Competition among community platform vendors continues to intensify, according to the newly released Forrester Wave on Community Platforms.
While only 24 percent of interactive marketing executives of companies with $500 million or more in revenue are currently implementing or piloting a program using a community platform, according to the report, in the next year that number should balloon to 55 percent. In such a burgeoning industry, the 90 vendors Forrester identified must find a way to help marketers build and maintain healthy communities. Rather than wade through each of the space's competitors, Forrester chose to identify and evaluate the top five vendors in the field, all of which "have a significant lead on [the] other vendors in the space according to our qualification criteria," writes Melissa Parrish, Forrester Research Analyst and author of the Wave.
"While we're in the midst of a turning point in which more and more departments within an enterprise are using social media to engage their consumers and colleagues and meet their own business objectives, it is our goal to address the specific needs of interactive marketers," Parrish writes. "This Wave is focused on the factors that matter most to interactive marketers as they evaluate vendors to support their consumer-facing community initiatives."
According to this year's report, organizations need their chosen community platform vendor to offer the following:
- Ease of deployment: Marketers are looking for community platforms that allow them to configure, deploy, and manage communities in the most efficient and effective way possible, with minimal ongoing reliance on internal technical support;
- Matching community results to business goals: Marketers are looking for vendors that offer not only analytics tools but also strategic services to help marketers understand which of the platform's functionalities will best help them achieve their goals and analysis services to help discover the progress they've made toward them; and
- Keeping the community healthy. Marketers are increasingly relying on the community management expertise and services of their platform vendors to help them keep their customers engaged, the communities vibrant, and misbehavior to a minimum.
Forrester evaluated the following five vendors and their respective products (listed here in alphabetical order) based on the number of customers, revenue, average company size, and client demand:
The vendors listed in the report each have "a large client base of interactive marketers with consumer-facing communities," Parrish writes. "Each of the vendors has a strong track record of launching external communities for marketing purposes and with the needs of interactive marketers in mind. [They also have] experience working with enterprise-level companies...[and] experience supporting multiple large communities... [They also have] healthy revenue and growth."
In further detail, here's how Parrish ranks the evaluated players in the space:
- Lithium: "There are two key differentiators that most distinguish Lithium," Parrish writes. "First is its expertise in community management, which includes a full-service community management and moderation team, led by the company's chief community officer, and the basic services of which are included with every deployment of its platform. Second is its strategy, which focuses on the marketer with laser-target exactness and which aims to provide tools and services to meet marketers' needs as they engage with their social consumers; and
- Jive: What distinguishes Jive, according to the report, is that its platform is built for richness of applications and deep integration within and entire organization. "Jive courts not just the marketer," contends Parrish, "but the whole enterprise, seeking to usher in the era of social collaboration inside the enterprise, outside with customers, and everywhere in between."
- KickApps: "KickApps has, without a doubt, the most complete and mature set of self-service tools for launching and extending community functionality," Parrish writes. But the company must improve its off-the-shelf tools and services offerings to improve its ranking in this field, according to the report;
- Telligent: "[This company] is most successful when a customer comes to it with a clear strategy, an innovative idea for a piece of functionality to build on top of Telligent's platform, and the resources to implement," Parrish writes. She contends that when this scenario occurs, the social and community experiences that can be created that can really "wow" a marketer's consumer. But because this level of collaboration isn't possible for all organizations Telligent is slightly less desirable than the category's Leaders; and
- Mzinga: Although Mzinga has historically been a major player in this field, it's new OmniSocial 2010 product is still "in its early stages and has room to improve with future releases," Parrish contends. She encourages Mzinga to add more official partners in order to iterate more quickly, and to migrate customers still on legacy technology from former acquisitions to the more robust tools and deeper analytics the OmniSocial product offers.
Awareness, Leverage Software, LiveWorld, and Pluck were left off this year's Wave.
Pluck was initially asked to participate but Demand Media, Pluck's parent company, filed an S1 after the screening process was over and due to the SEC's mandated quiet period, the company was unable to participate.
"Awareness has chosen to focus their business on their social media hub product rather than the community platform," Parrish says. "LiveWorld and Leverage unfortunately did not meet the screening criteria for inclusion in the Wave this time around."
Parrish explained the lack of organizations in the Wave's Contenders category by saying, "This is simply how the vendors who were included in the Wave shook out once their scores were applied. I imagine that if we'd chosen to lower our screening criteria and include more vendors in the evaluation, there would have been some Contenders. However, since we evaluated only the top 5, and they all performed so well, their scores put them in the Strong Performers and Leaders group when the Wave algorithm was applied to their scores."