Forrester kicks of 2009 with their review of the latest community platforms. The Forrester Wave™: Community Platforms, Q1 2009 is based on lab evaluations and interviews of nine community platform vendors. The top contenders are not really surprising, considering the market the review was based on.

Dividing Up the Community Vendors

According to Forrester Analyst Jeremiah Owyang (who is the primary author of the report), the report is not just a community technology review. It's focused on a particular segment of the community market. This is a good thing, because he notes that there are currently over 100 vendors of community solutions.

In his blog, Jeremiah points out that "it’s important that you realize this report is for interactive marketers at enterprise-class companies that are seeking to deploy customer communities – not for the internal intranet, collaboration, or insight community vendors."

The Value of a Community

Marketing via a community is fast becoming a very popular way to reach customers. With marketing budgets getting slashed due to the declining economy, marketers are looking to social media - particularly communities - to continue to build brand awareness.

According to an Awareness whitepaper Integrating Social Media, "At its heart, social media provides the opportunity for people to engage: with each other, with a brand or with a topic of interest. It’s that interest that drives success in social media marketing."

Owyang says that if used correctly, communities can impact a company's financials:

  • Communities encourage customers to self-support each other
  • Communities help spread information via word of mouth
  • Communities can crowd source innovation

Choosing the Right Community Platform

With such promise tied to the community market, it's important to realize that the technology that create the community is only part of the equation. Companies need to know how to utilize communities effectively, how to measure their effectiveness and how to change things based on those measurements.

In their review of white label communities, Forrester found companies seek the following three things were considered when selecting a community platform vendor:

  1. Full solution services: So not just the platform but the professional services knowledge of how to use this medium (including strategy, education and community management).
  2. Integration with other marketing systems: The community doesn't stand alone, how does it tie into other marketing systems like CRM, support and marketing dashboards
  3. Long-term viability: This is no time to spend money on a vendor is going to be able to ride out the recession. Even more than just surviving, the vendor needs to be able to continue to innovate and support the customer.

Strong Contenders for a Community Platform

Forrester narrowed down the field to nine community platform vendors based on a ton a research and interviews (see a larger list here). Despite what they call a relatively young market, some of the vendors who made the list have been around for a few years.