The siren lure of the 'all in one' community platform...

It is easy to see the attraction of a community platform that promises to do everything you need and more. It is easier to manage. Everything is one place. Only one tool to master. But be careful... have you considered the following?

The myth that your members want a single platform/tool

You might tell yourself that your members want 'everything in one place' so that it is easy for them. But don't kid yourself - it may be easier for you as the community manager but it quite likely isn't what your members actually want.

Think about it. Microsoft Office, or Google Workspace, offer everything in one place. But we still use Zoom, or WhatsApp, or Slack, or Trello, or Miro, or Figma, or Calendly, or Notion, or Airtable, or Typeform, or, or any number of specialist tools and tech.

Why? Because they're really good at doing one thing really well. Users don't want something that is mediocre or poor at something just because it is 'in one place'.

The reality that you probably can't execute well across all areas of community anyway

'Community' could cover content, conversations/messaging, networking, courses and training, events, payments, data, sponsorship, jobs, analytics etc. And you might think it a good idea to get a platform that promises to do all these things.

But the reality is you probably don't have the resources or expertise to do all these things. Be realistic. Do a few things really well. And pick a platform or tool that excels at these.

If you are genuinely able to deliver against all these areas then you've probably got a big enough team, and set of specialists, that an 'all in one' platform will be too generalist for your needs anyway.

Are you prepared to write off spend and investments you've already made?

If you're starting with nothing then your choices are easier. But most of us have at least a website, with content, perhaps on WordPress or similar; we might already be running virtual events even if only with Zoom; there is already a payment process in place even if it could be more efficient; we have a member directory even if people don't use it that much; we have some online courses; we have a web forum even if engagement has waned; we have a jobs board etc.

If you choose the 'all in one' route then you have to be prepared to throw away all of these investments and any associated skills/training/expertise you have built up. If you don't, you'll only end up duplicating costs and effort.

Are you sure you want to jettison all this or is it actually the case that you lack one or two things that you need to do really well and the rest is good enough as is?

'All in one' platforms are never really good at everything

The truth is that 'all in one' platforms really have a heritage. They started out focusing on something and grew into other areas, sometimes simply by white-labelling third-party services to make it look like they offer features that aren't really theirs.

Maybe the 'all in one platform' is really an e-courses platform that has added community features? Maybe it is a CMS (Content Management System) that has added some messaging features? Maybe it is a messaging platform that has bolted on e-courses? Maybe it is an event tech platform that has added user-to-user networking features they call community?

The likes of Hubspot started out focused on 'inbound marketing'. They grew into CRM and are now a full 'marketing platform' doing things like content, SEO, landing pages, forms etc. But it has taken them 15yrs to get to that and, even then, it isn't that great for more sales-focused activities (whereas Pipedrive is, but not so good for marketing).

The point is... there is no such thing as a community platform that does everything really well. At the very least you should understand the heritage of any such platform and make sure that is the area that is most important to you. Or, better, choose a platform that excels at what is most important to you and integrate with anything else you need.

'All in one platforms' lock you in

They may not mean to. But you are putting 'all your eggs in one basket' if you choose the 'all in one' community platform route. If your tech provider goes bust, or gets acquired, then your entire business may be threatened.

Your pricing negotiation powers are limited because the platform knows how painful it would be for you to switch to something else.

Whereas with a more specialist platform you have 'optionality' - you can switch out one tool for another without risking a big disruption to your time and focus. If a better specialist tool comes along then you can upgrade/switch to it without interfering with everything else.

It's almost impossible to do 'Minimum Viable Community' with an all in one platform

If you're starting out with your community project then you'd be advised to begin with your 'minimum viable community' - follow the link to learn more and understand the benefits of this approach.

The problem with an all in one platform is that it might set expectations in your members for things like content, events, courses, directories etc when all you really want to begin with is a simple way for your members to interact. You may well not have the time or resources to do much more than that to start with.

There is a risk you end up over-committed to an all in one platform (in terms of cost, time, content expectations etc) whereas the MVC approach would help you learn what you, and your members, really need and want through low-commitment experimentation with a much simpler tool/platform to start with.

Hang on... surely 'all in one' community platforms can be the right choice sometimes?

Fair enough. We at Guild may be a bit biased. We believe in doing one thing (community through conversations and networking) really well and integrating for everything else. Circumstances where an 'all in one' community platform might make sense:

  • You are a small/solopreneur business with little tech resources/expertise (and believe, despite your limited resources, you really still need all the features).
  • You don't have existing platforms, or separate teams with specialisms, so very little to 'throw away'.
  • You're happy that your members will be happy with features that are 'good enough' rather than best in class.
  • You are more likely to be in consumer, prosumer, or the 'creator' space where members' expectations may not be the same as professionals, businesses, enterprises who get to use best-in-class specialist platforms and tools day to day.

Photo by Hiroshi Kimura / Unsplash

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