How to Select An Online Community Software Vendor

by Jim Berkowitz on November 24, 2010

Here are several excerpts from an article by Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, How to Select An Online Community Software Vendor.  I highly recommend checking out the original source article for much more on this topic as well as Vanessa’s How to Build an Online Community article:

Similar to choosing a new home, the community software you choose should fit your and the members’ needs — and your organization’s culture to best serve both the members and the staff who will run the community.

Examples of specific categories of online community tools include:

  • Forums and bulletin boards
  • Blogs with comments and reviews
  • Collaboration platforms
  • Groupware & knowledge management
  • Relationship discovery and data mining

Prices for community platforms vary widely, and the cost is not always directly correlated with the robustness of feature sets. The adage “you get what you pay for” may not always apply to community software tools.

Here is what we look for in a community platform provider:

  • Product capability including feature sets, industry experience, documentation and transparency
  • Scalability
  • Financial stability
  • Cost & time-to-build
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Implementation, training and support services
  • Cultural fit and vendor responsiveness
  • Compatibility with legacy systems

Some early questions for the community software provider include:

  • Software framework, such as .NET, Java or open source components, and compatibility with your current IT infrastructure standards
  • What legacy systems should integrate or interface with the community? For example, customer databases, CMS system(s), CRM systems or, for internal communities, employee directories.
  • How does the community platform interface with existing content management systems? How much content will need to be integrated?
  • How does the platform manage search? Some platforms offer combined or “federated” search across member directories, user-generated content and institutional content, while others have separate searches for different community components.

Evaluating community platform providers against these and other criteria will help narrow the selection to a handful of tools that will support your community initiative, integrate with your business requirements and, in the end, offer community members the unique benefits they need to make your community effort a success.

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