The Next Generation of Community Infrastructure

The democratization of community building and the existing community tech stack

The Internet has democratized community building — communities of all kinds can now be built and scaled entirely (or almost entirely) digitally. What we have today is lots of communities built on top of tools like Slack (enterprise chat) or Facebook (social network) that were not exactly designed for communities, but have nevertheless made community building much easier.

Note: This landscape only includes community-focused solutions (excludes horizontal solutions that are repurposed for community use cases); categorization only reflects where companies are starting (not their future ambitions)
  • Discussion: Slack, Google Groups
  • Events: MeetUp, Luma, Zoom
  • Member management: Memberstack
  • Content: Medium
  • Horizontal tools: Webflow, Zapier, Airtable

The problem with fragmentation

The more conversations I have with community builders and community experts, the more I can see that the fragmentation of the existing community stack is not sustainable. It is preventing communities from reaching their full potential and creating fundamental challenges for community builders.

  • Data silos: Because tools are fragmented, data lives across multiple platforms, resulting in a lack of data visibility. Community managers cannot get a deep and granular understanding of the health of their community down to the individual member level.
  • Difficulty measuring value: Lack of data visibility means that identifying and tracking a community’s most important metrics becomes a formidable (and often impossible) challenge. For brand and enterprise communities, this makes it difficult to measure ROI and demonstrate the value of the community to the broader organization.
  • Lack of ownership: Community builders may feel like they do not truly own their communities when they rely on too many third party companies.
  • Control over member journey: Since the various community tools often do not integrate well together, community leaders have a hard time managing the end-to-end member experience in a consistent way.
  • Productivity loss: Managing a plethora of tools creates too many manual and inefficient workflows for community admins. Constant context switching and managing unruly spreadsheets is a common symptom.

The opportunity for a platform

Every community is different; each has distinct goals, members, engagement models, etc. The fragmented landscape of community point solutions is evidence of that, as different tools have emerged to serve different needs for different types of communities. I fundamentally believe there is no one-size-fits-all solution for communities. Communities want to (and should) be able to customize their tech stacks.

  • Communities need something to tie all of their point solutions together.
  • Community point solutions should not go away. There is value in having specialized, best-in-class tools in each part of the stack that fit a community’s unique needs.
  • Communities need flexibility and should be able to swap out their point solutions easily as their communities scale and evolve. They should also be able to stay on certain point solutions that are critical to their member experience.

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Lisa Xu

Lisa Xu

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VC @FirstMark investing in early stage startups | former homes: Handy, Peloton, Bain & Company, Wharton