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Building online communities

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Explore the differences between online communities, forums, portals and knowledge bases

Posted by Janice Scheckter on 14 January 2020 12:10 PM CAT
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Online Community vs. Forum

Both Forums and Online Community Platforms offer online discussion forums, which provide a place for customers and members to come together, ask or answer questions, voice concerns, and get peer-to-peer support.

However, the bulk of the similarities stop there. The only feature of forum software is discussion forums, while online communities have a host of other features like blogs, resources libraries, and numerous other ways to keep your customers engaged and offer them added value. While online communities tend to be the all-in-one option for customer engagement, forum software only offers the single option of discussion boards (which is sometimes enough).

Though forum software is simpler than an online community platform, it does tend to have a shorter implementation time. Due to this, budgetary restrictions and time constraints may make forum software appealing to organizations that don't need additional features and capabilities.

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editOnline Community vs. Portal

You've probably heard the term online community portal applied to online communities in general. That's because portal often takes on more of a catch-all role for an online interaction space. However, a portal in the traditional sense is quite different from the online communities we have today.

In many ways, portals were early versions of online communities just with more limitations. For instance, a traditional business portal is generally one-size-fits-all, while an online community has the ability to create a more personalized experience for members.

Portals are also designed to have a top-down communication structure with most of the knowledge exchange coming from communication teams and formal experts. In contrast, online communities bring together many different voices including customers, experts, and advocates.

However, portals are still evolving and new community portals or community engagement portals†fix many of these communication limitations. They often include a peer-to-peer aspect, as well as other tools and resources that you would find in a one-stop-shop for customers. These new options blur distinction between portals and online communities, so when you're comparing choices, focus on the capabilities of each platform, rather than getting caught up in terminology.

editOnline Community vs. Knowledge Base

Perhaps the most easily distinguishable on this list, online communities and knowledge bases have the least in common because knowledge bases don't typically have a peer-to-peer discussion element. Instead, knowledge base software collects a wealth of information all in one place so it is easily accessible and searchable.

A knowledgebase is similar to a resource or file library within an online community, meaning that its essential function is often included within an online community. Standalone knowledge bases are more limited with little to no interaction or social element. The information is there for the taking, but users must find and interpret it on their own.

Online communities provide more robust information resources, allowing users to browse files, videos, and blogs, then interpret them with other community members or experts from your company through two-way conversations. Discussion forums, Q&As, and comments in an online community often make it easier for users to understand information, instead of just consume it.

editDefining Online Communities Takeaway

Each platform has its advantages, but online communities have the capabilities of forums, portals, and knowledge bases all rolled into one. The major difference for members of online communities is that they have a single space where they can join in discussions and access information, while also receiving added value from peers and experts, and creating their own content.

For your organization, the difference may be even greater. Online community platforms can integrate with other departments and systems in your company to work in tandem with CRM software, marketing platforms, or support and self-service tools for customers. These integrations can help you effectively market to prospective customers as well as improve current customer sales, retention, satisfaction and engagement.

An online community doesn't solve just one problem, it adds value and is a solution to several business and customer challenges.

Source: Higher Logic

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