April’s community call recap: Exploring CRMs for community management

On our April community call, we considered how Customer Relationship Management platforms (CRMs) can be used to manage communities in STEM. We heard presentations from community members Yamina Berchiche, Erin Conn, and Chris Hartgerink, who are each using different platforms in their work, and learned about their similarities, differences, and general utility for relationship-building. We also took a few minutes at the end of the call to brainstorm some of the features we’d like to see in a CRM that was optimized with community management in mind.

In this post, we describe some of the themes and insights from the call, and share the recordings of the three presentations. This is not meant to be an exhaustive review of all of the CRM platforms available today, nor is it an endorsement of the products mentioned. Instead, we hope it will help you as you to work through your own requirements, and consider whether a CRM might be useful in managing your community. 

General pros and cons of using a CRM to manage your community

So, why would you want to employ a CRM at all? Some pros and cons to consider: 

You and your team can easily track engagement, newsletter metrics, event attendanceThere is a significant setup cost regardless of what platform you chose (time to populate the database and time to learn how to use the platform and train your team, as well as the financial cost)
You could track the success of specific initiatives (e.g. onboarding activities) to determine whether they are working You may need to configure the CRM in a specific way to answer your questions, which may necessitate planning time upfront and technical support
Some platforms will help you examine the roles that individuals play within the community and how they interact with each other – which may support you in updating your programming or acknowledgment of membersPrivacy – make sure you check out the privacy policy of any platform you purchase to ensure it is compliant with your organization’s policies and any applicable laws such as GDPR
A CRM can help support more diverse participation by helping you to identify  people who haven’t played a prominent role yetCurrently, most CRMs don’t map different modes of engagement within a community so you may miss inherent preferences of different members 
You can tag members’ expertise and interests, and start making nurturing connections between those who have things in common

An overview of some available CRM platforms

CRM platforms/tools/systems collect information about people/community members and note  their points of connection  with an organization and/or each other. Most off-the-shelf CRMs were created with sales and marketing in mind, so they’re built for capturing contact information, click throughs from email campaigns, sales, etc., but are less adept at mapping connections between people in the database. On the call, we discussed several different platforms that community managers can adapt to serve their needs, at a variety of price points and levels of functionality. 

In the table below, we summarize the platforms we talked about and some of their key features. The nature of technology means that over time this table may become out of date, with prices changing and platforms changing names, going out of business, or being bought by larger organizations. Our aim is to capture the current state of the field for those who want to get started with a CRM. 

PlatformPriceBest for…Not so great if…Anything else I should know?
SalesforceFour tiers – $25-$1250/monthLarge, well-resourced (budget and people!) communitiesYou’re hoping to get a CRM working quickly – it takes time to set up and customize the platformCurrently, the Salfesforce platform does not work well with some accessibility tools such as screen readers
HubspotVery flexible pricing ranging from free to $3,200/monthBudget-conscious communities looking for a member management and communications platformYou’re looking for a one-size-fits-all solution (Hubspot has many plans, and choosing the best one for you requires some thought)Hubspot offers courses and certifications to help users maximize use of the product
NutshellTwo tiers – $20/month and $42/monthCommunities with medium-to-high funding levelsYou’re put off by a sales-centric mindsetNutshell’s integration with Google Workspace is particularly good
SavannahThree tiers – $9.99/month, $49.99.month, and $99.99/monthCommunities convened on Github and/or SlackYou’re working with an in-person communitySavannah is still pretty new, but has some interesting features not available in sales-focused platforms
ZohoFive tiers ranging from free to $52/monthSmall-to-medium-sized communities looking for a very customizable platformYou’re looking for a free option (theirs is limited in scope)Lots of options for integrations, customizations, and automations 
Wild ApricotMany plans ranging from free to $720/monthSmall to medium organizations with fundingYou want to track all community interactions (will track who attends Zoom meetings, but not other types of interactions)Pricing depends partially on how many contacts you have

Find out more about Hubspot, Salesforce, and Nutshell from our presenters: 

Homegrown platforms

While there are a number of “off-the-shelf” options out there, you could consider building your own CRM. For smaller communities (think 50-200 members), a spreadsheet and/or marketing platform like MailChimp might be sufficient, since you have fewer people to keep track of and you’re likely to know your community members relatively well. 

But, as your community grows, you might find that using multiple platforms or distributing information across files is not helpful, neither in terms of keeping other members of your team informed or maintaining the privacy of the member data you keep. Building a CRM of your own design is enticing, and allows you to create a platform that does what you need it to do. However, on the call, participants noted that going this route involves hiring a developer and likely taking on a project management role yourself. Furthermore, your system will need maintenance and upgrading as time goes on, making you reliant on that same developer (and their availability). 

Three takeaways

  1. Be realistic about the budget you have for the features you think you need – things can get pricey!
  2. Invest time in thinking very carefully about the configuration of your member data i.e. what fields you’ll need in your member database to answer your engagement questions – and how this data is going to be maintained long-term.
  3. Consider where community members fit in the CRM project – how might you communicate the implementation of a CRM and its potential benefits, as well as take care to address any privacy concerns? Might you choose a platform where members can update their profiles to help keep data accurate? 

Next month…

We hope you’ll join us next month (Wednesday, 18 May 1t 3pm UTC / 11am EDT), when we’ll be revisiting what we’ve learned about running virtual events, and how those learnings are guiding the next transition: to hybrid gathering. Add to your calendar: iCal | Google