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How to Start an Online Community Platform?

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Alexander Safonov
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Such online community platforms as Vanilla Forums, eXo, Khoros Communities, Tribe, or Hivebrite allow creating safe online spaces, where people can interact with each other and companies, share knowledge, help each other, and achieve common goals. In this article, we will tell you how to launch an online community platform.

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Step 1: choose a type of online communities

An online community is a generalized name of online platforms, where users gather to have fun, search for answers to particular questions, share scientific knowledge, search for jobs, or just talk to neighbors. The most prominent examples are: Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Nextdoor, Dribbble, Bitcointalk, GitHub, Yelp, Quora, Rotten Tomatoes, Fiverr, Nature.com, Cochrane.org. The online community platform is a solution for the simple and quick launch of such communities.

If you intend to start your own online community platform, then the first thing to do is choose what communities this platform will enable to create: forums, social networks, blogs, file repositories, websites with reviews, and the like. It’s important because this choice will influence the design, functionality, tech stack, development team, and other aspects of software creation.

Step 2: define the target audience

How to Start an Online Community Platform?

A pattern of choice of the target audience for an online community platform. Source

At the next stage of the creation of the online community platform, you need to decide what niche you’ll focus on. The niche can be e-commerce, video games, politics, marketing, science, movies, and series, IT, home improvement, repair of apartments, furniture, tourism, sports, jobs, charity, cars, or any other theme, which will be interesting to many users.

Then you have to define the target audience. For instance, if you want to launch an online community platform to create tourism communities, you have to decide who is going to use it and how:

  • Travel business. They need platforms, which will attract potential clients, allow them to communicate with each other and buy products and services. It can be a forum as well as a blog. Besides, a business might need a website and/or a support service forum.
  • Consumers (clients). These are ordinary tourists, who want to choose a resting place (for example, Great Britain), find out everything about it, tell about their trip, leave feedback on a restaurant and/or a hotel, talk to other tourists, and the like.
  • Intermediaries. These are online platforms, which serve as intermediaries between tourists and tourism service suppliers. For instance, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Skyscanner, or Yelp do that.
If we take the niche of video games as an example, there can be even more possible options: gamers, developers (programmers, animators, artists, sound designers, game designers, testers, PR experts), bloggers-reviewers, mass media, marketers, or sellers. The design, functionality, and capabilities of an online community platform depend on the audience, which you’re creating it for.

Step 3: choose the monetization model of the platform

How to Start an Online Community Platform?

Monetization model of the Tribe online community platform

Subscription. It may be one of the most common methods to obtain payment for software and IT services. At the stage of client attraction, you offer them a free trial period (from two weeks to one month) for them to rate the pros and cons of the platform. After the free period, the clients can either give it up or get a subscription for one month or longer. The company offers discounts for packages for three, six, and twelve months to motivate people to get subscriptions for long periods.

Freemium model. This model became popular in the period of venture investment when investors’ support at the initial stage of startup development allowed them not to charge for access to the service, therefore, expanding a user base. They will be able to monetize it later. Now this model is used by almost all popular projects. Though online community platforms prefer earning money through subscriptions. Only Tribe is using the Freemium model.

One-time payment. A license for the perpetual usage of the software is considered an outdated model, but it still exists. It’s common for CMS (WordPress for instance) and their themes and plugins, which help to make your own websites. In this case, a license for a theme or plugin is bought for good and payment is made one time. If extra payment is needed, it’s usually a payment for updates and enhancement of the already bought software.

Pay-as-you-go. Such a monetization model ties the service cost to its actual use in the current period: the more visits (load) there are, the bigger the price is. It’s most likely that you will pay for hosting services on this exact principle (Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud. or Azure) and you’ll offer your clients this monetization model.

Step 4: determine the platform functionality

How to Start an Online Community Platform?

Comparison of capabilities of the most popular online community platforms. Source

Features for end users (community members):
  • Sign up, log in. In most cases, simply signing up via email, phone number, and accounts on social networks is enough. If you’re planning to create a platform for business, you may have to implement the verification of a brand and its employees.
  • User profiles. They allow storing user data, displaying activity within the community, communicating in the chat, leaving comments, making content. Besides, it’s possible to configure the interface and privacy levels.
  • Activity feed. This feature enables to inform users of things that are happening within the community. Community members can interact with the content in the feed (like/dislike, comment on posts, follow). The activity feed can be common for everyone like in mass media or personalized for each user like on social networks.
  • Communities, topics, channels. They help to divide content into various criteria and establish links between users with common interests and goals.
  • Content organization. User content within communities’ has to be classified by key categories (content type, topic, source, etc.) for effective search. There has to be quite a lot of categories, but not too much so that people don’t get lost in a too complex classification.
  • Content import and export. Users should have the possibility to add/upload content easily like it was done on Instagram or YouTube. You also need to implement rules concerning what content can be uploaded.
  • Types of posts. The online community platform, which you created, should allow members to create several types of posts: ordinary posts, surveys, questions and answers, long articles, stories, short and long videos.
  • Gamification. It is a key player in attracting users and motivating them. For instance, you can implement a mechanism to raise members’ ratings based on their activity, other members’ reviews, or time.
  • Chat. In all online communities, members communicate with each other via text chat, audio chat, or video chat. There has to be a possibility to send images, videos, and use emojis.
  • Moderation. It allows protecting the community from spam and undesirable negative content (offenses, racism, chauvinism, ageism, etc.), due to which the community members will feel safe. It can be done manually or due to special algorithms.
  • Notifications. They allow informing members of things that are going on with the community and their profiles. Notifications can be sent via email, within the site, via messaging apps, and push notifications.
Features to manage communities (admin panel):
  • Reporting and analytics. They make it possible to monitor the state of the community and become aware of members' behavior.
  • Integration and automation. Your platform has to be integrated with other popular internet platforms and provide an integrated API for seamless data transfer and process automation.
  • Public/private access. In addition, your clients should have the possibility to choose what community they want to create (private or open to everyone) and the possibility to establish the membership rules.
  • User management. Admins should have the possibility to send an invitation to the community, verify celebrities and brands, ban members and delete their profiles.
  • Behavioral targeting. This feature makes it possible to monitor users’ activity, analyze their behavior, which can be used to personalize the activity feed and advertisements.
  • User domain. Provide your platform with the possibility of quick creation of a domain name of the online community.
  • Confidentiality protection. You also need a possibility of privacy settings of the user content and data privacy and/or copyright.
  • Individual design. This feature will allow admins to customize the appearance of online communities with the help of themes, plugins, etc.
  • Advertising within the community. It’s needed for the monetization of online communities.
  • Internationalization. Translate the interface into several languages.

Step 5: start the platform development

Search for the development company. An online community platform is pretty sophisticated software, which in most cases is working on the basis of SaaS solutions. It cannot be created with the help of WordPress or website builders. You can create such a product only through custom development, which you should entrust to an outsourced technical partner. This article will tell you where to look for him and how to choose him: «Choose a custom erp software development company».

Choice of a tech stack. It’s a combination of programming languages, libraries, frameworks, development tools, and special software to develop desktop programs, web apps, or mobile apps. Here is the list of tools that you can use to create your own online community platform:

How to Start an Online Community Platform? Development process. Once you determine the concept of your online community platform (type, niche, business model, features), choose the development company and a tech stack, you can start the development. This process usually consists of the following stages:

  1. Agreement. You and the development company draw up an agreement, where you describe all cooperation details — starting with the scope of work and ending with payment. Make sure to document all your preferences including a deadline.
  2. Prototyping. At this stage, the designer creates the wireframes of interface for all user roles: platform administrator, online community administrator, community members, and possibly business. Besides, at this stage, the user flows of each role are discussed at length.
  3. Interface design creation. It has to be consistent with the following criteria: pleasant appearance, simple navigation, accordance with trends, and user-friendly management.
  4. Direct coding. This stage is bringing your platform’s design and functionality into code. Frontend developers, backend developers, web developers, and mobile developers do it.
  5. Testing. Now QA specialists take on the case. They check the created software product for errors and bugs, working capacity with usual and high loading, and the like.
  6. Release and support. At the last stage, the created online community platform is added to various aggregators, marketplaces, business directories, and social networks. The work of user support and feedback collection is being organized for further improvement of the platform.
Cost of the platform development

How to Start an Online Community Platform?

Step 6: advertising and promotion

How to Start an Online Community Platform?


How to Start an Online Community Platform? key takeaways:

#1. Step 1: choose a type of online communities
#2. Step 2: define the target audience
#3. Step 3: choose the monetization model of the platform
#4. Step 4: determine the platform functionality
#5. Step 5: start the platform development
#6. Step 6: advertising and promotion

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Alexander Safonov
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