Community platforms are a great invention. Think of them as mini social networks where people can share information, comment on posts and connect to each other. Of course, we’ve already got sites such as Facebook and MySpace which will already do that for you but say you want a private area (for example within a company) then websites such as these can be a little open.
Unfortunately, if you’re not an absolute wiz-kid at web design, then creating a community platform from scratch can be a painstakingly long task. This is where Hoop.la comes in. It helps you design a community platform from scratch without any prior web design knowledge and makes creating and maintaining platforms a piece of cake.
This can be a real bonus for anyone, whether you are a small business holder or a club member and you’re wanting to create a platform for your other members. Hoop.la has plenty of in-built features so let’s dive straight in and take a look at them.
The first thing you need to consider when signing up for Hoop.la is what kind of package you exactly require. As of yet there is no free option and basic plans come in two versions, the Gold package and Platinum package, priced at $29 monthly and $99 monthly respectively. Each package has a range of different features in and, perhaps most importantly, a different member limit. For most people, the Gold package will suffice (which allows up to 6,000 members) however for much larger community platforms, the Platinum package allows up to 25,000 members.
The developers do offer a 14-day free trial for all pricing plans, however you’ll need to grab your credit card in order to be able to sign up (and remember to cancel it after the 14-day trial period if you don’t like it!). Once you’ve signed up and chosen your domain name, Hoop.la’s setup wizard will pop up which allows you to configure your site’s settings (such as forums and blogs) as well as setup your forums and invite your friends (because without any members, your site isn’t a community platform!).
To help you setup your site, Hoop.la offer a Right Start service for the one-off fee of $75 where one of their sales representatives will call you and guide you through the setup process. However, thanks to the simple, easy-to-use design, this is often not necessary!
Once you’ve gone through the setup wizard, you are then forwarded to the Admin Control Panel, where you can customise virtually every aspect of your community platform experience. Let’s take a look at it in a bit more detail.
Admin Control Panel
The Control Panel is like the nerve centre of your community platform, and allows you to edit and customise your site. You can change your site’s theme, moderate members and administrators (with the Gold package you can have up to 5 administrators; with the Platinum one you can have unlimited administrators), link social networks such as Twitter (Facebook and Flickr support are promised in the next release of Hoop.la) and moderate the forums on your community platform.
With the wide range of themes built into Hoop.la, you can tailor your homepage to your liking as well as choose which content should be displayed when members first visit your page. This can be, for example, your blog, recent photos or videos from your community members or any upcoming events in your community or society.
As well as hosting content, you can also invite your members to discuss matters in forums. Hoop.la allows you to create forums for your community platform and, as a site administrator, manage and edit them easily. To set up a forum, you simply click on Forums then Post New Topic. You then type in what’s on your mind and hey presto, the post appears. If you want your forum to be the highlight of your website then you can tailor your homepage to include the forum as the main highlight.
With forums, you’ve got a wide range of customisation options, including attachments (photos, videos, music, documents, spreadsheets and so on), category tags, liking by members, premium content (if, for example, you have a premium option for your community platform, which can be activated in the settings) and easy sharing of forum posts on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
Hoop.la is a great and easy way to create community platforms for whatever reason and there are so many features built-in that it would take a long time to cover them all! This review is simply the tip of the iceberg and the best way to see what Hoop.la can do for your community is to sign up for a free trial and try it out yourself.
Given the sheer range of features, however, you may find that you feel slightly overwhelmed and that you don’t need them all. Customisation is absolutely key in Hoop.la and you can tailor your community platform to exactly however you want it. It may seem like a slightly expensive solution (especially for smaller clubs and societies) however to break away from those mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be really beneficial (you aren’t bogged down by what you can do and publish) and can give your community a real touch of professionalism.
With Hoop.la you aren’t limited by space or technology because you can upload as much content as you want and unlike other content publishing systems (for example WordPress), there is no additional software to install or steep learning curve to overcome. For simple yet feature-rich design, Hoop.la is a real winner and can work wonders for almost everyone.
A tool to help you design and host a social content platform.8