With social media on the rise, it's no wonder that the market for community platforms has nearly 100 vendors vying for recognition -- far too many for a comprehensive accounting of all players. Despite the large roster of contenders, Jeremiah Owyang, analyst at Forrester Research and author of the newly released Forrester Wave on Community Platforms, says that he views this market as still in its youth. Even in its immature state, though, the technology remains vital given the ongoing recession, he says. To that end, the report focuses on the top nine vendors in the space.
"With the economy in a slump, brands see communities -- and the word of mouth that they generate -- as cost-effective ways of marketing their products as well as reducing support costs," Owyang writes. Not surprisingly, user adoption of social networks and online communities continues to grow steadily, from 25 percent in 2007 to 35 percent in 2008.
According to Forrester, organizations seek three qualities from a community-platform provider:
- Full-service solutions: Since communities are often uncharted initiatives, companies seek extended support and recommendations for proceeding with community platforms.
- Integration with other marketing services: Organizations want to get full leverage out of communities and tie the sites to other marketing systems such as CRM, customer support, and marketing dashboards.
- Long-term viability: Organizations view community platforms as long-term projects. With that in mind, decision-makers look for providers that have experience and will deliver stickiness now and in the long run.
Owyang notes that there are currently more than 90 community-platform vendors, but Forrester evaluated the following nine (listed here in alphabetical order) based on the number of customers, revenue, average company size, and client demand.
- Awareness - Awareness
- Jive Software - SiteLife
- KickApps - KickApps Platform and KickApps Widget Studios
- Leverage Software - Community Connect
- Lithium Technologies - Lithium InterActive
- LiveWorld - Community Center
- Mzinga - Mzinga Social Media Suite
- Pluck - SiteLife
- Telligent Systems - Community Server
In researching the players, Owyang found that, more often than not, the vendors provided robust offerings, far beyond simplistic forum-based sites. "To stand out in a young and flooded market, we found that community-platform providers must do more than merely serve as a technology platform," the analyst writes. "The top providers in this space not only offer a strong technology platform but also provide services, support, and analytics offerings."
The report's comparisons indicate that Telligent Systems and Jive software are leading the vendor pack. Close behind and competing quite fiercely are vendors Pluck, Mzinga, KickApps, Awareness, Lithium Technologies, and LiveWorld. Lacking enterprise customers, but still offering a viable solution is Leverage Software.
In further detail, here's how Owyang breaks down the evaluated players in the space:
- Jive: Owyang describes the platform as "mature and enterprise-ready." With leading brand customers such as Kraft and Nike, Jive has refined its services and provides perhaps the most-intuitive user interface, Owyang writes.
- Telligent: The Telligent suite is easy and quick to deploy and in addition to the traditional forum capabilities, the suite also boasts wiki and widget solutions. Of note, Owyang says, is Telligent's analytics function, which gives users added insight into what customers are saying.
- Pluck: The vendor's widget-based solutions allow users to quickly put together features such as wikis, blogs, comments, ratings, and rankings, for personalized brand platforms. Owyang notes that the provider is lacking an analytics solution and some sort of intelligence reporting.
- Mzinga: Recently acquiring Prospero has left Mzinga a bit behind in the innovation cycle. However, the vendor's strengths rest in message boards, comment features, and live chat.
- KickApps: Specializing in providing for media brands, KickApps uses widget technology for rapid deployment, but Owyang sees a potential pitfall: "KickApps, as a strong technology platform, will struggle in the future if it doesn't shore up its long-term vision to be a true solutions partner to the brands it serves."
- LiveWorld: With nearly 12 years in the space, LiveWorld offers its clients strategic consultation, customized analysis, and specific recommendations. Owyang calls the LiveWorld staff supportive and attentive, but describes the product as mediocre.
- Lithium: Owyang gives nods to Lithium's reputation features called Kudos, which encourage community members to support one another. Community managers can glean insight from analytics reports and services and export data to partners such as RightNow Technologies and Omniture. Owyang says that the vendor, although needing stronger long-term vision, has made inroads with a new innovation forum called Idea.
- Awareness: "Awareness' strategy services provide brands and agencies with a team of expert implementers," Owyang writes, "but to truly be a solutions partner, it will need to provide additional moderation services, as well as provide community insight and recommendations based upon collected community data." To better serve the midmarket, Awareness needs to implement more self-service tools. Otherwise, it is a solid solution for enterprises, Owyang says.
- Leverage: Though focused largely on small-to-midsize businesses (60 percent of its customer base), Owyang notes that the newcomer delivers a solid solution at a low price point. He highlights Leverage's feature called PeopleMap, which allows community members to identify others with similar interests.
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