I have been in the community platform space since 2013 and in that time, I have seen and learnt a lot. Over the course of my career, there is one thing I’m absolutely certain of: no community software vendor wants a customer to buy the wrong solution. A bad fit solution only creates unhappy customers. Best case scenario? It costs the business resources to deal with issues. Worst case? It causes reputational harm.
I have been thinking about this topic a lot and was recently asked for my three key warnings when buying community software. There are many things to consider, but I wanted to give you my so-called “Big Three.”
Use the Right Tool!
Usually, when a business starts investigating options for online community platforms, especially if they don’t have one in place already, the reason is to solve an identified problem.
The challenge, however, can be that they are comparing two disparate tools.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to a prospect looking at a project management tool and a community platform on equal footing. Each has interesting, valuable elements – but neither will do the other’s native functions.
Furthermore, customers who sign a contract with an online community vendor will end up incredibly disappointed when the creative ideas they had for the software cannot and will not materialize.
For example, a Gantt chart is cool but not needed by most community platforms. You’re better off using a proper PM tool and integrating a community for the other elements you need.
My first warning: buy community software when the main problem you seek to solve is about conversation and peer connection. This can be for customer education, customer success, customer support, product feedback, and so much more. Of course, a community platform can be used for other things, but be ready to understand the platform will not change for your use case.
Another common issue that arises when businesses are reviewing online community vendors is that they make assumptions.
This is where the term “integrate” becomes crucial to regard, but without context it’s useless.
If I could have a quarter for every time someone asked me if Higher Logic Vanilla “integrated” with another solution, I would be writing this from a luxurious house overlooking crystal blue waters instead of freezing in my basement.
The Higher Logic Vanilla solution is API first, it can technically “integrate” with anything.
When looking at a community solution and “integrations,” be clear on what that means. Does it mean it connects and syncs back data? Does it mean it syncs one way? Does it mean you can search content externally? Does it mean you can export data via API?
If your team puts together a list internally and asks for an integration to be present, understand what they want. Also, ensure to clearly understand the bare necessity versus the nice to have. Most community tools can “integrate” to the minimum, but if you have an absolute need, be transparent and specific. Make sure the platform does exactly what you need it to do. Too often, I have seen folks caught when the definition of integration did not meet the one in their head.
My second warning: Make sure you are clear about what you mean by integrating by detailing your expectations – and never assume.
Be Clear about the Exit!
When it comes to offboarding, it’s best to be prepared.
Sometimes things don’t work out. You need to be very mindful and explicit in your contract when investing in an online community software provider that if you choose to leave, you know what to expect.
Your contract should clearly state that you will get your data, in which format it will come, and that they will not charge you for it.
At the end of the day, it’s your community and your community data. Unfortunately, some vendors can make leaving more painful than it needs to be or even charge you a separation fee. Sometimes they may give you the data, but in a format you cannot use with another platform. Ensure all of this is clearly thought through and stipulated in your contract.
My third warning: ensure your exit clause states your notice requirements, the process by which you will get your data, the format it will come in, and that it will not cost you.
In the end, buying an online community platform doesn’t need to be so overwhelming. Start by following the above tips and always focus on your needs.
Want more information on how to find the solution that best matches your business needs? Check out this free Online Community Vendor Guide to find out how best to match your needs with the right community software – no email or information required!
Head of Community
Adrian Speyer is the Head of Community at Higher Logic, and has over 10 years of experience building communities. By combining his passion for digital marketing and community, Adrian works to create beautiful and functional online communities to help brands connect with their audiences around the world.
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