11 digital tools for Community Builders

Matthew Robinson
May 23, 2018 · 8 min read

It is an exciting time to develop digital products. There are so many possibilities available to bring more efficient ideas, research, and understandings to B2B and B2C products. However, something else is happening - not only are user experience expectations rising, but their authenticity and connection are also increasingly important. In April this year, LinkedIn CEO said that the №1 skills gap for employers is [interpersonal] communication.

Every company now is a “glassbox.” Whether internally inside of a company, or communicating outside to consumers, communication can and must be used to build community amongst individuals. You can read more about this concept in my previous article. For now, to express my gratitude to the makers of these tools I use the most and to allow others to discover them, I’ll share the eleven Community Building tools I use on a weekly basis (some much more often). I’ve roughly categorized them for you in the headers:

  • Communications
  • Social Media
  • Integrations
  • Events

Communications: Writing, Publishing Tools, & Inspiration

Monito is a start-up on its way to the product-market fit, developing a comparison platform for international money transfer services. Our target users are expatriates, migrants, international students, etc.

As a community builder, one of my key tasks is to be organized, methodical, and to track my progress both quantitatively and qualitatively. Right now, I manage a social account and subscriber base with nearly 3,500 followers and 1,600 subscribers— my users come from many different backgrounds, have varied interests, and are spread geographically. I could go on about their diversity, but the important thing to note is that they’re all part of some community that has an aligned interest. to translate their needs into an easy-to-use and highly valuable product. Here are some of the tools I use to help me doing that.

Workflowy — The visual way to record your brain

I used WorkFlowy to stay organized when I have a million different ideas in my head, I can record them easily from any device. Also, this app works a lot like CSS in that there are #IDs and @variables that I can create to quickly interlace my brainstorming even when they come from different roots.

Airtable— Spreadsheets. On sterioids.

Airtable knows how to create a great and powerful spreadsheet with tons of integration options, numerical calculations, and many of the same powerful Excel formulas that one would expect. It is also a tool that’s good to use for collaboration and is especially powerful for publishing workflows. I started using Airtable a few years ago for a group community building project. Several months later, I was able to set-up a KanBan-esque workflow (complete with multiple integrations) for an LMS hosted training program with ~700 active users.

Office Lens— actually remember what was on that whiteboard

What did we write again…?

I don’t have much to say about this one because it is super self-explanatory. Everyone has messy whiteboards like that one above. While I love whiteboarding, it can be hard to capture what was actually going on in my own and everyone else’s head.This should become an instant classic in your phone.

Are.na— Sometimes you have to use what’s coming next

Platforms like Are.na are really onto something. Using this app feels like just the right amount of on-the-cusp. I knew right away how powerful Are.na could become when I first saw it. That being said, I still have a hard time *explaining* what the heck are.na is. I can’t even seem to get the folks to type the URL correctly! So I’m going to borrow a bit from Are.na’s description for both our sakes.

Are.na is a visual organization tool designed to help you think and create. It lets you build simple collections of content by adding links and files of any kind.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’m a visual person, and being able to create links between non-related objects resting in various parts of the open internet. Not only can I store and compile content in my own categorizations, I can find others categorizations and connect mine with those. I can also collaborate in a highly visual language with my peers in design, arts, philosophy, and user experience. There are no ads or recommendations on this platform which makes the visual space feel incredibly clean and methodical. If you’re a design nerd like me, you should have an Are.na.

Social Media

Alright, let’s get to the part where we’re talking about communicating outward. I use the following tools to make and create meaningful connections and conversations. I authentically target meet ups, interest groups, and philosophically aligned folks — using a person’s voice [i.e. appear human] to create stimulating conversations. I’m never nervous about starting a conversation or sharing because I have a crisis communications plan ready to act.

Tweetdeck— One tool for scheduling, monitoring, and DMs

Tweetdeck is essential for Twitter and can be used with Instagram. It’s also a powerful bedrock for further social integrations (more on that later). The two features I use most are scheduling, monitoring, searching, and direct messages. Tweetdeck makes it easy to manage multiple accounts, monitor feeds for conversation to jump on, and, yes I said it already, makes scheduling a breeze.

Riteforge— Tweetdeck companion that optimizes tweets.

Riteforge makes my social media game that much better by integrating with Tweetdeck to optimize every tweet, hashtag, image, and quote that I use from my social account. Overtime it’s become an analytics-based solution that I can use to make sure my content is peak relevant, and that it will reach the audience that I intend. There’s a lot that Riteforge does too that make it sort of a twitter personal editor as well. When I go overboard with hashtags and phrases, Riteforge makes it clear that suggests more appropriate alternatives. They also have the most amazing support team that I know.

Integrations

Because for workflows to (well…) flow, information has to flow quickly.

IFTT — Crowdsourced APIs and app integrations.

IFTT is one of the first integration tools I started to use. It has a huge catalog of app integrations that are easy to set up. An upside is that these integrations are crowdsourced so there are tons of creative integrations between normally uncommon apps. I also use it for social media automation and even have an integration with my Medium account. One potential downside is that you may find unsupported integrations, making it more difficult to customize your own integrations.

Zapier — Webhooks and integrations. Friendly setup and management

Scenario: We want to set up lots of integrations to make our workflows easier and for cross-publishing across multiple internal and external applications. Enter Zapier. Zapier was actually created at a Techstars startup weekend event, and is really, really awesome. It’s payment tiers are accessible for anyone, and its easy to use interface makes it possible for just about anyone to set up a common app integration. I have all types of Zapier integrations, and when I need to make a phone call between applications I turn here first.

Forms— By Google

Long story short, I often use Google forms to send information between apps, and to capture information in a prior-state before it reaches an end destination. I use the above integrations and take advance of raw data sent to/from Google Forms and Sheets. Pretty self-explanatory this one. I won’t go into too much detail, and will upload an interesting use of Forms when the time comes.

Instapaper — A simple tool for saving web pages to read later

The basic idea of Instapaper is simple — save an article you want to read later, save recipes, save business news, save funny cat blogs, save literally anything. So what does this have to do with community building?

As I mentioned before, I build community by being intentional and relevant. This is especially true when talking social media because there’s just so much noise on twitter, in email, and newsletter digests on a daily basis. I use Instapaper to store articles that are specific to the communities I’m reaching out to and/or connecting with. By saving these articles and integrating the action of saving with a webhook or integration, I’m able to stay up to date ,relevant, and introducing new subject matter articles to my community conversations. I’d recommend trying and seeing it for yourself.

Events

Shapr— a networking app that brings you a personalized daily dose of inspiring people to meet

The basic idea is that Shapr is the Tinder of geospecific networking. I actually use Shapr and Shapr integrations to promote events when I’m on the ground. Your company could have its members use this to attract specific, in-kind participation with like minded folks who are also in for networking. I’ve just recently started to do this, and can say that a recent event with 50 participants I had at least 2 full price ticket purchases from leads generated from Shapr.

Next post will expand on this a bit with some lists of tech I use.


Sneak Peak

  • Vue.js for single page sites
  • ‘Viral loop’ user flows

Note : I have no affiliation with any of the tools listed here.

Matthew Robinson

Written by

Connector + Catalyst. Community builder. Software Developer. GA Grad — Chicago

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