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Building an Online Community with Heroku or Salesforce Experience Cloud

By: Rob Jordan

An engaged community is critical to a nonprofit organization’s continued success. Nonprofits harness their supporters’ collective energy and channel it into actions that further the organization’s mission. And as we conduct more of our lives online, building a community online becomes more and more important to nonprofits. These online communities take many forms, including: resource hubs for knowledge sharing, membership portals, volunteer management systems, and spaces for general community interaction.

Social distancing measures aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus are driving many of us online to seek connections virtually. Now is the time to consider how your organization can grow your online community. Idealist Consulting is well-versed in the deployment of Salesforce Experience Cloud and we have been able to utilize this skill set to enhance online communities for a number of our clients.   

Deciding how best to grow your online community depends greatly on what you want to build and the solutions you already use in your existing tech stack. Generally, when clients approach Idealist with a desire to develop an online community, we deliberate between Heroku or Salesforce Experience Cloud to determine which platform best serves them. Ultimately, we make recommendations based on three fundamentals.


Large and Complex Datasets

If your community users need to access data from a lot of different sources, then Heroku is ideal. Heroku allows users to consolidate siloed systems in one easily accessible place. This reduces the need to replace your legacy systems and keeps change management to a minimum. This is what Marc Benioff was talking about in his 2019 keynote address when he said he would not create boundaries between solutions and that Salesforce would “work with everybody”.


User Interface

If you don’t fall into the category above, you primarily use Salesforce, and your tech stack is simple, Salesforce Experience Cloud is perfect for you. Experience Cloud is customizable so that the user interface matches your brand and can be controlled from within Salesforce.

But if you’re looking for something creative or highly customized, we lean toward Heroku for its ability to host a pixel-perfect UI. This becomes particularly necessary when organizations are looking for functionality offered outside of Experience Cloud or are uniting multiple platforms or databases as described above. A user interface can be built to look and behave exactly the way you expect while uniting all the information and systems you need, and customization can promote user adoption.


Supplementary Licensing

If you know how community members you need to accommodate and how much data they’ll consume, Salesforce Experience Cloud is up to the task. However, if your licensing needs are enormous (potentially 25K+ users), you expect them to fluctuate often, or you have significant data storage needs, you should explore building a custom application on Heroku. A custom community portal built on Heroku has a better capacity to expand and contract as needed, ensuring that you only pay for what you need.

While most organizations seeking to build an online community should consider Salesforce Experience Cloud, we have found that certain organizational profiles should really consider building a custom community Portal on a service like Heroku first. Humanitarian organizations, academic institutions, international NGOs, and healthcare organizations often find themselves with complex requirements that demand a custom solution.

If you’re considering building or revamping an online community, feel free to reach out and see which option is best suited for your organization.

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