Online Community Software – Introduction
Online Community Software is used by businesses to facilitate online engagement and social interactions with customers. Analogous to customer service tools and feedback forums, these solutions collect feedback through a company’s website on products, services and ideas, and publish it in a public forum or community. Within this community, other members are able to vote on the idea, and provide suggestions.
Additionally, such solutions offer features such as customer support ticketing and knowledge bases, which make it easy for moderators, managers and customer support teams to respond to issues or questions within the forum.
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The most popular Online Community Software solutions – the top 10
1. Zimbra provides a full suite of social tools, such as blogs and microblogs, forums and wikis, media and video embedding, content editing, web pages, and tagging,
The Collaboration tool offers a range of messaging and collaboration tools, including the ability to set up a personal cloud that integrates with a user’s email. The personal cloud also has voice, task, calendar, address book and file sharing capability. Documents and files can be shared on the Zimbra platform, which integrates with external applications such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as Oracle and SAP.
2. Magentrix is a cloud-based collaboration solution that caters to businesses in technology, telecommunications, healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, non-profit and other industries.
The solution enables partners, customers and employees to engage with data, content and conversations critical to their business.
The client module of Magentrix enables clients to resolve issues on their own via step-by-step instructions, FAQ pages and knowledge bases. Customers can also update their own account information and tailor their portal to reflect their own, personalised brand. Under the Partner hub, deal and lead registration are automated, and set-up from the beginning, helping avoid email chains. Resources and collateral are also shared within a secure portal, while training materials and program onboarding can be completed on multiple web browsers.
3. eXo Platform is a cloud-based open source project management and social collaboration solution that caters to medium and large organisations, helping them make decisions and manage operations which relate to projects. It supports project collaboration and management of documents and tasks.
The software includes an enterprise “wiki” application which allows users to build and share a knowledge database within an organisation, and supports and fosters enhanced knowledge sharing within a team.
eXO Platforms provide a customisable database to display information, whilst activity streams and notifications help team members keep track of project activities.
The software offers a perpetual licence for a one- time fee that includes support via email, phone and online tutorials.
4. Zoho Discussions is a software solution that helps users to set-up their own customer support communities and private communities where problems are solved, topics are discussed and ideas are exchanged. Zoho Discussions brings the management of feedback, ideas, questions and problems under a single portal.
The solution helps a community to carry out healthy discussions, and make decisions as a result. Members of a community can share ideas, report problems and ask questions. Features include moderation, widgets, reports and statistics, data export, user profiles, customisation options and multi-language support.
5. Vanilla Forums offers a hosted community platform which lets users build an engaged community around their brand, products or publications. Vanilla’s gamification and moderation features work seamlessly to increase participation and discourage abusive behaviour.
The solution also allows users to create a fully customised community forum with its own look and feel, which integrates into their existing website using widgets, plug-ins and APIs. It offers custom roles and permissions, whilst dozens of add-ons and plug-ins are available.
6. Zoho Connect is a cloud-based project collaboration tool designed for businesses of all sizes across various industries. It allows users to build an enterprise social network so that teams can collaborate and connect on projects.
Zoho Connect features a live stream of recent activity so that users can view project progress at a glance. Users receive all project communication in their email inboxes.
A key feature of the software is the customised app builder, which allows users to design their applications based on their specific needs. Zoho Connect’s drag-and-drop application builder allows users to build their applications as per the module requirement.
The solution offers users a mobile application for Android and iOS devices for remote usage.
7. IBM Connections is cloud-based software that integrates email, on-line meetings, instant messaging, file sharing, collaborative document editing and more in one unified solution. Via a personalised dashboard, colleagues, business partners and customers can access these capabilities to manage work, communicate and prioritise information, and actions. IBM Connections supports mobile devices and comes in 3 packages tailored to customer needs and budget.
8. Forumbee is a cloud-based community and discussion forum-creation platform that supports social sharing, mobile moderation and a knowledge base. It features branding and design, discussion forums, Q&A forums, feedback forums and private communities.
Forumbee allows users to customise the forum with built-in themes or their own branding, colours and logos. With Q&A forums, members can post questions and help others by answering and sharing their knowledge. The searchable knowledge base enables members to access the help and how-to articles. Users can create private communities within the website to ensure confidentiality.
The application offers a range of moderation tools, including user-rights control over the content, and the ability to suspend, ban and manage those who break community policies. It has an activity wall, which shows real-time activity across the community. Members can share images, photos, videos, ask questions, start discussions and leave comments.
Forumbee offers mobile forums which are optimised for mobile devices, with built-in support for Android, iOS, and mobile web browsers.
9. Hivebrite is an online community management platform for alumni communities of schools, businesses, non-profit organisations and incubators, including smaller institutions with limited resources, as well as global institutions with complex needs. The platform helps clients build brand engagement and networking opportunities for members of all countries and languages.
Hivebrite provides a suite of tools that help manage and engage members, as well as give users full control over their community and brand. Organisations can customise the look of the platform, set user rights and roles for specific permissions, assign multiple admins, and configure visibility settings for specific fields. Institutions can organise users by group, location or industry, and run targeted emailing campaigns to members. Users can import large lists of contacts and their profile attributes to the system, as well as keep track of all profile updates.
Organisations can define how members can access the network by creating a personalised sign-up form, or choosing to reserve access to paid members only. Users can set-up approval rules for invitations to join, as well as allow social sign-in for members with profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook or Xing. Hivebrite helps manage content with an integrated CMS (content management system) for creating public pages, menus, members’ areas, and more. Users can post and exchange messages via the platform, and add pictures, video and html using the media centre.
The solution’s job board feature lets members share job opportunities, as well as showcase their availability for a new position. Notifications will alert members of any new offers that match their current search. Members can also find other members within the community based on their location, industry, or title, as well as create, join and map events. Users can sync their upcoming events with Google, Yahoo, or Apple calendars, and even purchase tickets online via the Hivebrite platform.
10. PlushForums is an integrated solution which offers a blog, private messaging, a member directory, custom profiles and an extensive set of forum features.
No technical knowledge is required to install it, and no plug-ins are required. Real time discussions keep users engaged and the conversation flowing. Live notifications mean users will not miss a chance to get involved, with an intuitive feedback system to promote positive participation.
Every page is carefully designed to connect users with the information they need, and the site is easy to both navigate or brand and customise. The solution loads quickly on smartphones and tablets, and tweets, videos, images, polls, hashtags and rich text can easily be added. In addition, the editor always saves every word, so the user never loses a thread.
Choosing the best Online Community Software platform
Picking the right platform is a decision that deserves careful consideration and research. Some factors to consider are:
- Make sure that you understand the features and support options of the main platforms;
- Survey your target audience and identify which features they are likely to use in an online community experience;
- Consider your vision for an online community support platform and identify solutions that best match it;
- Be mindful of which features will actually get used; and
- Ask software vendors about the frequency of updates.
Types of Online Community Software
There are five main types of Online Community Software.
Hybrid online communities can be used to improve lead generation, customer retention and sales.
Private online communities are used for customer retention and to boost sales.
Public blogs are used to grow reach and awareness.
Public owned online communities are used to reduce support expenses and generate leads.
Public social networks are used to build relationships and boost awareness.
The best Online Community Software platforms are, in essence, customer portals where people can discuss a company’s products and services, rate and review them, share them, and participate in events. They reinforce the sense of community, reinforce customer loyalty, and engender trust.