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This guide is your complete and total resource for selecting community software. Whether you’re actively searching for the best community platform to fit your needs or still considering whether a customer community is a logical strategy for your brand— you’ll find all the guidance you need to make your next step right here.
You’ve no doubt already come across more than one or two successful online customer communities. Today, online communities powered by customers, product users, software enthusiasts and brand advocates play a hugely important role in how we find and gather Customer Success information. Think of the last time you had a question about your mobile phone contract or a problem with one of your software subscriptions. Chances are, you hopped on to Google and it led you straight to an online customer community, where other folks just like you were already discussing the topic and helping each other out.
This is the power of communities for brands.
The ability for companies to provide a space in which their customers can get their questions answered and their problems solved—at a fraction of the cost of scaling up your 1:1 Customer Support and / or Success efforts.
Have you already identified that implementing an online community makes sense for your business? Great!
If you’re still on the fence, we recommend taking our quick test to discover if your company is community-ready. This will help you get to grips with the use case(s) you’re looking for a community to support and set yourself up for success from the get-go.
Before you dive in and potentially lose your footing, it’s vital to understand what makes a good community thrive. How should you approach building your first community? What do you expect it to bring to your business? And what software should you buy? There are a whole lot of options out there, each offering different features, use cases, functionality and integrations. Choosing the right one for your company can be a real challenge.
Don’t panic! That’s exactly why we’ve created this Community Platform selection guide—to help you through the process of determining the right strategy and finding the best-fit vendor for your needs. It covers everything community-related to help you truly scale your Customer Success through community.
This community platform buyer’s guide covers:
It’s critical to define the business case for your community before launching an implementation plan or even selecting the platform you’ll use. Not only will this secure buy-in and support from your executive board or leadership team, but defining the community’s strategic function will guide your planning and rollout agenda— making sure you maximize the return on your investment from the first day your new community goes live. So get to work on creating the right community concept. Namely: what should your community accomplish for your users? Check out the most common online community use cases for B2B software companies:
You may decide to make user engagement and support its primary function, but if you also have plans to utilize the community for product ideation, you need to bear this in mind during the vendor selection process so you can select a platform with the right features and functionality to make that happen. Your desired community concept will determine whether your community can function as a standalone silo— separate from the rest of your website and digital presence—or whether you’re better served by a modern community solution that integrates across your entire website, app and external channels, so your users can engage wherever they may be.
As we touched on briefly above, customer communities can be extremely valuable across a variety of applications—self-service customer support, product ideation and development, increased customer engagement. What’s important to note, though, is that the intended use case for your customer community will significantly affect the features you need and the type of platform or solution that suits you best. Determine what features you’ll need in your community platform in order to achieve your desired community concept and objective. Discussion forums, knowledge bases, gamification…? The possibilities are (almost) endless!
Pro tip: Don’t forget to map out how you’ll measure success at this stage! Will you report on the number of calls your online community has deflected from the call center? Will you track the purchase behavior of community members against non-members to prove its impact on customer retention and share-of-wallet? Make sure your chosen platform has the reporting power to tell you what you need to know! Get clear on your metrics now, so you can build and launch a community that will meet your goals.
Take some time at this stage to decide whether you’re willing to invest a large amount into IT resources and ongoing development costs, with a custom-built platform, or if a flexible, configurable and future-proof SaaS community solution better fits your needs. If you decide to custom-build your community platform, you’ll enjoy absolute flexibility and control over your functionality and features—but your initial investment will be much higher, and another downside is that you’ll fall behind in terms of technological features unless you’re willing to invest significant resources into a dedicated development team. On the flip side, SaaS provides you with a future-proof solution—continuous new front end features and improved UX—and no additional budget or resource required.
Start to confirm roles and responsibilities—such as which department(s) will handle the community implementation process, and ultimately who will own the community? How will it be managed on a day-to-day basis? Have you already allocated resources internally to take care of the key community roles, such as community managers, moderators and channel managers? Align internally and answer these questions to ensure the community rollout goes smoothly and you are set up for future success.
Whilst you won’t finalize your launch plan until you’ve selected a vendor and planned the implementation, it’s still essential to give some forethought to how best to launch it with a bang. Now is a good time to involve key community stakeholders. A good launch plan would typically involve members of your company’s support, marketing, IT, and management teams. Get decision makers on board upfront and have your internal business case ready.
Successful communities immediately begin producing results. But in order to do this, it’s vital that three key elements come together: content, activation, and traffic. The content-activation-traffic flywheel in customer communities is what drives the long-term value of your community. Regardless of its underlying goals, it’s important to look at your community as an entity that requires some serious care and effort to flourish. With the right strategies in place, you’ll ensure that the value your community brings to your business continues to increase as time goes by.
Pro tip: Gamification, like awarding users badges or allowing them to ‘climb the ranks’ based on their community behavior is a tried and true way to activate your customers and prompt engagement. It’s vital to find a community platform that offers strong gamification features.
Pro tip: Choose a platform that will ensure your content is SEO optimized and well indexed by Google. To really create standout impact and engagement, consider using an integrated community rather than a standalone destination. This infuses your community content into your existing digital channels — for example, using embeddable widgets across all pages of your website or app so users can access relevant content wherever they are in their user journey.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ve split platform features out into the most pragmatic categories:
Your general community features cover the basic functionality of what you need your community to do for you. Basic communication, security and notification functionality—which all vendors should be able to provide.
When you’re selecting a community platform vendor, ensure you won’t be limited when it comes to the different types of content your team and your users are able to create and host. Think about knowledge base articles versus questions; video updates versus event invitations… the opportunities are broad, so make sure your platform is going to support rich media and varied content types.
Single sign-on is now a hygiene factor for registration-based platforms, and users expect a smooth and easy-to-use experience from start to finish. Keep an eye on the user management functionality your potential vendors offer and make sure you won’t be offering a sub-par community experience.
In order to create and maintain a thriving space, community managers must find ways to incite user engagement. Gamification triggers this engagement by creating moments of user gratification which hook community members to keep them coming back for more. Features such as user badges, interactive polls and displaying user ranks and roles are perfect for this.
You want a community platform that you can easily connect to your other Customer Success tooling, in order to get the richest insights and streamline your workflows as much as possible. From escalating support tickets to reviewing feature requests based on ARR-values, integrations help you get the most out of your community and its results.
A community platform is just one click away. Community success is not. A vital element when it comes to select the right community platform vendor for your business is ensuring that they take the right customer success approach and are committed to working with you not just to launch your community but to continue fueling its growth so you can exceed your business goals. Here are four areas to focus on when considering the success services your potential vendors offer.
As our buyer’s guide and feature overview shows, there are a wealth of things to consider when choosing the best online community platform for your business. Do your research, consider your intended use cases and talk to multiple vendors to find the best fit for you. inSided’s community experts would love to help you through the process, so book a chat with us today.