How to choose the right customer community software

How to choose the right customer community software

Are you looking for the right customer community software?

There's no denying it, an online community for your business provides valuable opportunities for marketing, research, product innovation, customer support and brand loyalty. If you want to build a thriving community, it all starts with selecting the right customer community software.

What is customer community software?

Customer community software comes in many different forms ranging from open-source forum software to more sophisticated platforms with built-in social networking features and mobile functionality.

Ultimately the software you choose is the online space where you can bring together a group of people who are encouraged to interact and have discussions about common interests, goals or beliefs. Since having a strong community is at the forefront of customer success, it’s vital to put user experience first.

The more value you can deliver to your customers, the more value you’ll add to your community.

What’s the difference between customer community software & community platforms?

Customer community software and community platforms are virtually the same things.

Various platform providers offer different features and functionality. Some are available on both web and mobile, whereas others only offer the capability for one of those. Some have a modern and user-friendly design and others are designed to look more like old school style forums. Some provide you with the option to simply plug and play whereas other options such as open-source software require you to hire a developer.

Ultimately whichever option you choose - whether it’s customer community software or a community platform - they will both serve the same purpose, it’s more about choosing an option which fits your specific needs and requirements.

What is customer community software used for?

Customer community software is used to:

  • Increase brand awareness

  • Drive discussions

  • Support people through their buyer journey

  • Open the floor for discussion and feedback on products or specific topics

The ultimate goal of customer community software is to provide value to your community so that you can drive sales and loyalty for your business.

The top benefits of customer community software

Creating an online community with customer community software provides you with an integral opportunity to keep a strong relationship with your customers.

Some of the top benefits include:

A home for your community

Having a central space for your customers and online community makes them feel valued. People appreciate that you want to hear from them and that you care about their opinions or how they experience your product or service. This creates a powerful level of trust that instils a sense of community, connection and loyalty.

Promote your brand

Customer community software provides you with a powerful opportunity to stay on-brand whilst also promoting your online community. You can customise the branding to suit your logos, fonts and colours. You can also moderate discussions to ensure that topics within your community remain relevant to what your business provides - unlike social media which limits what you can customise and can be full of trolls who are hell-bent on damaging brand reputation.

Easily track popular topics

Customer community software allows you to easily keep track of the most popular and actively discussed topics. This information can help you to understand what customers think about your product or service, what matters to them and what they’d like to see more of. These are incredibly valuable insights which can help you to tailor your product, service and marketing strategy so that you can create an even better experience for your audience which drives more sales and loyalty for your business.

Customer community software providers

Investing in customer community software allows you to create a thriving digital space that you own, and one which your community can call home, so it makes sense that you want to make sure you select the right fit for your brand.

To make your life easier, we’ve put together a handy list of 7 providers so that you can weigh up which option will suit your needs best.

#1. Disciple

A fully customisable white-label community platform available on web, iOS, and Android.

Top features

  • Customise with brand colours & logos

  • Segment audiences by interest, location & demographic with unlimited groups & content feeds

  • Promote physical and online events

  • Structure content with an easy-to-use content library

  • Monetise with online courses, memberships and subscriptions

  • Invite members to create their own profiles and find, friend and message each other

  • Third-party integrations

#2. Higher Logic

Higher Logic is a web-based platform which offers customer engagement and online events via forums.

 Top features

  • Customisable online forum software

  • Peer-to-peer discussion

  • Third-party integrations

  • Gamification

#3. Hivebrite

Hivebrite is a community management platform that blends the features of social media with online forums.

Top features

  • Mobile apps for iOS and Android devices

  • Content management, analytics, and reporting

  • Integrated online payments

  • Event planning and management

  • CRM integration with included API

#4. Influitive

Influitive is an online community software for customers and employees that focus on gamification, rewards and social media.

Top features

  • Gamification features, including badges and points

  • Targeting based on specific criteria

  • Integrated rewards and fulfilment

  • Pre-built campaign templates and tactics

  • Integration with Salesforce CRM

#5. Loomio

Loomio is a  collaboration platform that makes remote work simpler.

Top Features

  • Web-based discussion boards

  • Ideation and crowdsourcing capabilities

  • Group management and member directories

  • Access controls and integration with OneLogin.

  • Integration with Slack and Microsoft Teams

#6. Salesforce Community Cloud

Salesforce is best known for its customer relationship management (CRM) software, but it also offers the Community Cloud platform.

 Top features

  • Native integration with CRM platforms

  • Customisable prebuilt community templates

  • Branded experiences and content management

  • Integrate customer data

  • Content curation

#7. Vanilla Forums

Vanilla Forums is a cloud-based customer community software.

 Top features

  • Prebuilt themes and layouts

  • Gamification with custom badges and user privileges tied to reputation

  • Peer-to-peer moderation with upvoting and downvoting

  • Community analytics and visualised insights

Factors to consider when selecting a customer community software provider

When selecting a customer community software for your community there are a few factors to consider in order to ensure you’re getting everything that you most need and want from your platform.

Know your people and your vision

You want to make sure your platform is easy to use and helps people fulfil their needs. The first source of inspiration for understanding this should come from your customers. The best way to do this is to survey your audience and get a better understanding of the features and functions they enjoy using the most and what other functionality they would like to see in the future.

When you put yourself in your customers' shoes, you’re more likely to create a community they’d like to be a part of.

Get a clear understanding of your capabilities

Some options are out of the box solutions. You simply brand it to your logos, fonts and colours and you can easily set up and roll out your community. Some options are only available on the web and not mobile, other options are open-source which means you’ll need to hire a developer to design it to how you want as well as paying for things like hosting and servers.

There are a variety of customer community software options available so it’s important to get an understanding of what route you want to go down. Do you have the time and money to invest in a custom-built solution? Does an out of the box solution check everything you need? Having this in mind from the outset will help you to narrow down which option will be best for you.

Make a wish list of your top features

When you’re looking for a customer community software to create your community, it can be easy to get seduced by platforms that have lots of bells and whistles. The truth is, your community may not even want or need these functionalities - more doesn’t necessarily mean better.

To avoid feature overload, it’s a good idea to not only review your results from your survey, but it’s also important to understand what behaviours you want your users to take or be engaged with.

For example, if you’re a fitness coach - having a Livestream feature and the ability to upload videos will be important so that your customers can train from home whereas if you’re a private members club, maybe having the functionality for events will be more important. Getting clear on this from the get-go will make it much easier to narrow down your search requirements.

Make sure it’s user-friendly

With so many people accustomed to using social media platforms already, you want to make sure that whatever platform you choose offers a similar experience and is user-friendly for your customers. If you can provide people with the functionality they’re already used to such as content feeds, direct messaging, likes, friending and an accompanying app - you’ll be much more likely to get their buy-in.

What is the cost of customer community software?

The price point for customer community software can vary widely depending on your specific needs. If you want open-source software you need to factor in things like the cost of a developer, hosting and servers for example. If you want software for a smaller community that is out-of-the-box then the cost will be much more reasonable. If you want an enterprise product for a large organisation you could be looking in the region of $100 per user, per month. The pricing will depend on the factors you’ve taken into account above.

Community platforms Vs help desk software, CMS, and collaboration tools

With so many different types of software available which all offer similar capabilities it can be confusing to figure out which option you need.

Community platforms have some overlap with help desk software such as Q&A for self-help or integration with existing help desk systems. Some community platforms may overlap with content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress or Squarespace for example where you can upload blog posts and then share content elsewhere.

Some platforms may also overlap with collaboration tools such as file sharing with a content library that people can easily access or having groups where people can engage and give feedback on ideas.

Customer community software can serve multiple purposes which is why it’s important to understand what you want your community to achieve before selecting a provider. Not only this but recognising just how diverse your community software can be, can help you to get a better idea of how far your money can stretch.

What is gamification?

You may have heard the term ‘gamification’ thrown around a lot, so we wanted to define it to help you get a better understanding of whether it’s something that will be of relevance to your community. Gamification is when points and rules can be used to increase engagement. For example, if someone keeps commenting or adding value to your community with questions you may wish to reward them for their participation. This can be an effective way to drive engagement from your community members and create a buzzing atmosphere that people look forward to being a part of.

What is community moderation?

One of the greatest things about having customer community software is the ability to easily moderate and control any potential abuse. Unlike social media that is full of trolls and which can be hard to maintain or can be risky for brand reputation - community software puts the power in your hands with advanced moderation. Your software should provide tools that allow you to easily restrict members, shadow ban them or easily edit comments. These are all features which make it much easier to manage moderation.

Final words

Choosing the right customer community software from the get-go will save you a huge amount of time when it comes to realising your vision for a thriving community and it’s a whole lot cheaper than trying to develop a bespoke solution from scratch.

Disciple customer community software helps people build independent, valuable and trusted communities in a safe space that they own and control.