This community software buyer guide is a comprehensive resource to help you zero in on the right platform vendor. Irrespective of where you are in your buyer journey — whether you’re comparing different software solutions or evaluating the idea of building a brand community — this guide will offer a structured approach to make the right decision.
Online branded communities
There are numerous examples of successful brand communities — from Sephora in the retail space to SAP and Autodesk in the B2B software space. In 2020, the demand for communities is at an all-time high since an online customer community weaves into the entire customer journey and helps deliver an amazing customer experience. Various business departments such as sales and marketing to customer success and product management can benefit from an online community.
For instance, most of us would have come across online communities when looking to solve a particular problem by searching on Google. It could an issue with an internet connection, a problem with a TV set, or research for best practices to use a certain software product. These brand communities have members discussing various topics and offering help to each other.
This is a great way to empower customers via self-service. Brands must create secure online spaces for the customers and audiences so that people solve each other’s problems as well as build valuable connections. This is a key element in customer success and ensuring resources are saved when it comes to delivering customer support.
So, if you are mulling over the idea of building a customer community, be assured that a loyal community of users would be one of the most valuable assets your company could own.
Selecting the most suitable community software
If you are convinced that an online brand community could help your business, then it is time to move ahead. The next stage is about establishing the company goals, tying that with community objectives, and scouting for a community solution.
Since many factors go into launching an online community successfully, you might want to download this free ebook. This book covers everything from community lifecycle management and KYC strategies to setting community objectives, stakeholder management, new member onboarding, and promotion planning. In this guide, we’ll specifically focus on the community platform selection process by exploring different options, features, customizability, and use cases.
Now don’t get stressed by the number of factors you need to consider when selecting a vendor. This community software buyer guide is designed is help with a simple approach. It covers the following key elements:
- Things to consider when conceptualizing an online community
- Important factors that go into building a successful online community
- A powerful template to compare features on community software
Points to ponder when building an online community
When you have just finalized that an online brand community is a key step for your business growth, you need to consider the following:
Establishing community goals
When you are building an online brand community it must be tied to a primary business goal. The most interesting factor when it comes to an online community is that it can have several it can be leveraged to achieve a wide range of objectives. The primary community objective would you get the buy-in from the stakeholders and get the right support from the internal teams.
The primary goal could be customer success by delivering crowd-sourced support, sharing best practices, and offering resources. It could also be ideation and product feedback collection for product innovation or scaling marketing initiatives via user-generated content. Depending on the community goal the implementation of the community would differ. It can either act as a standalone social website or integrate into apps, websites, messaging channels to connect with users across the customer journey.
Mapping features to the outcome
Once you have finalized the primary community objective it would largely dictate the feature requirements, customization, and integration. It could range from direct video upload and events to ideation and secret groups.
Buy vs. build decision for community software
There are broadly two options when it comes to implementing community software:
- Building a customized system on top of an open-source solution
- Customizable SaaS package
If you are willing to invest significant resources in building and maintaining community software by extending a popular open-source solution, you’d be able to customize it based on your exact requirements. You would also be able to control the feature release timeline. However, this means you will need a dedicated team for technical development, UI/UX team to study the best practices, and security team as well as the developer operations team.
If you opt for a SaaS solution you should look into the level of customization it can offer and if the feature set can match your community objective. You would benefit from a managed service in this case and focus on growing your community. A SaaS vendor would release improvements at regular intervals, implement best practices, and maintain the software (you won’t have to build a dedicated technical team).
Getting internal buy-in
A successful community needs internal support. This means team members with different expertise would help you with management, engagement, knowledge-sharing, etc. Hence, you need to get higher management onboarded and involve the team members from different departments for community initiatives.
Building a thriving branded community
An online community bustling with active and engaged members is most likely to meet the business objective. However, that means your need to constantly care for your community by ensuring that the community is generating quality content, attracting the right audience, and delivering value at different lifecycle stage.
Evaluating community software
This community software buyer guide covers all the factors by categorizing them into 10 different categories:
- Security and compliances
- Customer success and support
Since the investment in the community needs to be justified based on the business outcome, it is important to look into the pricing. Community software pricing can range from $1000 a year to $100,000+ a year — so ensure that you will be able to get the ROI for business growth.
Generally, community solutions are priced based on the number of registered members (Tribe is based on active users), page views, storage, admin seats, etc. Based on this, you should estimate the subscription fee.
A powerful method of evaluating any solution is to look for peer reviews. You can do that by reading the reviews of the solution posted on third-party software marketplaces such as G2 Crowd and Capterra.
Also, look into the stability of the solution based on the bugs and issues reported by the customers.
The community platform must be flexible to support different post types for your community. It could be anything from short updates and video uploads to rich discussions and knowledgebase articles. Check out the following important features for creating engaging content:
- Ability to post questions, comments, and answers
- Long-form articles for writing blogs
- Ability to share the posts on social media
- Members should be able to react to the posts
- Posting links and embedding content from popular sites
- Ideation content with the ability to submit ideas and vote
- Categorizing content via topics
- Tagging or flairs to show the state of the content (e.g., solved, added to the to-do list, shipped, etc.)
- Sticky posts to highlight content
- Filtering and sorting content based on different content properties
- Robust SEO capability (schema markups, link attribution, title, metadata, sitemap, Open graph data, etc.)
These are the features useful for admins and moderators of the community which also covers the core functionalities of an online community. Look into the following basic features:
- Sign in and registration (email password, social login, etc.)
- Accessibility settings (private or public)
- Peer-to-peer messaging and chatting
- Member management (import, export, tagging, etc.)
- Networking options (follow/unfollow, two-way connections)
- Usability or learning curve required for successful management
- Moderation (automation rules, edit/delete/archiving tools, spam protection, and community-driven flagging)
- Creating topics and groups for structuring a community
- Moderation Structuring (Topics/Groups) Localization
- Content feed settings
- Localization of the community via language support
Branding and design
This is about ensuring that your brand elements are reflected in the community as well. For instance, community software must have the following:
- Adding a logo and other brand assets such as Open Graph image and favicon
- Color combinations
- Customizing the design via custom code
- Applying themes
- Merging with site navigation
An online community must have powerful engagement tools to improve the engagement and retention rate. It includes gamification tools, notifications, incentivization, and smart suggestions.
Gamification → Reputation scores, leaderboards, custom badges, etc.
Notifications → Email notification, in-app notification, integration with messaging apps, browser-based notifications, push notification, Webhooks
Smart suggestions → Ability to suggest the right community member who can give the right answer
Incentives → ability to distribute virtual currencies that can be redeemed to purchase products and services.
The community software must have direct integration with popular third-party tools so you easily add the community into existing workflows and automate processes. Key integration to consider:
- Integration with Zapier to build workflows with 2000+ apps
- Integration with CRM tools and content management tool to sync the members as well as properties
- Integration with analytics tools such as Google Analytics, and Amplitude
- Integration with support software for better customer support and holistic view of the customer issues
- Integration with social media
- Integration with marketing automation tools to run automated campaigns for the members
💡 Tribal tip: Another key element is embeddable widgets to add community components inside your website and product.
It is important to keep track of key community metrics and gauge the health of the community. This can help to keep your internal team and senior management in the loop about the progress. Here is what you should check for analytics and reporting:
- Member reports (active members, engagement, growth, lifecycle segments)
- Content reports (popular content, content growth)
- Sentiment analysis
- Retention and stickiness reports
- Customizable dashboards
- Integration with third-party analytics tools and CDP (Customer Data Platform) solutions
Security and compliances
Data security and adherence to regulations are perhaps one of the most critical aspects of an online community. If anything goes wrong your brand will have a PR crisis, attract lawsuits, and might also get fined.
SSO → Auth0, JWT, SAML, Open ID, Custom SSO
GDPR → Compliance data privacy regulations
File types → Ability to allow and restrict different file types
ISO certifications → A certificate that states the company runs with standards created by the International Organization for Standardization.
SOC II compliance → Ensures that the vendor securely manages your data.
Permissions → Ability to give different privileges to your team members
Penetration test → Conducting annual security vulnerability and penetration testing using independent third party auditors
Audit trails → Keeping a log of user activities to monitor the actions taken by their admins and moderators
💡 Tribal tip: Ensure that you own the complete data generated in the community and have the ability to export data.
Customer success and support
When you are working with a software product your team would need assistance either in figuring out a technical aspect, functionality, and implementation. You might also encounter bugs and a workaround would be needed. Hence, evaluate the type of customer success and support options you have
Support channels → Email, chatting, community support, phone support
Support SLA → The turn around time (e.g., 24 hours)
Support availability → Time and day of the week to get customer support
Success team and account management → If there will be a point of contact to help you successfully launch a community
Here is a template that you can directly use to evaluate community software.
Look for a partner, not just community software
Selecting a community software based on the features is not time-consuming as long as you are documenting your needs and mapping the same based on the features. However, building a successful community goes beyond a community platform, you need a partner who understands the best practices and can offer the expertise required to launch and grow your community. This is vital for ensuring that your community objective is aligned with larger company goals.
Hence, evaluate the comprehensiveness of the customer success services in your potential partner:
- Launching your community
The software vendor should have a checklist of important elements required to launch a community based on the use case and industry. You should get inputs on creating content, seeding the community, and learn tactics on driving traffic via user-generated content. Also, the vendor should be able to help you integrate the community touchpoints across the customer journey.
Further onboarding the members, driving engagement from the beginning, and setting up your community for member retention are other vital factors to consider during launch.
- Ensuring growth and maintaining community vitality
The next step is about ensuring that your online community if fully optimized to growth after the launch. Hence once your community is live the vendor should be able to give suggestions to keep the momentum going and offer plans to acquire members as well. For instance, at Tribe, we help our customers public-facing communities on important online platforms such as Product Hunt, Hacker News, and Reddit based on the use case.
- Setting and meeting measurable outcomes
The customer success team of your vendor can truly be a partner when they can help your team set measurable outcomes. This is where your community truly aligns with business objectives. Your community software vendor must be able to review your growth and monitor key metrics which can help you deliver reports to the stakeholders as well as relay the value of the community.
- Transferring knowledge
Your community partner should be an extended team of your organization. That means the customer success team would transferring their knowledge, empowering your team by educating them. That means you should be able to get access to a dedicated point of contact for customer success and get an account manager. An easy way to assess this is to look for the ability of the vendor to offer training, extensive documentation, books, and comprehensive guides for various aspects of community management.
We can see that this community software buyer guide considers a comprehensive set of factors to evaluate when selecting a community platform. Now it’s your turn to research different community solutions, document everything they offer based on your use case, and select the right platform.
At Tribe, we have launched numerous successful online communities and we’d love to learn your requirements. Drop a message by clicking on the button to get started!