There are a lot of community platforms out there and it can get a bit confusing trying to distinguish one from the other. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the popular community platforms on the market today and what I believe makes them unique.

Hopefully this will serve as a good introduction and overview to some of the leading and popular community solutions on the market today.

1. Lithium

Lithium brands themselves as a social CRM platform (pretty much just like everyone else) but really they are a community management platform. My understanding is that while Lithium has the capabilities to offer internal community solutions their focus is specifically on external customer communities.

What makes them unique?

What really makes Lithium unique is an understanding and a focus on game dynamics and analytics. The founders of Lithium are gamers, hardcore gamers (as in they have won competitions), which means they understand what makes things addicting and what works and doesn’t when it comes time to incentivizing people to act a certain way.

Dr. Michael Wu leads the efforts around understanding influence, community, game dynamics and analytics and all of this is baked into the Lithium product which is something I believe no other vendor at this point in time can offer.

2. Jive

Jive Software has really been ramping up lately and after attending Jive World last week, I can say that the company is really building an amazing product. Unlike Lithium, Jive has a strong focus on BOTH internal and external communities with a bridge to bring the two together. The most complaints I have heard from people though is that the cost is very high. However the product is worth it to a lot of companies.

What makes them unique?

If I had to pick a single feature that makes Jive unique it would be their widget builder and marketplace which it is safe to say no other vendor in the space has (that I am aware of). Basically Jive will allow you to customize widgets and custom applications that enable you to display, collect and integrate information and systems together (for example a CRM system with a community platform). I'm sure there’s going to be a lot more said on this in the near future.

3. Get Satisfaction

These guys offer a lighter version of community management solutions then the above two. The cost is also MUCH less (huge emphasis on MUCH) and they even offer solutions to small and medium size businesses (but yes they do have enterprise clients as well). To my knowledge Get Satisfaction allows for both public and private communities.

What makes them unique?

They offer the perfect solution for organizations that are looking to get started with something simple and easy that doesn’t require a lot of time, effort and customization to set up and launch. Not everyone wants or needs a comprehensive analytics solution with game dynamics or a customized widget builder. For those companies, Get Satisfaction is one of the best solutions on the market. I don’t want to downplay their product.

4. Kick Apps

In all fairness I haven’t spent as much time as I would like getting even more familiar with the KickApps product and team. However, having said that Kick Apps does offer both an internal and an external community management solution. While KickApps does showcase quite an impressive list of enterprise customers they also do offer solutions for small and medium size businesses.

What makes them unique?

KickApps offers a series of apps, plugins and customizable functionality through their KickDeveloper solution. Kickapps also has solutions for specific areas of interest or verticals such as: social video publishing, solutions for customers, solutions for employees, media entertainment and sports. In short KickApps offers a very robust product with a lot of customizable parts and features and allows for social ecommerce which to my knowledge the other vendors do not offer.

5. Drupal Commons (by Acquia)

Acquia built an open source version of community software called Drupal Commons. I was briefed on the product quite recently and was quite impressed with what I saw. I believe Commons just started distribution recently so it should be available. The community solution can be used both internally and externally.

What makes them unique?

Unlike any of the other vendors on this list Drupal Commons is open source which means the code is free to download and use. However time and resources would need to be devoted to customization and maintenance of the product (something Acquia can do for you). The product is still new but as far as open source solutions go it’s probably the best I’ve seen. You can see Commons in action here.

But There are Many More

Hopefully this brief guide has provided you with an overview to some of the community solutions on the market today. There are plenty more out there that I have not covered here, but if you have experience using any of the above vendors I’d love to hear your experiences and any pros/cons on any of the vendors.