Are you shopping for a Primary Community Platform? It is such a critical decision, but hard to know what to base your decision on. I recently had a chance to catch up with several of the leading Community Platform vendors to ask them what people should be looking for when considering what vendor. We are going to share the perspectives of Jive, Lithium, and Telligent in a three part series of blog posts. Hope they are helpful in your decision making process!
‘Strategy First’ by Tim Albright, Director of Community Strategy at Jive Software
Honestly, I don’t believe anyone should start a social business platform assessment by looking at features. Instead, truly understanding your own social business strategy is the most important criteria for choosing a platform. Some community features are fairly commoditized (e.g., forums, rating, blogs, et cetera) and some aren’t (e.g., bridging internal and external communities, video, mobile, et cetera) but if the reason you’re applying social isn’t clear, choosing a platform to do it won’t be either, no matter what features are provided. Obviously, any social strategy should map directly to overall business goals and, for all but the largest companies (and probably for them too), a social business strategy will be more successful if it is shared across the enterprise.
A good social strategy identifies what specific problems to attack. For example, improving Sales Enablement is a strategic goal but it’s also a bit abstract. On the other hand, shortening the response time for RFPs is a concrete, measurable target that will improve Sales Enablement Now you can accurately assess the Sales Enablement capabilities of a social platform:
‘ Does it support robust internal deployments?
‘ Does it allow easy creation of logical groups (Sales Enablement, Regions, et cetera)?
‘ Can the usual RFP formats be uploaded and reviewed in the communities?
‘ Can users easily create reusable tables and charts with links to customer references, success stories, et cetera?
‘ Can users rate and tag content to heighten relevance and improve reuse?
‘ Can users follow spaces, content and other users?
‘ Can users receive notifications and reply directly via email?
‘ Is there mobile support for my distributed sales team?
In short, what should really inform your decision is: can the proposed platform take the current tasks your employees, partners, and customers are already doing and make those tasks easier by applying social? In the Sales Enablement example, social attacks the problem because it:
‘ Removes the RFP request from the tyranny of email: the Sales Rep won’t get nine ‘out of office’ replies and the responses aren’t buried in her email box
‘ The Rep doesn’t have to ‘know’ who the right source is: the source finds her. The entire company’s expertise is available to all Sales Reps, even on their first day on the job.
‘ When she gets the right answer, she can rate it highly so the next rep with a similar RFP can search and find it more easily
‘ Mobile and email allow users to respond when and where it’s convenient for them.
Each of these (and more) will measurably shorten the turn around time for RFPs. If the platform you’re considering can do all these things, it should be a contender for your Sales Enablement initiative.
Of course there are many other strategies and tasks that social business software can measurably improve. At Jive, we’re dedicated to helping you identify the right business areas to attack with social tools. Not all business problems require social solutions, but we’ve found many that do. Here are the questions I would consider in assessing platform vendors:
‘ Do you have the experience and skills to help me define solid, measurable business objectives?
‘ Do you have examples where your social software solved these types of business problems?
‘ Are there customer references ‘like’ me that you can share?
‘ Do you give guidance on IT, SSO, and other integrations?
‘ What Flexibility do you offer for theming my site to look like my other properties?
‘ Given the solutions we’re discussing, can you provide guidance on attracting users, marcom plans, et cetera?
‘ What else do I need to know to be successful?
Focusing on the right task to meet your objectives will also help inform all your other social decisions. For example, if you have a public support community, what should your Facebook or Twitter strategy be? Support communities focuses on asking and answering questions in the community. A FB page is likely to confuse some users and distract them from participating in your community. Contextual FB ads, on the other hand, might be a great way to generate awareness about the community and help to brand it. Tweeting about community events and hot topics might also extend awareness. The point is that, once your objective is solidly defined, you can have the right argument: will this feature or capability make the task better for the users?
Once you know what you’re trying to solve, and once you’re comfortable with the answers to these questions above, reviewing features, watching demos, and playing in sandboxes will be a lot more useful to you. Get the ‘what’ right and the ‘how’ will be much, much, more easy to spot.