Best Community Software & Platforms (In-depth Review, Buyers Guide)

Are you familiar with the term Online Communities? Online communities have always been the foundation of the Internet, from early AOL online chat, eBay and Wikipedia to now Facebook or Linkedin Groups.

They’ve become so powerful and influential that we have started developing something called Community Software – software that powers online communities and helps companies build brands and relationships with their customers.

Community Software is not just a buzzword or a term you hear for no reason – it’s become an essential thing if you want to build your brand and ensure it stays relevant to your customers.

What is Community Software?

Community Software is a term used for any software that gives people an opportunity to share data, information and thoughts. Simply put – it is a platform for people to interact and cooperate. That’s why it also goes under the names Group Software, Collaboration Software, etc.

By many characteristics, it resembles group features on popular social media platforms, such as Facebook or Linkedin. But you can’t really compare a single feature that exists on social media with professional software designed to help your business grow.

How’s Community Software different from groups on social media?

We said that the base of community software is an opportunity for users to interact and cooperate. It’s clear as a day that that’s something you can also do without leaving your social media profiles. But what’s the difference here, indeed?

Source: Pexels.com

For starters – think about when you are personally spending time on social media. It is usually to clear your mind, relax and casually check what’s new on the platform. On the other hand, community software helps businesses and creators build online communities that are independent of social media platforms, give businesses full control and allow them to integrate their community with existing business tools and software that they use.

Besides this main difference, there are also some other things that differ in the way these platforms work.

More data: when using a social media platform, all the data that you collect about your customers is managed and owned by a social media company, not you. When using community software, however, you keep the rights to collect data.

More control: if you build your online community on the social media platforms, you will most likely find yourself following changes and rules that come from them – and with a fast-changing society, you know that they will come regularly. It could go as far as them changing the algorithm in a way that impacts the reach and engagement of your community negatively. By running your community on a community platform that’s independent of social media platforms, you will have more control and be provided with the tools to communicate and engage with your community however you want.

More security: a community platform will protect your and your customers’ information no matter what – as it is one of their main priorities. The social network, however, can be a subject of security attack and leak information that could jeopardize you or your online community.

More community management tools: social media will give you only basic features to use — and at their core — we know that they were not built to give community creators 100% control over managing their communities. With online community software, there are numerous functionalities that help you in content management, moderation and customer engagement.

You can probably start to see the bigger picture now and understand why social media communities can’t replace having online community software. If you’re still not 100% sure about this, let’s dig in deeper in understanding community management software and how it can boost community engagement.

Who should use Community Software?

You’re probably still wondering if your company needs software products to build an online community. The truth is – if you are serious about creating an online community that fosters collaboration, improves customer experience, and allows you to share knowledge with your audience – community software is the way to go.

Suppose you decide to build an online community using online community software after reading this blog. In that case, you should know how to implement it in the best possible way throughout the entire structure of your company.

These are the teams and departments that could benefit from community solutions.

Customer Support

Customer centricity is the quality you’ll find in every successful company. According to Taylor & Francis Online, customer-centricity directly correlates to the loyalty customers will hold towards a specific company or brand.

The customer support team is the first team that interacts with your current or potential customers and can either make or break the deal, depending on their service. Now imagine giving this team all-in-one community software reinforced with the latest widgets and plugins that help them serve the customers in the best possible way – you can imagine what would be the outcome.

Online community software is the future of customer services because you are giving customers an open platform to get answers to questions, provide support to each other and connect with other customers.

Community Managers

If you want to build a thriving online community, well – one thing you can do is to provide your community managers with tools that help make community management easier and allow them to be successful at their job. And it goes without saying that they are the ones who will be using your community software the most.

Community Managers have strong social and communication skills, which helps them manage your community in the best possible way. Unfortunately, they are often limited by social media restrictions in features, and what they can do with your online community becomes limited.

Community management software gives community managers an opportunity to design and create different content customized to their community members and engage them in the best possible way.

Marketing Team

You know what they say about products and services – you don’t get to determine their value – it’s customers’ job in the end. Many companies end up failing because they over-estimated the products they were launching or the value their brand has.

Now imagine having your marketing team directly communicating with your customers through the community software. They could capitalize on this product by sending important brand messages or sensing what the impressions of the brand your customers have are.

Or go even one step further and share new products and services with your community members. This way, you get the feedback right away and possibly save a lot of money for your company. The best part is – your customers will be happy to participate and contribute, as they got the added value – just by being community members.

Online Community Software Features

To provide you with a better picture of functionalities and possibilities you can have with community software, we created a list of features that come alongside software solutions. Here are the most important ones.

Source: Vecteezy.com

Member Management

This feature gives people the opportunity to create and manage their profiles – from personal information to their preferences and motives for joining the community. This also enables them to join specific chapters, groups or discussions – based on their priorities. If you are willing to create separate membership packages, the member management feature could help you set privileges and limitations based on the membership package users have bought.

Content Management

We already mentioned content management and its importance. This feature will allow you to create different types of content customized to your members. You can go from simple pictures/polls/blogs to complex websites. The best about this is that you can track customer engagement with each piece of the content and improve your strategy from month to month.

Forums and Discussion Boards

Forum software might have been something that you used in the past – as many companies did. Now there is no need for this, as community software is an all-in-one software solution for all your needs regarding customer engagement.

You can have your community members do the product reviews, share their personal experiences, ask questions, and so on. It is especially useful because your customers can open up topics and leave their impressions. You can start the topics yourself – if there is something you would like them to talk about. Limits do not really exist here.

Blog Creation and Management

No one likes to feel like being pulled by the sleeve to buy something. That’s why blogs sometimes are perceived as a subtle – but efficient sales tool, and often play an essential role in marketing strategies.

Blog functionality will help you publish blogs for your customers to read, as well as give them an opportunity to publish their own blogs – and this can be a powerful tool, as we know that word of mouth marketing is the strongest one that exists. You can also expect blog templates as additional help for your business.

Gamification/Crowdsourcing

Our attention span is narrowing – there’s no doubt in that. According to the Guardian, this trend will not change in the years to come — on the contrary — our attention span will continue narrowing.

That’s why companies need to adapt and create more engaging content. Here comes the gamification feature perfectly. You can create interactive competitions to keep your members learning or working entertainingly and motivate them to perform as well as possible by rewarding the best ones.

Media Libraries

With this feature, you can have all your media – pictures, videos, etc. in one place, easily accessible and searchable for your customers. Community moderators can group the media based on the content or targeted audience and customize the platform to be even more user friendly.

Event Management

If you are in the business of organizing conferences or events and you want to bring them to a new level, try using the event management feature. You can create the events on the platform, ask your members to attend, give them an easy way to book the conference on their calendars, etc. Boosting your events has never been this accessible and visible to anyone interested in what you have to offer.

Reporting and Analytics

The best decisions we make are the ones made based on the data we gathered. Community software doesn’t only let you build your online community but also collect data from community engagement and generate reports you can use to develop your business further.

You don’t need to hire new employees to do this work or have your marketing team focus on analytics – community platform and analytics feature will do the job for you. From this point on – the only thing left for you to do is to read the reports and make your strategies work.

Collecting Feedback

Source: Lucidchart

A community feedback feature allows you to automate the collection of feedback through polls, threads and forms.

Online Courses

If you know how good you are at something and you would like to share your knowledge with others, this feature will help you succeed in that. You can prepare online courses and tuitions and have your community members enroll.

Benefits of Online Community and Community Software

Deploying online community software for your business comes with a lot of benefits for both your business and customers. We’ll go now through the most important ones.

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Brand Engagement

Online community members that get added value through different content placed on community platforms start to value the brand more. Eventually, they start feeling proud of being a community member and develop an eagerness to share it with others — and by that represent the loyalty to your brand.

Lower Customer Support Costs

With community software, your customer support costs will be much lower. Community software will help deflect support tickets because members of the community answer questions for each other, reducing the need to have to hire additional support agents.

Improved customer experience

Knowing where to ask the questions and being able to get an answer in real-time is something that will launch your customer experience to the stars. Online community goes even one step further and enables your members to connect and interact with each other, sharing their own experience – something that customers are constantly looking for when reading product reviews.

Accurate product information

Internet is a magical thing – it can give you information about anything. Unfortunately, sometimes it gives you false information and fails to answer the question you have. Online communities are a great way to avoid this – simply by having community managers post regular and detailed updates about products and services, as well as having customers themselves explain their experience on the same platform.

Advanced SEO

You are probably already investing in SEO and putting a lot of funds, as you know how important it is. What would you say if we told you that you could improve your SEO without hiring additional staff to do so?

It comes naturally — as by having a vast number of people talking in the same place about your company, brand, product, service, etc. — they are using the main keywords related to your business. Don’t get us wrong – you would still have to work on your SEO, but this gets you a couple of steps in front of your competition.

Collaboration culture

Whether you use community software for external or internal use (and we’ll talk later more about how you can capitalize on an online community platform for internal needs), it can help you drive collaboration culture.

As we said before – community software is a collaboration tool and it can be used either to encourage customers to interact with each other – share ideation, experience, stories, etc. or it can be used to empower employees to work together on tasks and bring better results as a collective.

Higher customer understanding

Nothing gets customers’ trust as showing them you understand their needs. And if you want to get and maintain a competitive advantage, you need to be an expert in your customers’ needs.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do this on your own – you have community software to help you with it. It will track your customer engagement and provide you with relevant data and detailed reports you use to build upon your strategies.

Different types of online community software tools

You’re probably still wondering how community software can be used for internal needs as well. Here we’re going to debunk all the myths about community software and help you understand the different types that exist.

Source: chinainternetwatch.com

Internal Business Tools

Your employees create a community – don’t let that slip your mind at any time. That’s why it’s important to address their needs as well and see what kind of workflow you can create to help them perform at their best level.

Many companies decide to build an internal online community by giving their employees access to the private platform where they can upgrade their knowledge base, talk to each other and work together on different solutions.

This can be especially useful in a remote working environment, where employees don’t get many opportunities for knowledge sharing and teamwork. And we know – the bigger the dream, the more important the team.

Business-To-Consumer Tools (B2C)

B2C community software tools are the most common. It’s all about connecting your business with current and potential customers. You can use it as a CRM to get the metrics about your customers, to improve user experience, etc. Benefits and possibilities are limitless.

Business-To-Business Tools (B2B)

This kind of community software tool is an excellent choice when you are looking to bring together different companies and organizations to share knowledge and work together. Who says we all have to be in competition with each other? There is so much more we can achieve together.

What to consider when buying Community Software?

There are some crucial things you should check and consider before you choose the best community software for your business.

Technical Support: how much support you will get in setting up your online community is an important factor. While some software may be more expensive, double-check what is the technical and IT support you will get for that price.

Integration Possibilities: you probably already use different tools – such as your own website builder, CRM, etc., so it’s really important to check if it’s possible to integrate community software with already existing tools and, if it’s possible – how complicated it is to transfer data between the applications.

Data Analytics and Reports: you want to make sure the data that it collects is GDPR compliant and protects your customer’s data privacy. Also, get the samples of reports the software generates, so you know what to expect and see if they’re detailed enough for you.

Most important questions to ask yourself before choosing the platform

There is an e-book out there — The CMX Guide to Community Platforms — you could read to make sure you choose the best possible platform for your business. If you don’t have time to read an entire book now – no worries, we summarized it for you, and now we’re highlighting the most important questions to ask yourself before placing a purchase.

Eight Questions You Need to Ask

  1. Have you already developed a community, or are you starting from scratch?
  2. How large do you want your community to be?
  3. What organizational need will your community serve?
  4. What do you think community members will do on this platform?
  5. What is your budget?
  6. How important is privacy?
  7. How technical are you?
  8. How easy is it to leave the platform?

These are the questions that will help you understand what kind of online community you want to build, what are your needs and limitations. Once you answer these, you will be ready to review existing community software and, based on their features – choose the most suitable one for you.

Top 4 Community Softwares – 2021 Reviews

You will find different reviews on the Internet, and all of them will give you a different perspective. That’s why it’s important to us for you to understand what factors we took into consideration.

We reviewed community software based on its functionalities, user-friendliness and pricing. Here is our final list of Top 4 Community Softwares in 2021.

GroupApp

Build Your Community & Share Your Knowledge – this is the first thing you will see once you visit the GroupApp website and definitely the most important you will get if you decide to buy it.

GroupApp is a community software you can use to build an online membership community around the things that you are passionate about. If there is something that you care about and care to share your knowledge with others, GroupApp will definitely be the best solution for you.

The features include:

  • Membership Community
  • Create & Sell Online Courses
  • Charge Membership Subscriptions
  • Free & Paid Channels
  • Advanced Analytics
  • Email & In-app Notifications
  • Private & Public Community
  • Mobile App
  • Admin Accounts
  • Public Community Page
  • Stripe Payment processing
  • 100% Ownership & Control

It is used mostly by creators who want to be paid for doing what they love. That’s why you will find referrals and product reviews mostly by content creators, marketers and entrepreneurs.

You can integrate this community software with many other applications, such as Zoom, Intercom, MailChimp, etc. Additionally, GroupApp is affordable for any size community with its flexible pricing plan. You can choose from plans that are affordable and allow you to get started easily and is still affordable as your community grows. You can choose the best option for you here – calculate how much money you would make, as well as sign up for free.

eXo Platform

You probably have heard about this tool, especially if you were thinking about using it for internal business. eXo Platform is most suitable for internal use – for bringing employees to work together and fostering a collaborative culture. It is a very useful collaboration tool, and you can see it yourself by signing up for a free trial.

Vanilla Forums

This is one of the leaders in B2C community software tools. It is designed in a way to help you empower salesforce and improve customer-centricity. It is known for customer forums, so if your main goal is to drive the conversation with your customer – this might be the best solution for you.

Hiverbrite

Hiverbite is an all-in-one software solution suitable for all-size companies and known for its customization possibilities. If you are in the business of organizing events, you will probably find it even more interesting.

Conclusion

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of this article! That means that you are committed to your work and determination to grow your business, which is the first step.

We hope that we helped provide the information that you needed in order to choose your next online community software.

Whatever you choose in the end, we believe you now know everything needed for the decision to be the best possible!

If you have any questions, let us know in the comments!