One of the questions that companies and associations come to us with often is, “How do I Select the Best Online Community Platform for My Organization?” Most marketing, membership, and customer care professionals understand customer engagement and social media. However, keeping up with the diverse array of online community software offerings, wading through hyperbole, and deciding which platform, cost structure, and support offerings are the best fit for a specific organization can be daunting and overwhelm, even for experienced social media consultants.

The last thing you want to do is realize half way through the implementation, or a year after the launch of your private social network, that you selected the wrong private online community platform and need to upgrade or live with the limitations of the system your chose.

Selecting a Private Social Network for Customers or Members

Enter bracketology – the methodical study of data to decide who is the best! Just as the madness of March college basketball is whittled down to a champion in April, you can apply a similar framework to selecting the right online community system for your specific organization. The following roadmap was created to help customer management executives and association leaders in selecting an online community or private social networking platform for their organization:


In this selection round, gather a list of all of the companies that provide private online community software to your type of organization by using search engines, browsing industry trade show directories, and talking with peers. Once you have the list, you can do research on their website or have quick conversation with company representatives to gather the following information.

Basic Functionality

Make sure that each platform can handle the functionality at the root of your customer or member engagement strategy (the reason you started your selection process). Also, ask private social community providers that fit the bill to provide a full feature list for use in later rounds.

Back-End Integration

Can each company integrate with your back-end CRM or membership database? Find out the extent of the API hooks. Some software can integrate with other systems, but does not allow you to pull all of the customer or membership data you need into your online community.  Also, find out if the system has a built-in membership database that could someday eliminate the cost of supporting a separate back end system.

Company and Core Focus

Learn about the company’s reputation and what percentages of the company’s resources go into developing and supporting the online community product line. Make sure the company’s core focus aligns with your customer engagement goals. Some companies offer basic private social networks, others focus on designing your website or Microsoft SharePoint development, then provide online communities as a supplemental add-on, while others provide full online member engagement platforms. One may not be better than the other. It depends on your organization’s goals. Getting these answers upfront will save a lot of pain later.

Do you have your opening round software list? Now on to the Sweet 16! Subscribe to the Online Community Blog to make sure you don’t miss the second part in this three part series.