Ready to pick your association’s online community software? Here are some things to look for in a platform.

I was emailing one of our students in CMX’s Fundamentals of Community Strategy course, and he had some great questions for associations and other member organizations who want to create a private online community for their members. I thought I’d share the email in the hopes that it helps all of you build the community of your dreams!


Do you have any tips on platforms to use to develop online community? Specifically, how do you go about assessing platforms to use to build community? How do you sell community within your organization/company?

Hey Tim, [spoiler alert: this is a long email] great questions! While the course won’t give you all the technical nuts and bolts of building a community [but I will help with this in just a second–and CMX breaks it down in their Guide to Community Platforms], it will give you a foundation for selling community in your organization.

First, take a look at the CMX SPACE model and where your community fits within it. Since you already have a strong member base, my guess is that your community will be all about Engagement or Support. You’re either engaging your existing members to solve problems within your community [Support], or you’re using your community to strengthen member loyalty and give them a place to voice/share that loyalty [Engagement].

Once you’ve decided what your community could/will be best at, you’ll want to connect it to your organization’s strategic goals. If you go with Engagement, tell your board of directors all about how the community will help direct your amazing social media engagement into meaningful work for the organization. For example, engaged members are more likely to convert from participant to volunteer and from volunteer to donor. Not to mention, giving your members an online platform to organize themselves and to assert their loyalty to your organization is a great way to generate additional buzz, develop new initiatives, and identify future leaders.

As for community platforms, there are a number of them out there. One thing to consider, which it sounds like you already have, is whether or not you need a member/customer relationship manager. The list of CRMs with community software is shorter than the list of plain old community platforms, so we’ll start with those.

Socious just released MemberCloud, an association management software, but it started as a community platform and offers a stand-alone community if you already have a CRM. There’s also YourMembership’s SocialLink, an add-on to the YourMembership association management software. While MemberCloud and SocialLink are based in software for non-profit associations, SalesForce is a customer relationship manager specializing in for-profit brands, though it offers similar products to the previous two. You’ll want to consider these platforms if you have the budget and the need for well-integrated relationship and community management systems.

If you don’t have much need for a member/customer relationship manager or you already have one in place, look at a company like Higher Logic, which has a robust online community platform and engagement products and integrates with just about any association management software. In addition, Higher Logic provides professional community management services if you don’t have a full-time community manager. Vanilla Forums is another platform that provides these kinds of services. If you have a full-time community manager, you might consider a platform like vBulletin or xenForo which also provide community and engagement products. 

If you have a community manager and someone with IT skills on staff, then you could use any number of free and open-source community platforms, some of which will integrate with other software. If you have a WordPress website, then you might consider bbPress. There is also MyBB which lets you use any number of plugins to integrate your existing social media accounts. A quick Google search of “forum software” or “online community software” will give you all kinds of additional options, some better than others.

So, long story short [too late!], there are lots of different things to consider when you’re choosing a community platform, but you can always contact me to dive into specifics if you’d like.

No matter what platform you go with, though, it sounds like you have the makings of an amazing online community. I can’t wait to hear what you all are able to achieve! Let me know if you have any more questions about the course, and have a great weekend!


Leave a Reply