies over several decades, including many years training instructors for Microsoft in their engineering curriculum (MCSE). Yes, I at one point did kiss the Borg ring of Bill Gates lol.

        At heart though, I'm still just a simple ARPANET/MILNET engineer from the early eighties.

        Look, before you settle on anything, know that your options are virtually unlimited, so I recommend you get in touch with @8bit 's Yenizin resources. John's group is very welcoming and supportive and he lives only about 300 miles south of me in central California (San Francisco). You can find his group with a plethora of resources here:

        https://www.notion.so/YENIVERSE-Community-Building-Tools-c425cc4c7038404e85ab64d173b03ed9

        As a systems engineer and longtime Internet service and cloud hosting provider I tend to envision the solution and tools first, as the product, and then community as a supported set of features. - you very well may wish to do things the other way around.

        Either way, the Kevin Costner axiom applies:

        • If you build it they will come

        Also, I'm rather fixed on those sokutions being inherrently FOSS based, self-hosted, with high encryption and privacy as pillars of the infra.

        I wish you well and if there's anything you can think of, do not hesitate to bend my ear. I'm right here in Northern California on the Humboldt coast and pretty much everywhere online :)

        For more background you can always finger me (tallship) @tilde.team ;)

        Kindest regards,

        Bradley

        .

        1. 1

          thanks bud!

          — john

          🦄

    2. 1

      wtf @tallship.... dropping bombs!

      i also really like how you end each note with ⛵... its' like, a really nice calling card and touch. i might steal that... teehee!

      1. 2

        Anytime my friend :)

  4. 3

    Through customer research.

    Start with the pains your niche has, then create content for your community that is a solutions to those pains. Helping people get results is what will ultimately make you more than a forum.

    I want Dosen to be a place where experts can feel comfortable supporting one another through advice, referrals and growing the industry as a whole

    That's an awesome thing to want for the members of your community. My recommendation would be to live it. Do what you want others to do and be the example that they can emulate.

    What would that look like?

    1. 1

      Totally agree with is @robert_williams. I have an idea of what i want people to be able to do (and what I'll do to lead) but I've no idea what tools / platforms to achieve that with. I found some examples of more social platforms like this interface https://olympus.crumina.net/heres-the-featured-urban-photo-of-july/ but haven't executed anything like this before so any guidance is very welcome!

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        Well, my recommendation is Inter but I am biased. 😅

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          Well of course : ) Just signed up to the reserve list

  5. 2

    i've listed alternatives here but as many folks have already shared...

    ... technology is easy... community... is hard (at least for now).

    engagement can be done well if you... engage well. that sounds trite, but, it literally is the juice. clearly, any tech can make community work... countless examples.

    the question is whether or not you're up to the actual task. community is hard af...

    ... but entirely worth it.

    1. 3

      Thanks for sharing!

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      : ) one foot in front of the other I guess

  6. 2

    Some features that community platforms have are

    • private conversations - not always a good thing because you lose content
    • feed - people can see relevant content to them
    • social aspects - follow, like, etc

    But I'd agree with others that you should see what your users need. I would consider IH a very successful active community, and it started as a custom built forum and added features over time.

    You can look at tribe.so and circle.so , both have some hype right now. Tribe starts at 0, and Circle starts at $39/m so it's relatively affordable

    1. 1

      These are great @Danbars. Thx for sharing & fully agree. Next step (as per my reply to Rosie) is to present members with options to choose from and I'll go and build / buy and integrate into the platform

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