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Choosing a Community Platform

5 Key Considerations for Selecting a Customer Community Platform

With so many community platforms out there, and some less familiar with what capabilities are needed for success, how does one choose?

In 2022, Gartner® released a report on the state of the online community market. In it, they noted that between 2021 and 2022, there was a 30% increase in client inquiries about customer communities.

A trend that started during the pandemic but has continued as online communities have become integral for many services and solutions that rely on a subscription-based revenue mode.

But with so many options out there, and some less familiar with what capabilities are needed for success, how does one choose?

To guide your team through the process, we’ve put together a list of questions to ask yourself when considering a community platform.

  1. Which teams will be involved? In their report, Gartner notes that historically community has been used as a customer support tool to deflect tickets. However, with community use cases (and benefits) expanding beyond just forums, most community projects touch several different teams. We recommend starting with your goals and then identifying who across your organization is needed to get the project off the ground and keep it going. For example, if you’re looking to improve retention, you’ll likely involve everyone from Customer Success and Support to Marketing.
  2. What use cases are you looking to support? What functionality is needed to address those use cases? Today, communities can serve as a central hub for networking, support, events, discussions about new products and more. Related to goal setting, it is important to outline what problems you’re trying to address and how community can solve them. Once you’ve determined this, you’ll need to think about what functionality is required to support those use cases. If you’re trying to create a one-stop-shop for all things support, then maybe looking for a vendor who integrates with your other systems (e.g., LMS or ticketing systems) is non-negotiable.
  3. Is community their primary offering or is it bundled with other offerings? Some vendors offer community as an add-on to a primary offering, such as a CRM or a customer success platform. Others, like Higher Logic Vanilla, only focus on community. There can be pros and cons to both, but if you’re looking for a community solution, we recommend going with a community-first vendor. Their functionality tends to be deeper and they’re often more innovative because they don’t have to split resources between product offerings.
  4. Does it integrate with your other solutions? No one wants to switch between systems, whether it’s to access information or to gather customer insights. If you’re trying to create an engagement hub for customers or get a well-rounded view of your customers, this is a necessity. Luckily, most vendors can integrate with other solutions, though some vendors offer more integrations than others. Also worth noting, some integrations are native or out-of-the-box, where others require an API or additional set-up, which can cost time and money.
  5. What does post-sale support look like? While there are small nuances between community platforms, most offer the same core capabilities. However, customer support varies and for some, it is truly a differentiator. Gartner notes that you should look at implementation, onboarding and professional services, and customer success service and determine which cost extra. This may also help you decide how many people are needed to support the project and sustain it long term.

Choosing a community doesn’t have to be stressful. Start with the considerations above and if you need more help to find a solution that meets your needs, check out this free Online Community Vendor Guide or download our RFP template.

Gartner, Market Guide for B2B Customer Community Platforms, 6 October 2022, Maria Marino Et Al.

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

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Genny Gordon