Community Software Buyers Guide: What to Look for When Selecting a Vendor
Community software comes in different forms and shapes. But what are the most important aspects to look for when you are putting together a short list? In this article we shed some light on the key elements you should keep in mind when selecting a vendor.
Community Software by Solution
First off, it’s important to know there are different types of community software, each optimized for a different purpose. Here we list the most important variations:
Support Community Software
A lot of community software out there is specifically designed to operate as a self-service solution for customers. Platforms are usually set up as public, self-help portals, with the goal to reduce the strain on customer support centers. The idea is that if you connect customers with other customers then they can help each other answer the most common questions. As you’ll see later in this article, most support community software is limited to forum functionality. Most solutions lacks other tools of communication like chat, ideation and interactive polling.
Insights Community Software
This type of community software is designed to provide business units with customer intelligence. These, usually closed-loop online platforms, bring select groups of customers together to discuss their experience with a brand’s products and services. Insights community software can provide a company with powerful business insights about customer needs and wants. Most likely, this type of software can assist in making important business decisions due to its wide range of communication and user segmentation tools.
Community Software Service Models
Community software is provided by software developers or vendors. Among vendors there are a couple of different business models.
Full Service Model
The full service model is great if you are limited in people resources but budget is not an issue. Usually, full services vendors want to take care of every stage of the community life cycle. From installing the software, to managing conversations and writing reports (i.e. on engagement or insights). There’s no installation or configuration required because everything is being managed by the vendor.
The open-source model usually requires you to set up and manage your own server. You will need to download the latest “built” of community software and do all the installation and configuration yourself. So, this is great if you want to have full control and aren’t afraid of getting your hands dirty. It’s fun because you will literally be able to touch every single detail of your community platform. However, the open-source model is not recommended if you don’t have a savvy IT team nor enough time on your hands.
While its name implies lots of similarities to the open-source model, the Do-It-Yourself model is actually a very different one. The DIY model provides you with a ready to go (out-of-the-box) solution based SaaS (software as a service). You will start with a clean slate but without the hassle of downloading and installing community software. Or maintaining a server.
The hybrid model combines the full service model with the do-it-yourself model. The vendor will provide a community platform that is ready to go, but will help you configure the nuts and bolds of the software. Next, once your community is up and running you’ll still have the freedom to make changes, do the moderation and analysis. The hybrid model is ideal if you want the peace of mind of the full service model, but still want to be closely involved in operations.
Community Software Features
To avoid this article becomes lengthly and unorganized, we are listing only the features we think are a must have.
- Search: to help your members find the right content.
- Private messaging: to help your members communicate directly with each other or with the moderator.
- Use profile: to allow members to create a profile page to show who they are.
- Rich media support: to allow members to upload images, videos, etc.
- Discussion board/forum
- Ratings & reviews
- Journal/personal diary
- User segmentation (manual & automated)
- Roles & permissions
- Invite system (optional: CSV import)
- Multilingualism: when your target audience speaks another language
- Policy customization: to make sure you can comply with local laws
- ISO 27001 compliance
- GDPR compliance
- HIPAA compliance (for health-related communities)
- Single Sign-on (SSO)
- Google Analytics integration
- Insights dashboard
- Data export
- CRM/Salesforce integration
- Zapier integration
- Social login (i.e. Facebook, Google)
Usability & User Experience
The success of your community will be largely determined by how your members experience it. So, usability and looks are an important factor. Make sure the community software has a modern look and feel, and is easy to learn and use. Community software that has a responsive design that adapts to screen size is a must have. So, also make sure the platform is mobile friendly.
Design & Customization
If you’re building a brand community than branding is important. If members recognize your brand then this builds trust. So, you have to make sure that it’s easy to match the design of your platform to your brand identity. Also, chances are you will need a custom integration or feature once your community grows. If you think you will be needing custom features in the future, make sure your community software that allows for customizations.
Summing it All Up
Community software has evolved over the last couple of years. While having customer support forum was still innovative 10 years ago, nowadays brands need to do more to keep their customers engaged. In this article we identified community software by solution. We identified support communities and insights communities as the most seen solutions.
We also looked at the different service models through which community software is offered. Full service models, Do-It-Yourself models and hybrid models offer choice depending on the resources you have available. In terms of features we listed the most common features a modern platform should have. Finally we talked about the important of usability, user experience, design and customization.
Finding the right community software can be a daunting task. But, we hope this article gives you some guidelines. If you have questions about this article and want to talk to a community professional, please reach out.