Several Tweets today from Jeremiah Owyang got me thinking about community vendors and how they do (or do not) use their own platforms to build communities for their customers and users.
Quoted from @jowyang’s Twitter stream:
- Talking to a client, they are having troubles with one of the community mangers vendors in my wave, interesting.
- Getting an earful, they are frustrated with vendor…I’m almost a social media psychologist. I’ll help them find someone else.
- Fact: Many of the vendors in my community platform wave ironically do NOT offer a community to their own customers to support themselves.
- Sad Fact: I interviewed up to three clients of the vendors (customer references) some clients didn’t like the vendor –who didn’t even know
- Sad Fact Cont: Beyond all the dirt I learned about the vendor’s weaknesses, more importantly it told me they were not in touch with clients.
My advice to community platform vendors:
- If you don’t already have a public user community or support community for your customers running on the latest release of your platform, start planning one now.
- Get your product management and engineering teams involved in the community and spend time learning what your customers like and don’t like in addition to the features they want in future releases.
- Spend some time monitoring what your customers are saying about you online (Twitter, blogs, and other forums) to avoid being caught off guard by negative feedback.
My advice to anyone selecting a community platform vendor:
- If they are not running a public community for their customers and users that is built on their platform, run (not walk) away from that vendor.
- Spend a significant amount of time in that public community getting a feel for the issues that other customers are having with their software. Also take note of how long it takes for them to respond to questions or issues.
- Ask for some customer references. Call the references and chat about their experiences with the vendor. Ask them for specific examples of both positive and negative interactions and experiences.
While Jeremiah says that “Many of the vendors in my community platform wave ironically do NOT offer a community to their own customers to support themselves”, the best vendors do use their own software to build external communities for their customers.
Here are three examples of vendors who eat their own dogfood:
- Jive Software (my previous employer) has a bunch of communities built on Clearspace for developers, support, partners, business users, and open source products.
- Lithium has the Lithosphere where customers can discuss the software, find tips and best practices, get support, and more.
- Community Server by telligent has a community with a heavy developer focus.
There are plenty of others who run vibrant communities for users of their platform; however, I was surprised by how many do not. While I was working at Jive, we learned so much about our software by using it to host our own communities. We found bugs early, felt the pain points along with our customers, and celebrated when new features were introduced in the product. Any vendor who isn’t eating their own dogfood is using you, their customer, as a testing bed. I’ll take my chances with vendors who use their software over ones that do not any day.
Related Fast Wonder Blog posts: