Download the CMX Guide to Community Platforms for Free


What’s the cost of picking the wrong community platform? Hundreds of thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, wasted resources and energy, and the loss of loyalty of your most active community members. Do not risk it.

We can help you make the right choice.

Today, we officially release The CMX Guide to Community Platforms!

We heard you clamor for more information on community platforms: how to pick them, what’s out there, how much they cost. So we’re bringing you more information. In fact, we’re bringing you all the information. This guide contains over 100 pages of information and advice.

Want to know what you’ll be getting? Here’s an excerpt from the book: 

The 9 Questions You Must Ask Before Picking a Platform

1. Have you already developed a community or are you starting from scratch?

This is an insanely important question and is the crux of whether or not a community will be successful. This platform should not be the start of your community building efforts. You should already have relationships in place.

If you have nothing started, you may want to start small and cheap. (It could even be free. We include a list of platforms on other platforms. They’re a great way to start!) There isn’t much logic in launching a massive, expensive community platform when you still haven’t even verified that people are interested in the community.

As Chris McCann, who runs community for Greylock Partners, explains, “A lot of people think a community tool will create a community; but the community has to come first, then the tool second.”

Don’t skip the real hard work and go straight to a platform. The platform won’t solve your adoption problems. Don’t invest money before you’ve invested time in cultivating relationships and trust.

2. How large is your community?

Some platforms are great for smaller communities but don’t scale very well.

As community builder Chizzy Igbokwe explains, “If your community is less than 500 people and plan to keep it intimate, [pick] the best platforms for small communities. But if you have 500 members, are experiencing rapid growth, and have a goal of 10,000 members, then you should plan for a large platform early in the game instead of waiting until you reach 10,000 members.”

3. How much growth do you anticipate in the next year or two?

Plan for growth. You don’t want to invest in a platform ideal for small communities if you anticipate massive growth. We’ll point out which community platforms are great for growing communities and which are better for more intimate groups.

4. What will community members do?

Is it enough to just have a message board? How important is it that your members can post pictures, follow each other, post polls, or engage in other community interactions?

Fill this out and decide which are your top priorities. Then create a review spreadsheet (you’ll get a sample in our e-book). The e-book also has a list of all the platforms that meet each of these needs.

Community Priorities Checklist

  • create user-generated content beyond conversations
  • give feedback (product- or content-related)
  • reply to user-generated content
  • ask customer support-related questions
  • crowdsource ideas for your product
  • private message one another
  • plan events together
  • report bugs
  • discuss topics
  • follow each other to deepen relationships
  • search past discussions to use as a knowledge base of some sort
  • serve as a tiered engagement ladder
  • serve as ambassadors for your product
  • facilitate collaboration on projects or documents

5. What is your budget?

Some platforms are awesome but very expensive. So budget can be very restrictive.

Sit down with your team to talk about budget. Pick a low-end number and a high-end number. Remember to consider the value and ROI of these tools. If you invest $200 per month in the license for software that secures loyalty in 200 customers, each of whom spends at least $1 per month, you’ve broken even. If they each spend $10 per month, you’re on the winning side of the equation.

6. How important is privacy?

Some communities need to be extremely secure, and others are actually better off being open. Security costs money, so make sure it’s a priority before investing here. Some platforms give you options and degrees of privacy, others don’t.

7. What is the value proposition of your community? Why would you want to be a member?

We always ask clients this question. Lots of companies can’t answer it–yet. In a lot of ways, this goes back to question 4: what do you expect members to do? Just because you expect them to do things, that doesn’t mean they see the value in doing them.

With our workshop students, we break down a value proposition into the following:

Who is the exact group you’re serving?

What you’re helping them do? What will they do/build/discuss together? (See question 4.)

Where do they most want to connect (online platform, offline events, outside platforms, or some combination)?

Why are you connecting them? Why would they want to do the “What” above, and do you know they want to connect from your information-gathering you’ve done via conversations/surveys?

If you know the value proposition, our “defined focus” section in each platform overview will tell you if it’s generally in line with your vision.

8. How technical are you/your team?

If you have technical know-how, you can run any of these platforms. If you don’t, it’s a different story. Some require extensive knowledge, and you may need a team to run them. For instance, if you want to run the self-hosted version of Discourse (it’s open-sourced, woo!) or Drupal, you need to know how to make it run in your environment. You probably don’t even want to do that alone.

In the e-book, we created short lists of platforms to avoid or consider strongly if you don’t have technical backing.

9. How easy is it to leave the platform?

We asked community industry veteran Patrick O’Keefe to weigh in here, and he gave us this tidbit:

“I receive pitches from platform developers every so often, and [this is] the first question I ask them. It’s a little off-putting, but it should be at the forefront of the mind of every serious community professional. If you can’t easily export your community data at your own discretion, you aren’t hosting anything. You are playing in someone else’s sandbox. Don’t allow your hosted community to be locked into a provider like that.”

“Smaller organizations will want to pay attention to how the data is exported, as well,” Patrick cautions. “Can you use the format? Big companies have big budgets and can pay programmers to import the data into their new software. Smaller organizations might not have that ability. People sometimes mock phpBB, but keep this in mind: from a phpBB forum, you can get to practically any other software through importers that already exist. Think long term, and don’t sign away your access to your community.”

Now that you know what knowledge you may be missing, the e-book will guide you through learning all of it.

Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones | @caremjo

Carrie is the COO and Founding Partner of CMX. She has built community at Chegg and Scribd and has consulted with community companies around the world. She lives in Seattle, WA with her pup, Bruce Wayne.