For when you want to talk to your users together and give them the ability to interact in a managed space that you have control of. Or for when you want to do the same with your volunteers or any other stakeholder group.
What they do
Online community platforms are places that you and your users can interact together. They are places people can come to ask you questions and get peer support. You can also ask people questions.
You set up a group (some people call them forums) on a platform and decide how publicly visible it will be. Then you invite people to join by sending them an invitation or sign-up link from within the platform. They sign up with an email address or mobile phone number. Then they have access and can post text, images and files to the group.
Every time someone posts a new question or starts a conversation others can reply, forming a ‘thread’. Threads can often be organised by topic or you can start sub-groups or ‘rooms’ for them.
You remain a group admin. This gives you control over who joins or stays, and which threads you allow. You can devolve control by making other members admins too. You retain responsibility.
Community platforms were one of the internet’s first inventions. There are hundreds to choose from, including some common social media and messaging service platforms with built-in group functionality. They include:
Things to consider
Purpose of the community
It’s important to think about what you want to achieve. Don’t begin building a community just because you think you should do.
It is very important to check whether a relevant community already exists for your users. Consider whether your organisation should join and bring extra value to it instead.
If no community exists then ask how will the community be relevant for your users? What will they get out of it that you know they want?
It’s a good idea to test it out first.
Think about resource
Many platforms are free or affordable. But it takes:
- Effort to establish a community
- Staff time to keep conversations flowing, and moderate difficult conversations
- A long term commitment so that your group users aren’t suddenly left deserted after a few months or a year. It also takes time to build a strong community.
People in communities want to be spoken to as humans. Your relationships with them will influence whether they return. Think about how you will speak to them. Make your admins visible as people, use natural language and keep it simple.
Privacy vs ease of use
Sometimes it will be appropriate to build your community on a platform people already use and feel comfortable with. Sometimes this won’t be private enough e.g. because their platform’s profile will reveal personal details (like with Facebook). In this case it might be better to protect their privacy by using a different platform or one that enables greater anonymity. This could also lead to less engagement, because your users don’t come to the platform so often.
Some platforms offer open access groups with publicly visible content. Occasionally this may be appropriate, depending on your users’ needs.
Your staff and volunteers may also use these platforms in their personal life. So it’s important you provide them with work accounts and/or SIM cards or phone numbers to use them professionally. That way they don’t have to use personal accounts for work activities.
Charities using this tool
Mind built an online platform of their own to run Elefriends, their online community for mental health support
CKUK Friends is a safe, secure social network and online community for people with learning difficulties
Kairos in Renfrewshire run a facebook page to bring their community together around their main activities. They run four small private groups for specific user types.
Across the UK Next Door help neighbourhoods become online communities where members support one another
Oxfordshire Breastfeeding Support run a ‘Facebook happy hours’ expert Q&A session through their Facebook group
Many digital services will require a combination of more than one tool. As part of the Catalyst initiative service recipes are being developed– these practical guides describe how charities have used tools in combination to deliver digital services.
Discounted software and digital guides and news