Setting up a community is a big decision and technology plays a key role in making the community successful. Here are 5 tips to help you choose the right platform.
Open Source vs. Proprietary Solutions
This is probably the biggest question that comes to one’s mind when starting a community. Open source/writing your own application is great because you can have all the features you want. Crisp – nothing less, nothing more. But it can take up a lot of internal resources and choke your IT department, and may require outside expertise as well. Also, the effort will go to waste if the underlying objective of the community changes. For example, If an initial plan of making an open community is changed to making a partially gated community, new security measures will need to be introduced. Enterprise issues around security, integration and customizability remain top concerns in open source platforms. Proprietary solutions offer ‘a lot’ as out of the box functionality, but many a time require specialized skill sets to deploy the community. Also, if you go for proprietary solutions, opt for the one that has robust support.
Tim O’Reilly once said, “It’s all about platform openness and adoption, not base code openness.” Open source or proprietary platforms – it’s the flexibility and the ability (that you need) that matter.
Don’t get carried away by the fancy list of features. The reason that a platform is ideally decided upon after freezing the objective, audience and strategy of the community is to have a choice of ‘must have’ features lined up for taking a more informed decision. List your must have features and shortlist the platforms which offer features closest to your list.
Note: Don’t compromise on analytics; in today’s time, not knowing your marketing numbers can spell disaster.
To know about the must have features of a community, read my post 5 Must Have features of successful communities.
Be it community or any other product, everybody starts small and plans to go big. Will your platform run with you as you accelerate from big to really big? Your platform choice should reflect robust scalability as a key feature. If you are using open source, then scalability should be on your mind before you take the plunge in the open sea.
Security is a key issue that needs to be addressed. With many platforms based on SaaS model, it is critical to understand the security measures the platform will take to protect information and limit access. Get written SLAs and understand what measures would be taken by the vendor to avoid a breach or downtime.
Pricing is a sensitive issue and needs to be handled with care. First, you need to understand how much your organization is willing to spend on the platform and its ongoing use. Also, go for the vendor who has transparent price offering, which includes both parties having same definitions for words like, user, community, security, user base, accounts etc.
Generally, per user pricing models are avoided as you end up paying for inactive members as well.
Other interesting things to look for
- Does the vendor eat its own dog-food: if they have a community, have they based it on their own platform?
- Add-on features: look for other interesting features, which will help you achieve your community objective.
- Vendor background: to future-proof your decision, it is important to note how strong the vendor is – do they have healthy revenue and robust growth plan? Can they stand by themselves in the next 5 years or can they be acquired? Check their financial health, in case required.
Invest the time you need to choose the best platform for your community. Remember, technology is an enabler – so it’s critical that you get it right. It’s expensive so you need to get it right the first time.