Salesforce Lightning Communities: It’s time to upgrade!

James Davidson | September 14, 2016


Salesforce has done a lot to promote Lightning, its next-generation user experience (UX) platform upgrade since it’s launch 2 years ago. I’m sure Lightning will be a big focus at Dreamforce again this year. Many new and existing customers are adopting Lightning, others are holding off or confused as to what it really means. Salesforce shared that over 9,000 Communities have been now been built and deployed on Community Cloud, and I’m sure less than half are Lightning based. My goal in this blog is to make a case for moving to Lightning and Community Cloud from your legacy Site, Portal or VisualForce based Community. I’m also going to summarize the most common questions, and concerns that I hear from customers and include information from posts on Twitter and the Salesforce Customer Success Community with answers.

If you’re reviewing Salesforce Customer, Partner or Employee Communities in general and looking to move from a competitive platform like Lithium, Jive, IBM, LifeRay, Sharepoint, Savo or others, check out my community migration guide for some insights and planning ideas. If you’re looking to understand the overall value proposition of the Salesforce platform + Communities in general, I would also recommend reading this great write-up by Dion Hinchcliffe here.

What is Salesforce Lightning, how does it apply to my community, and what are the benefits?

Simply put Lightning is a massive UX upgrade to the overall Salesforce user interface across the platform and products including Community Cloud. It’s modern look and feel has a better user experience, embraces mobile first, reduces clicks, can be a built by drag-and-drop components, and overall accelerates the design, development and deployment. Lightning provides some great interfaces over the original legacy standard tab or visualforce design frameworks.


For Salesforce Community Cloud the Lightning Experience offers some major improvements and benefits from the legacy community templates or Visualforce framework including:

Mobile First, Branded and Accessible

Means your community is brand compliant and works across any device: Desktop, Tablet and Smartphone. 

Community Builder

Configure your community design including templates, pages and applications through a drag and drop interface with WYSIWYG editor.

Lighting Bolt Templates

Lightning Bolt is pre-packaged themes by Salesforce and its partners and customers that tackle difference audiences, verticals and uses cases (coming soon). 

Lightning Components

Essentially drag and drop widgets, apps and extensions of the base community experience created by customers and partners, similar to WordPress plug-ins. For instance you can embed files from in your community through their free component.

Community Management Console

Get analytics, manage, and moderate your community.

AppExchange for Components, Templates and Apps

Similar to Apple Appstore or Google Play, the AppExchange allows for extension and integration of the base experience through Apps, Templates and Components. 

Standardized Design Framework

Salesforce has published the Lightning Design System (LDS) to guide user experience and interface design. 


Community Builder Lightning Bolt Templates Lightning Components
 comm_builder_add_configure_components  salesforce-lightning-bolt commcloudlightning

Why Lightning Communities now over VisualForce

Here are some great reasons WHY you should consider Lightning over Visualforce, primarily focused on ROI:

  1. Rapid Design, Development and Deployment
    Using Community Builder and the Lightning framework will speed up your time to market which allows a faster ROI. Compared to Visualforce, 7Summits Lightning-based communities have launched 2x faster for custom communities, and 3x faster for smaller communities.
  2. Provides scalability over time while reducing total cost of ownership
    Transitioning to the Community Builder + Lightning architecture aligns well with existing technical landscape and will help improve data integrity and reduce long-term maintenance costs.
  3. Best meets needs for users and business to drive value
    Salesforce Community Builder + Lightning focuses on self-service and support templates to easily enable such use cases for customers and other users. Data-driven use cases are more easily enabled with staying within existing Salesforce landscape where data lives today. The interface reduces reliance and dependence on IT with reporting and analytical capability to track key business metrics such as increase in self-service and community adoption over time.
  4. Right balance between out-of-the-box and customizable user experience
    With release for Lightning Community Builder, Salesforce is able to deliver a better and more intuitive, mobile responsive user experience without maintenance or extensive custom code.
  5. No Additional Licensing Fees
    Salesforce customers still running on legacy Customer and Partner Portals are already entitled to use the new Communities platform. No additional license fees (assuming you already have community licenses)
  6. Promising platform and community Cloud roadmap
    Salesforce is investing heavily Community Cloud product development, viewing it as a strategic growth opportunity for the company. Benefit from the continued innovation and new features that Salesforce are making to the core platform and product releases.

Beyond ROI, for managers, administrators and developers who oversee the environment here are some additional considerations on WHY Lightning for Communities:

  • Drag and Drop / Point and Click UI configuration — Reduce development time and costs
  • Overall User Experience + Look and Feel — It looks HOT! Like modern web apps
  • Mobile first — Means accessibility across all devices
  • Lightning Bolt Templates — Vertical, audience and use case focused solutions that address business and user needs
  • Components — Mini apps or widgets that extend functionality of the base community with Salesforce or 3rd party integrations like e.g. ecommerce, file storage developed by partners and customers
  • Native Salesforce Integration — Quickly connect your customer, partner or employee community to Salesforce horizontal clouds including sales, marketing, service and analytics and your model to share leads, create a cases, view reports etc all from your community

My Site, Portal or Community is up and running, should I move to Lightning now or wait?

There are a lot of factors to consider when converting from a legacy Salesforce Site, Portal or Community, here are some of bigger items to review as part of decision:

  • Is adoption and usage strong or weak or waning?
  • Is your website, portal or legacy community largely transactional and lacking engagement through collaboration?
  • How deep are your customizations to the standard interface and data model?
  • Is the overall management and moderation challenging today?
  • Is the cost of design, development and customizations limiting your innovation?

If you can check the box on two or more of those you can start to build a business case for upgrading to Lightning and embracing the new features and benefits including speed to market, rapid innovation and a modern experience that better aligns with your business goals and user needs. 

Can I enable Lightning in Communities independently of Sales or Service Cloud?

The general concern I hear is the change management and training implications of rolling out Lightning to end users familiar with the existing interface of Sales or Service Cloud environments. The good news is that those experiences are separate from Community Cloud. So you can enable the Lightning experience in Community Cloud independently of the user experience in Sales or Service Cloud.

Are there any gaps with shifting to Lightning?

As it stands today there are still more legacy Visualforce based solutions and apps in the AppExchange than Lightning. However I think this will change over the next year or so as ISVs, partners and developers upgrade their apps to be Lightning-based. When Lighting for Salesforce Communities was originally launched there were some gaps including the availability of templates, features and components. However Salesforce, partners, customers and developers are quickly closing those with new apps and solutions and Salesforce continues to innovate with three platform releases a year. Check out the launch of 3rd party Components on the Salesforce AppExchange and the recent announcement of Lightning Bolt Templates and Partner developed templates highlighted. So yes, innovation is happening and Salesforce and their partners are committed.

Ok Lightning Communities sound cool, where do I begin?

I’m a big believer in getting educated first, a path to get started is the free Salesforce Community Trailhead module to learn about the Salesforce platform and community cloud features in general.  If you’re a new customer considering a Salesforce Lightning Community we’d love to talk to understand your needs, share some of our work and our approach to get you live. If you’re an existing customer with a Site, Portal or Community considering a migration, Salesforce has a great upcoming webinar on migration of legacy customer and partner portals on September 22 pm. Additionally we’ve created great guides to help with your migration. 

Explore Migration Factory

Additional Lightning Resources

Here are some additional resources for you to learn more about Salesforce Lightning:



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