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4 Things To Consider Before Starting An Online Community

I recently had a discussion with a technology professional turned entrepreneur and new mom — and this conversation brought up some interesting points which may prove helpful for anyone considering implementing a community.  Her new venture was a result of her passion for her work, her newly found situation with a month old baby, and finding herself wanting to work on a flexible schedule from home. The venture would be a community targeted at women in a similar position who could benefit from encouraging articles and being able to share their experiences.  During our conversation, several issues and solutions came up that are good points to consider if you plan to build a community.  And these are points that need a lot of thought, but are commonly and easily overlooked in the excitement of getting started.

Here are 4 BIG points to think about before you go ahead and build your web portal:

  • Build vs Buy – Should you build a framework and website from scratch? Or… should you use a ready to use software platform? Building your own community software gives you a high level of customization … and on the flip side … using a ready platform lets you get your community to market much quicker.  A fully functional community website could be a long project with delays and stress, which is best avoided. However, the ability to customize is big plus. The sweet spot between the “build vs buy” would be having a software platform with the source code, geared for customization, that will enable you to get the site up and running within a small time frame and still give you the flexibility to customize and develop further wherever required.
  • Customization – Online Communities are dynamic in nature and the technology necessities to support them evolve as the community matures and grows. While initially you may be content with the basic platform and features, as time goes by, the ability to make additions and changes efficiently turn out to be VERY important. A large number of platforms come with messy, poorly labeled source code, pieced together from multiple open source applications and prove difficult to work with. Look for a platform with a customizable architecture, designed to be scalable.
  • Scalability – When the community grows, it’s important that the technology platform can scale to support it. Selecting the wrong platform or building a community with a short term view can prove expensive in the long run, and will most likely crumble under increased demands on the architecture. Again, the ability to tweak the software to adjust performance and help the site scale with the growing usage is good foresight.
  • Administration – Administration becomes a huge concern when a community grows, and selecting a platform with a strong administrative “back-end” is a good move. User management, as well as content management in the form of blogs, comments, and forums is critical in maintaining a community on a daily basis — and having a centralized admin panel to manage all of this will help make the process easier.

So… if you’re investing in a community platform as a venture or building one to achieve a collaborative objective, invest in a solid software platform that will support the community you are out to build. If you’ve arrived at a decision after considering these points, rest assured, you’ve made a well informed decision and your technology will support you through your initiative.

Tim Eisenhauer
Written by Tim Eisenhauer

Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

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