Community Portal: Best Practices and Platforms
While digital adoption accelerated during the pandemic, it has led to a much stronger culture towards online communities.
Why? Because communities play a crucial role in bringing people together by allowing them to connect online and to share ideas and network – and this is continuing to prove popular today.
In fact, users say they are visiting community platforms now more than they did since the start of the pandemic.
When managed correctly, you can expect to see figures like 7071%+ ROI through building communities.
With demand increasing, community portals have become integral to how we communicate today. So, if you’re looking to get more from your community, we’ve got the ultimate guide for you.
In this post, we’ll run through how to create a thriving community portal and how this can support the growth and development of an online community.
Pssst. You can demo a community portal right here now. But first, let’s start with a quick definition.
What is a community portal? A quick definition
A community portal is an online platform where members can connect with like-minded people on a particular interest. It’s the go-to place that facilitates the sharing of helpful news, blogs, and events with all members. And is a great place to network with peers.
In a professional capacity, it allows people to share ideas, ask questions, and offer support so that individuals can overcome challenges or find better ways to achieve a common goal.
Take it from Marlee Margolin, CSR Activation Manager at IBM, who uses Bettermode’s community portal to bring together a new community with the most engaged IBMers interested in social impact, across all of the company’s CSR programs.
“When I’m looking to recruit employees from different lines of business and geographies, a community platform like Bettermode enables me to get into a deeper level of conversation and we use it to personalize opportunities to get involved.”
“They can then really engage with topics in a meaningful way and connect with each other.” Which is something you just can’t do with something like Slack.
Why community portals are a ‘must-have’ for highly engaged communities
Essentially, the success of online communities often comes down to the right community portal software. After all, members get the most value out of personalized resources, real-time communications, and ease of collaboration.
So, if the tech underpinning the online community is poor or ineffective, expect engagements to decline and for people to move to another community.
But going beyond the basics, if you want members to engage, your business needs to be able to:
- Gain a deeper understanding of member interests and needs: For this, you need a community platform that can capture feedback and monitor engagement behavior. From here, you can make tweaks like forming sub-category member spaces.
- Provide 1-2-1 peer support: Customers can share tips and experiences, chat about interesting topics, or ask for guidance. On top of that, members can engage with your brand by responding to polls and surveys and providing feedback.
- Offer the solutions you need: Members want to go somewhere helpful and valuable. And, there are certain features expected as a minimum, like file-sharing, setting up discussion boards, and private messaging.
With this in mind, let’s delve into the top essential features in more detail.
The 3 essential features of a community portal
While there are plenty of community portals for you to choose from, not all of them will be the right fit for your business. Before launching into any jazzy features, make sure the tech is proficient in handling the basics or you’ll suffer from ‘member turn-off’:
#1: Communication and collaboration
- Multiple ways to connect: Does the community portal allow members to comment on other users' posts and create questions and answer to other users’ questions? Does it allow them to upload images and create groups? And can you search the member directory?
- Personalization tools: Can the community portal go one step further and provide a personalized activity feed that reflects a member’s interests? Or even allow them to customize notification settings?
- Gamification tools: Does the platform encourage and incentivize engagement? Like climbing leaderboards and collecting badges? Gamification is proven to boost customer loyalty by an average of 30%. A stat you can’t afford to ignore.
#2: Content creation
- Community engagement tools: Can members create discussion forums and quizzes?
- Customer support tools: Can members get in touch with you via Q&A, help desk, and live chat?
- Brand engagement tools: Can you run events, live streams, webinars, and host videos?
- Product ideation tools: Can you run surveys or polls and follow specific ideas?
#3: User-friendly design and user engagement
- Advanced search tools: Members want speed and ease. If they search for something, is the search function intuitive enough to pull back all related results?
- Translation/multilingual tools: Can you switch the language format to individual preferences? Speaking to only native English speakers reduces who can use the platform and prevents learning across countries.
- Multi-channel tools: Successful teams use at least two channels of engagement, compared to underperformers. Can the community portal manage email blasts, push notifications, event management, live streaming, and more?
📖 Not sure if you’re using the right community portal? Before you heavily invest in growing your community through your current portal, consider this 15-point checklist.
Community types: Who benefits most from a community portal?
Now that you know what a good community portal looks like, let’s look at who benefits the most.
There tend to be three key groups of people that benefit the most from a community portal:
Type 1: Communities built around a common interest
This could be both consumers and business professionals. Consumers may have a passion for fashion. And for business professionals, it may be something like IBM set up around social impact.
Essentially, these communities can be set up by brands or forums kicked off by a passionate individual. But regardless of the end-user, there is a common interest that attracts them to the community because:
- It’s a knowledge hub: On a good community portal, content specifically related to their topic is rife and personalized to their needs.
- They can connect with like-minded people: Share their views, get advice, discuss topics, and even meet up.
- Special deals: Communities run by a brand can be a way for consumers to get the latest deals or be the first to hear of a new product or feature.
Type 2: Community of Practice
As the name suggests, this type of community is purely focused on business professionals.
These communities can offer specific support, such as group coaching and best practices to help members grow. The same benefits are likely to pop up as they do for type one.
Aside from this, a business may run a community alongside its brand so that other businesses can connect with other suppliers or contractors to leverage their specialist skills. This adds value to the members, and while it may not directly benefit the business, it’s an incentive to encourage them to work with their brand over a competitor.
Type 3: Non-profit communities
Finally, philanthropists and charities use community portals to connect donors with beneficiaries.
It’s a great place to:
- Connect charities with individuals: Charity is close to people’s hearts, so getting the right match is key, which is why community portals need strong capabilities here.
- Events: Events are big for non-profits because of the power of networking, so having a platform to advertise and easily manage often large-scale events is key.
- Real-time news and updates: Like with the other two community types, non-profit businesses, and donors benefit from seeing charitable success stories to hear about places that need urgent funding more quickly.
- Sharing ideas: Sharing and exchanging ideas and experiences helps non-profits generate more funds. That’s why features like discussion forums are so powerful.
For all three types, data and analytics is a critical features of a community portal.
Why? Because tracking engagement, participation, and other metrics, sheds light on what works and what doesn't, allowing you to improve the community for all members.
Building successful communities: Best practices for building a community portal
To ensure a community portal ticks all your member's boxes, it needs careful planning and management.
Here are some best practices to check off:
⬜ Assess member needs: You’ll already have done this if you’ve got a community already, but if you’re looking to really optimize it and use it successfully, run feedback sessions and look at user engagement data.
⬜ Pick a clean and simple interface: It goes without saying, if your tech is clunky or even just remotely difficult to use, members won’t use it and it’ll likely flop. And consider a training area for newbies to get to grips with your platform, quickly.
⬜ Encourage participation: As a minimum, make sure you’ve got the features that make it easy for members to ask questions and start discussions. Want to really engage them? Consider gamification and creating competitions where members get rewards (achievements, top-ranking on a leaderboard, discounts, and more).
⬜ Enable diversity: We touched on multilingual features earlier. If you want members to discover a variety of ideas and new ways of doing things, this is a must.
⬜ Monitor engagement: Monitoring engagement is key so that people can both add to discussions and address any queries. But also to measure overall platform engagement so you can see which features are working well, and what you may want to develop further to grow the community.
If your current community tech doesn’t allow you to do this and you’re considering making a switch, here’s one piece of advice. Think scalable. Rather than needing to switch platforms again, consider what you may need both now and in the future. If you’re stuck with this, feel free to give us a shout.
Case studies: Why these well-known community portals are successful
Luckily, there are many successful online communities that we can learn from. And there’s one thing all successful communities have in common: they’ve engaged members and created meaningful and value-adding conversations.
The key here is to understand what members want and need to enable you to then deliver the right things on the community portal. You’ll then understand how to meet community goals such as brand awareness, competitive advantage, product enhancement, and customer loyalty.
Let's delve into a couple of case studies.
Condo Control: a property management SaaS product
Condo Control is a cloud-based property management software designed to help property managers, home ownership associations, and condo boards share their knowledge and expertise.
The Condo Control team created a community portal to connect with customers, host various resources for customers, and enable customers to help each other. They succeeded in creating an active brand community for a global customer base.
Duolingo: Language learning platform
Duolingo's core offering is language courses. But it’s boosted usage and retention through its online community. Here’s how…
Users – or members – can interact with each other, practice their language skills, and compete in challenges to improve their fluency. And Duolingo rewards achievements with badges, coins, and funny notifications.
When learning something new can be challenging and sometimes demotivating, this fun, engaging, and inclusive community discourages members from giving up on the courses.
Ultimately, this gamification approach means Duolingo retains customers and has made a fortune!
GitHub: a web-based platform for software developers
Like Duolingo, while GitHub provides a product, it also manages a community portal. Here, members can share best practices and hacks and collaborate on coding projects.
For the member, they can quickly overcome coding issues or generate code faster – maximizing the use of the product they’re using. And for GitHub, they get insight into areas for product development, plus the community addresses a lot of challenges to save developers from contacting customer support and they can easily communicate updates.
It’s fair to say that GitHub's success is partly down to its focus on collaboration and transparency, which have helped it become an essential tool for many developers.
Looking for more great examples? Check out this blog: 11 Outstanding Brand Community Examples
Grow a highly engaged community with the right community portal today
To sum up, providing a community portal that truly understands and then caters for members' needs makes for an incredibly powerful platform – boosting engagement and business revenue lines.
Whether that be helping non-profits find the right donors, using gamification to boost retention, or simply providing a platform for members to share best practice tips.
Just remember, poorly managed community portals are a major turn-off and have the opposite effect of positive brand awareness.
With plenty of community portal tech to choose from, managing a successful community portal can actually be a breeze!
Want to learn more about communities? Head over to our blog and select the ‘community’ tab.
Also, take a look at our community right here.
Or if you still have unanswered questions, take a look at the faqs below.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a community portal?
A community portal aims to bring together individuals with shared interests. Typically, the portal is hosted on a website or online platform that gives members access to news, networking events, blogs, chat rooms, and more – tools that allow members to connect and share information on a common interest.
What is an automated community portal?
Some community portals use automation to make it easier to communicate and collaborate. For example, the portal may have tech that allows you to automate tasks like member registration and event schedule. Essentially, this makes the platform more user-friendly, and quicker at responding and it needs less manual management from an administrator.
What are the benefits of a community portal?
For businesses looking to create an online community, a portal has so many benefits, like:
- Better member experience: It's a centralized platform with tools that make it easier to share and boost engagement.
- Efficient management: Automation makes tasks like member registration much quicker for the member and less admin-intensive for the business.
Better data and insight: One platform and strong analytics means businesses can see how users interact with the platform and where it can improve engagement.