1. Social network and online community adoption is on the rise and are being seen as cost effective channels for product and brand marketing and a growing tech segment is for community platforms providing community infrastructure and features, reporting and integration with business applications – these 10 bullets are dedicated to helping evaluate a vendor.
2. This Forrester Study assessed 9 vendors: Awareness, Jive, KickApps, Leverage, Lithium, LiveWorld, Mzinga, Pluck, and Telligent – selected from a field over over 90, these focused on large organizations, interactive marketers and have a strong services component.
3. Applicability and reputation: vendors specialize in markets and vertical and therefore their feature set is tuned to certain segments (e.g. KickApps for media) – make sure your vendor has experience with your market needs.
4. Speed and ease of deployment: How quickly you can launch a community and then extend and expand will be determined by the amount of configuration and the ease of use of the tools, componentized or widget based platforms make this easy
5. Features to look for: Basics will include threaded discussions, comment, live chat, document and image upload, blogging forums and more advanced features are Wikis, Multimedia (audio, video) support, polling and surveys, social networking features, premium content support and of course system security to prevent hacking, web analytics to report basic usage .
6. Advanced features you will need: Widget creation and customization, full service reporting and analytics and performance dashboards, ability to add custom code, the ability to setup automated import of content, analytics to identify influencers and understand community conversations and to make recommendations on action.
7. Completeness of offering: Full functionality is complemented by the ability to integrate with other applications (e.g. CRM or BI) will be required as will the ability to exchange (I/O) data via APIs, how much control do you need over the layout, navigation and graphics and a strong and easy to use administration layer.
8. Services to keep you on track: Implementation consulting to ensure that you are trying to achieve the right goals, installation services to ensure correct deployment, essential support and maintenance to make sure data is backed up, recoverable, the service can be restored with minimal downtime and no data loss,
9. Of the 9 vendors (who all seem to claim market leadership), Jive Software and Telligent came out on top across all categories – of particular mention, Jive’s intuitive UI , Telligent’s strong analytics, Lithium’s forum and blogging solution, Awareness’ quality of site design (pixel perfect graphics), KickApps widget technology and Pluck’s content management.
10. The Elephantear’s take on this is that there is a broad enough range of vendors out there to suggest that this is a maturing market, as with any technology vendor selection, viability and reputation are always a concern, but make sure that you rank importance of what you need to achieve with your community and the application features and support you will need to do this – this will help you select a vendor that will provide the right solution for your needs.