Brands are turning to online communities to engage customers and build customer loyalty.
Companies without a centralized community are starting to build them. And those with established customer groups and communities are planning to invest in them further.
Online community software makes building these online spaces easy. The top solutions help you provide an engaging experience to members based on human interaction best practices. That way you have the access to sophisticated tools and solutions with modern design to get started.
This article will explore what to look for when choosing a platform. We’ll then introduce some of the best community software you can use.
What is community software?
Community software is the tool and platform that enables you to create secure online community spaces where members can engage with peers as well as the community builder. These solutions offer specialized features for community building that go way beyond social media sites and forum software.
You can use community software to create spaces for various use cases. For example:
- Companies can build customer communities to connect with their customers. Apart from the core features such as discussions, networking, and sub-communities, these customer communities come with specialized features to host a knowledge base, facilitate ideation, and offer modules to keep customers updated.
- Professional groups can build spaces for sharing insights and discussing industry trends. These are called Communities of Practice (CoP).
- Coaches and influencers can create groups to connect with fans and monetize their audiences. These communities are these days termed creator-led communities.
- Alumni communities are designed to build the relationship with the alumni base and leverage the connections to help with recruitment, donations, events, sponsorships, etc.
The best community management solutions tend to offer some combination of the following features. Although, the exact ones you get will depend on the solution you choose. Given below are some of the key features:
Members are the heart of any community. Community software allows members to build profiles that represent themselves in your space. This enables networking and makes it easier for people to build relationships.
In the Tribe customer community, all members get profiles. Below you can see the profile of Eli, Enterprise Customer Success Manager at Tribe. It shows her posts and makes it easy for other users to connect by following her profile or sending a message.
Profiles have other functionality, too. They enable community managers to assign roles to users—for example, promoting people to moderators. Or, if you want your community to be private or invite-only, then user profiles are hidden behind logins.
Community software is defined by its ability to let users communicate. Solid platforms provide community forums that encourage valuable discussions. They allow users to ask questions, start threads, and comment on other topics.
Activity stream keeps your members updated with key community activities based on their interests, connections, groups, and topics they follow. Activity feed can also be used to suggest new members to follow — this boosts member discovery and networking.
Groups or sub-communities
Users won’t always want to hear about everything going on in the community. That’s why community software lets you create multiple groups to discuss different topics via deeper and high-quality conversations. Users can simply choose to join the ones that interest them the most.
Integration with products and site
Some community software providers allow you to integrate the platform into your existing app or website.
The easiest way to start is to host the community on your domain. This ensures a consistent experience across your web properties.
For example, the URL for the Tribe community is community.tribe.so. This is a subdomain of our main URL, Tribe.so. You would need to ensure that the navigation bar offers the same design and user experience as that of the company site.
But you can go deeper and integrate your community throughout your product.
A good example of this is education provider Mindvalley, which integrated its community into its app to enable course discussion.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) features
An active community with a discussion forum generates a ton of useful content.
If your community software has Search Engine Optimization (SEO) features—such as the ability to edit metadata (title, description, etc.), update URL slug, and add semantically-related keywords—you’ll increase the chances of the content ranking on search engines like Google.
This can be an effective way to increase your site’s visibility without you having to create content yourself.
Active communities build a robust library of valuable discussions on relevant topics. This is a valuable resource for new members looking to improve knowledge and interested in instant self-service support. Hence, the search function plays a key role in any community.
Another way to use this is to integrate your community answers within your product search function. When your customers search for answers from within your product, they will get discussions alongside knowledge base articles written by your support team.
Gamification features encourage discussion by recognizing members for participation and rewarding contributions. Think about how effective the upvote and rewards features on Reddit or Quora are at driving communication.
Examples of gamification features include badges, user leaderboards, and even virtual currency that you can assign real value to.
Customer engagement is one of the biggest challenges in creating an online community. It’s especially tough when you’re just starting and don’t have as many members as you’d like.
Community software helps you overcome this challenge by offering features to encourage engagement.
For example, you can:
- Send automated emails with the week’s top topics.
- Request input from specific member groups.
- Start discussions or create polls.
- Create bots to encourage communication when your community is quiet.
- Send omnichannel notifications to reach customers wherever they are (e.g., notifying users via Slack, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger)
Analytics and reporting
Analytics and reporting features help community managers see how members are using the software.
You can see metrics such as:
- Active users over time.
- New community signups.
- The number of answered and unanswered questions.
- Most viewed pages.
- The number of users who take certain actions.
Use this information to optimize the experience around the things you know members love. For example, community managers can check which posts get the most views and generate discussion around these issues.
Branding and data ownership
Top community software tools are white-label, which the community will adopt your company’s brand guidelines. Everything from logo and color combinations to visuals elements can create a coherent brand experience.
The best community software tools also let you own your data. They will let you import as well as export this information when needed. You also have the ability to comply with data privacy regulations such as GDPR. In the case of large corporates where data residency is important to comply with government policies, you can choose to host the member data in your preferred location.
This is unlike, for example, Facebook groups. When you create a community on this platform, the social media giant owns the data.
Integration with third-party apps
Community software should integrate with your existing tech stack and other apps. This can unlock a huge number of process automation.
The exact integrations you can access vary depending on the software you choose. Some of Tribe’s most popular integrations are:
- Integrate the community with Slack to notify and keep your internal team updated.
- Integrate with Google Analytics to see which posts and pages are the most popular.
- Enable Amplitude integration to track community events (e.g., questions asked, answered, upvoted, etc.).
- Provide multi-language experience with Google Translate.
- Integrate with popular messaging apps to enable members to receive notifications and interact with the community.
- Allow users to sign up with their Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
This page contains all the integrations currently available on Tribe.
Keeping your community safe from spammers and fostering quality conversation is pivotal for an engaging community. This also instills a sense of security in the community members.
This is handled via a set of automated and manual moderation tools. For example, moderators in a community have the privilege to edit, update, merge, archive, approve content posted by the members. Also, the members can be empowered to report posts and members that don’t adhere to the community guidelines.
Apart from that community software can offer a set of automated tools for moderation. Here are some examples:
- The ability to push all the content into the moderation panel until a member has secured a certain reputation score.
- Moving content to an approval process if they contain certain blacklisted keywords (e.g., competitor names, profane words).
- Automatically marking the “rel” attribute of links posted in the community as
nofollowso spammers are discouraged.
Single Sign-On (SSO)
SSO is useful for allowing existing users of your product and customers to log in to the community using the credentials they already have. This creates seamless access to the community and also a part of the white-label experience.
Here are some of the commonly supported SSO methods:
There can also be custom SSO methods implemented by a company. Community platforms must be equipped to support that as well.
Online community software use cases
Brands use community management platforms in different ways. The exact way you use your community will depend on the needs of your customers or audience.
For example, software or SaaS tool may benefit from customer support and success communities. While professional groups may benefit from a members-only networking space.
Here are some popular use cases for community software.
According to the 2020 CMX Community Industry Trends Report, customer communities are the most popular type of branded community.
Users connect with their peers and members of your teams to help with a variety of customer success-related challenges.
Providing a better customer experience builds retention and loyalty. This leads to customer advocacy and referrals powered by a strong MVP (Most Valuable Person) program.
These communities are super useful for SaaS businesses and e-commerce/retail companies that rely on repeat buyers.
Here are some specific ways that you can use a customer community:
- Onboarding: Invite customers to your community upon sign up to help them with onboarding. From here, they get access to useful resources and guides as well as the expertise of other members. They also start building relationships within the community.
- Customer Insight: You can use your community to gain insight into how users use your product and the problems they are facing. This can help with content ideation, product development, and positioning. Create polls to gain fast access to opinions or ask community members to beta test new updates.
- Self-service: Members can easily access the help they need to solve their problems. They can ask the community and learn from other members to solve the issues. The faster they can do this, the better their experience.
Here are various ways a customer community integrates into the life cycle:
Pipedrive is an example of a brand with a thriving customer community. Read the article to find out how they use it here.
Customer support community
A support community is essentially a customer community with a focus on providing customer support.
These communities not only help your team deliver fantastic customer support, but they encourage users to help each other.
Here are three ways this happens:
- When you have a thriving community, your customers will ask and answer each other’s questions. They’ll solve problems without your team having to get involved.
- Every question that gets asked or answered contributes to a comprehensive knowledge base of problems and solutions. Your customers can search through these posts to get instant answers.
- Your customer support team can set up alerts, so they are notified when a customer asks a question. They can then jump in to solve the issue in real-time.
These first two points can remove significant strain from your support teams. Customers have the same ability to get answers to questions, but they’ll do so without interacting with your team.
This leaves your staff free to solve more challenging customer issues they haven’t covered before.
Brands can create social networks around topics related to their industry. Anyone can access these communities, whether they are a customer or not.
A great example of this is the Decathalon All For Sports Community. Here thousands of users—many of whom are Decathlon customers—share different types of content and discuss the sports they love taking part in.
Community of Practice (CoP)
You can use community software to create valuable professional networks that encourage knowledge sharing and networking. These groups are like a mini version of LinkedIn.
A great example of CoP is ClubeRH, the online community for HR professionals from Brazil. This is community connects the members, empowers them to exchange knowledge, offers access to webinars, and facilitates mentoring.
You can use community software to create private groups for existing communities. Only users that are granted access can join.
There are many reasons why you might want a private community.
IBM used Tribe to create private groups for increasing employee engagement and improving employee activities in corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.
Or you could create group masterminds that you charge people to access. This lets creators, coaches, online publishers, or influencers create valuable spaces where users can share knowledge and network with like-minded individuals.
Another example in this space is the community created by NEXL; a CRM focused on law firms.
It used community software offered by Tribe to create a private community of law professionals. The community space is a valuable resource for members who share ideas, network and discuss the product.
Check out the video to find out more about how NEXL has built a powerful private network.
Top Community Software Platforms: 4 Options
With so many online community platforms available, it can be hard to choose the best one for your brand.
Here is a rundown of four top community software platforms.
Tribe: Top community software for businesses
Tribe is a powerful all-in-one community software that you can shape to your exact needs.
Our customers use the software to create various types of spaces: such as customer communities, internal private spaces, and social groups anyone can join. That said, Tribe offers stronger value to technology and SaaS companies building customer communities for customer service and success.
We offer a ton of features that let community builders tailor their space to the needs of their members, such as:
- The core platform is highly customizable — you can pick and choose social components based on your needs.
- Widgets let you embed community content across your website and app, just as you would add a Tweet or a YouTube video. You could show customer discussions on the FAQ page about a relevant topic or add product reviews to a sales page.
- Integrations with popular tools allow you to automate processes and easily add community
- The activity feed shows your community’s top discussions. Users can quickly jump in to contribute to conversations.
- Powerful gamification capabilities help drive interaction. Give top members badges, show leaderboards, or use the Virtual currency to reward members.
- A comprehensive developer platform that allows your technical team to build custom integrations on top of the Tribe Platform using API and Webhooks.
Tribe is an excellent tool for enterprises. It’s used by industry leaders such as Decathlon, Pipedrive, and IBM.
One of the key reasons for this is that it is an entirely white-label solution. Organizations can customize the look and feel of the software, so it fits its existing branding. You’re in complete control when it comes to data ownership.
It’s also possible to integrate community features into your existing website. Customers don’t leave your website to access the community.
You can also use the tool deep within your app or software. This applies to both web and mobile app. For example, course provider Mindvalley has created a space for course communication. Users only gain access when they join a course.
Tribe offers four pricing plans suitable for a wide variety of businesses, including a completely free plan.
- Our free plan lets users create a small community with up to 500 members and access to essential apps and features.
- Our plus plan is $85 per month and adds unlimited members, API access, more apps, and the ability to brand the software as your own to the package.
- Our premium plan is $249 per month and adds a staging environment, an account manager, advanced analytics, and access to premium apps.
- Our enterprise plan comes with everything large businesses need to create dedicated communities.
|Tribe in Summary|
|If you’re a brand or business (specifically in SaaS and technology space) and you want maximum flexibility in setting up a customer community that you control, then Tribe is a great option. Find out more by checking out our free plan or contacting the team.|
Mighty Networks: Add paid courses to your communities
Mighty Networks is a community software platform that makes it easy for community builders to create membership sites. You can host these spaces on your own domain or via a branded app.
Here are some of the features Might Networks offers:
- User profiles that let members share information.
- An activity feed that shows users the most relevant posts within the community.
- Content management and creation functionality.
- The ability to charge members a subscription fee.
A key feature is the ability to set up and sell paid online courses within the app. This makes the tool a good choice if you have a course to sell and want to use a community to do so.
Mighty Networks has three pricing plans. The free plan offers basic features on a Mighty Network domain, the $23 per month community plan contains more advanced features, while the $83 per month plan adds courses and top-level capabilities to the mix.
|Mighty Networks in Summary|
|If you’re a creator, coach, or influencer looking for an easy way to build and monetize a community, then Mighty Networks is a good option to consider.|
Hivebrite: Useful for an alumni community
Hivebrite is a community software provider that provides various tools organizations can use to engage alumni.
The platform offers all ability to accept donations, sell tickets for events, discover peers from a member directory.
The tool is mainly targeted towards existing networks rather than creating customer communities. The website promotes use-cases such as non-profits, professional groups, alumni associations, and education.
Check out our full comparison between Tribe and Hivebrite here.
|Hivebrite in Summary|
|Hivebrite is good for non-profits and associations looking to add easy monetization features. The primary use case lies in alumni engagement.|
Disciple Media: Easy app monetization
Disciple Media allows celebrities and creators to build communities around their brands. They provide a web platform and apps for both iOS and Android. Users can easily create community groups and charge a subscription to join.
Note that you cannot create a public-facing community that would be accessible without signing up. This also means you don’t get the benefit from user-generated content.
A useful feature is the ability to create both premium and non-premium content. This means you can let users sign up for free and then convert them into paid customers by creating quality content and marking it as premium. Free users will see that content exists, but be unable to access it.
Disciple Media has two pricing options. Its web-only community solution is $55 per month. If you want to add a mobile app, the cost goes up to $549 per month. This premium plan gives you access to features like in-app purchases and live streaming.
|Disciple Media in Summary|
|Disciple Media is a community software platform that makes it easy for creators to build and monetize a community. The tool is useful for creating a mobile app. It’s not the ideal platform for brands to build a customer or a support community, however.|
Choose a solution that meets your community needs
When deciding which is the best community software for you, define the needs of your customers and fans and align them with your own. You can then take a deeper look at the available options to see which matches these requirements.
If you plan to create a customer community for building stronger relationships, engagement, and retention, then Tribe is a great option.