6 things you should know about choosing the right community platform
Social networking tools are fast becoming a checklist item for many media sites. Enabling readers to comment on and rank articles and share them with friends through a variety of social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter et al) is increasingly important for engaging with your audience. Other features that allow audience members to interact with one another – discussion forums, video/audio uploads, and even user-generated blogs – are also growing in popularity.
As many emedia publishers are discovering, community platforms are powerful tools for growing an audience and opening up new revenue opportunities through advertising and sponsorships.
Finding the right community platform to suit your needs, however, can be a tortuous experience. The good news is that there are dozens of vendors offering so-called “white label” solutions that companies can integrate into their existing websites. Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news – how do you sift through the choices to find what’s right for your needs?
BEFORE YOU START
Don’t begin looking for a vendor until you’ve actually defined your strategy for social media. Forrester suggests walking through its POST methodology – People, Objectives, Strategy, and Technology.
WHERE TO LOOK
Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang has created a list of more than 100 vendors that offer community software. He also authored a Forrester “Wave” reports that takes a detailed look at nine community platform vendors. The conclusions:
“Jive Software and Telligent Systems lead the pack because of their strong administrative and platform features. Both Strong Performers, KickApps and Pluck enable large Web sites to quickly scale with social features. Also in the Strong Performer category, Awareness, Lithium Technologies, and Mzinga enable brands to build branded communities while LiveWorld offers brands agency-like services. Leverage Software is not on par with the others in the category, but it is a Contender with strong offerings for medium-sized businesses.”
For the geeks in the audience, TechCrunch offers a comprehensive comparison of white-label social networking software.
One thing is certain: with all the vendors in this space, there’s sure to be consolidation in the coming months/years. Look for a vendor with stable funding and a growing customer base.
You’ll want to pick a platform with the right feature set not just for your current needs, but for the functionality you anticipate needing in the future. Important features to consider include the following:
Support for discussion forums, subgroups, chat
Upload/posting capabilities for user-generated videos, photos, and blogs
Connections to other social media sites like Facebook
Single sign-on – integrating the platform with other registration databases on your site.
Site integration, to reflect the look and feel of your existing media site
Self-service features that enable you to drag and drop various widgets around a template to configure the interface the way you want it to look
Customization: Some vendors include APIs for customizing the interface, or developing apps (such as video or audio players) or widgets
Scalability: How easily does the platform scale to support new users – and how much does that scalability add to your costs?
- Metrics: What reporting features does the platform offer to measure the return on your investment or the effectiveness of your platform in engaging the community?
Should you build or buy your community platform? Publishers may not have the in-house skills or the budget to develop their own solution, or they may not have the infrastructure to support an enterprise software package. That’s why hosted, software-as-a-service (Saas) models are popular in this space, with most vendors offering on-demand delivery, which allows customers to start small and scale as needed.
For those that feel comfortable building their own community playpen, TechCrunch provides an overview of nine do-it-yourself tools, including Ning, KickApps and CrowdVine.
Not surprisingly, most vendors keep their pricing plans close to the vest. Others are more forthcoming. KickApps offers usage-based pricing, based on the number of page and widget views; it says it charges no fees for setup, storage or bandwidth. Ning has a list of a la cart premium services on top of its free offering, ranging from mapping an existing domain name to the social network ($4.95 a month) to removing promotional links ($24.95 a month). Reality Digital charges a sliding monthly fee for its Harmony self-service offering based on page views – from $499 for 100,000 page views to $3,000 for 600,000 views.
Bottom line: With pricing all over the map, you’ll want to work closely with vendors to get a clear sense of what you’ll be receiving for your investment.
WHAT ARE MY PEERS USING?
Media companies are prominent on many vendors’ client lists. Here are some examples: