In part one of this three part series, we covered the initial rounds of action in our bracketology approach to selecting a private social network for customers or members. This included how to cast a wide net and pare down your list of private social network providers based on basic functionality, integration, and each company's core focus.
Now, we are on the Sweet Sixteen, where you'll match your organization's plans and parameters with online community software.
Private online community providers who make it to this round have the basic functionality you are looking for, can integrate with your back-end database, and focus on the solutions and services your company or association is seeking. Now compare the vendors on the following criteria.
Think beyond phase one. How to you envision your customer or member engagement strategy in 3 years? Make sure each platform provides enough functionality to expand with your online engagement strategy. Also, ensure that it is not so rigid that, if you change your strategy from having a "˜networking focus' to a "˜knowledge sharing' or "˜advocacy or product feedback focus,' your system has the flexibility to make that shift effectively. You don't want to be stuck upgrading your online community platform again or having to find additional vendors to add onto your community in a couple of years.
Make sure the pricing model fits the budget and culture of your organization. Some online customer or member community platforms, designed for smaller organizations, base their pricing on membership size or modules. This allows organizations to pay lowers software licensing costs at the beginning of the relationship, but the price increases if you are successful at growing your membership, add new modules, or require ongoing support. Other software providers base their pricing on the size of your budget, which saddles larger organizations with the same software and services that smaller organizations gets, ut at a higher cost.
Most organizations prefer the stability and predictability of all-inclusive pricing so that funding their customer or member engagement strategy is not an issue during each budget cycle. Finding the right pricing model also depends on your specific organization.
Tip: Calculate the total cost of your customer or member engagement tools. Low-end online community software may only provide a private social network, while a more advanced online engagement platforms may create saving for your organization by eliminating the need for buying separate email marketing, events, survey, CMS, online store, and listserv products.
How clearly defined is the implementation process? Make sure it goes beyond installing the tools and showing your how to use them. Organizations of any size benefit when the implementation process includes develop of a growth strategy, content plan, and promotional blueprint. Also, take a look at their online training materials to ensure that your platform provider offers both ongoing software training opportunities with your licensing costs, as well thought-leadership on strategic online communities.
Tip: Make sure you understand the capabilities and costs for importing historical listserv or forum activity into your new online community.
A key element of online community adoption by members is how easy the site is to use. It accounts for a large portion of the site's success since it drives return visits, increases word-of-mouth marketing, and helps customers get more value from the community. Often times, staff can live with a little frustration, but busy customers' or members' tolerance for sites that are difficult to use is very low.
Once you have evaluated your list based on the criteria above, you are almost done with your "˜March Madness' selection of online community software. Now, it is time for the Final Four! Subscribe to the Online Community Blog to make sure you don't miss the final part in this three part series.