The JBoye conference in Philadelphia is in full swing. One of the sessions on day one was around CMS vendors and their communities -- presented from the perspectives of open source and proprietary Web CMS vendors, as well as system integrators.

The Umbraco Way

Niels Hartvig of open source Umbraco, who was recently featured in our Top 5 Most Successful CMS C-Level Execs Under 35, started off with a definition of community. “It’s a hell of a lot of things… ecosystems with different people involved, such as SIs, customers, evangelists, vendors…” Activities within those communities range from blogging and forum posts to Facebook.

At Umbraco, their community has online presence a la portal, where users can ask questions, or upload new functionalities. There’s also some Twitter and YouTube action going on.

But community lives not only in the browser, but offline as well. Hartvig gave examples of Umbraco’s user groups gathering worldwide to celebrate the company’s 5th birthday.

Conclusion: Community is more important than the CMS, but it’s a bit of a chicken-egg debate, as there would be no community without the CMS. The important distinction here is not who comes the first, but who delivers the most value.

If you have an open, non-moderated community -- it helps balancing the control, talk about frustrations in the open forum, which decentralizes the power taking away just the interest of one vendor, yet providing a combination of inputs of everyone involved in the product.

One of the problems, however, is that a lot of these communities are extremely developer-oriented and resemble developer echo chambers of sorts.

Hartvig proposed that a challenge we need to solve for jboye 11 is to figure out how to involve practitioners and end users, as there’s so much potential in talking to them and getting the ROI - return on involvement.

The Ektron Point of View

Tom Wentworth of Ektron presented a proprietary vendor perspective. At some point, Ektron realized they needed to do a better job at meeting with users and asking them how to improve the product.
There are two sides in the “Who is more important to the success of a Web CMS project” equation – the sponsor aka the well-dressed marketing guy and the developer. The key to success, in Ektron’s point of view, is a happy developer.

Wentworth, having landed at Ektron en route from Interwoven, did note that one of the reasons why IWOV won many deals over Vignette was the simple fact that there wasn’t a single Vignette user community.

Ektron Developer Center was launched in 2006. Interestingly, 90% of its activity comes from 10 % of the users. The famous eGandalf contributor authored 2,200 posts and was mentioned in another 22,500. He now works for Ektron.

Wentworth’s advice was to find your won eGandalfs and energize them, as this is a step to a successful CMS community.

Ektron also engages with users via Twitter, where over 95% of tweets get resolved as support tickets. Is Ektron shooting itself in the foot though? Who would want to pay for support, when there’s a free source of info? And they realize that some customers may think that they could get better and faster results when they go to Twitter.

On the other hand, there’s a chance to use the community as a sales tool to where you can direct prospects to. As long as there’s transparency, success will follow.

Community from the Point of View of System Integrators

Nathan Bittinger of Siteworx was the one who talked about how SIs view CMS vendor communities. Being the middle-man between customers and vendors, SIs see several main advantages of communities, including:

  • Documentation
  • Integrated solutions
  • External “brain trust”
  • Partner access
  • Recruiting
  • Training

One of the challenges, however, is feedback cycles. Vendors have to be open to it, when the community tells them there’s something is wrong. And yes, that can include some feedback about your products that you may not want to hear about.

Among other challenges Bittinger mentioned solutions ownership and licensing, security and quality. Speaking of quality, he referred to Drupal, which has about 5,000+ modules, but about 4,000 of them are not of the quality you’d want to use.

LinkedIn, interestingly, was mentioned as one of the ways to reach the community. One of the differences there, though, is that you get a chance to interact with otherwise hard to reach business users and not only the coding types.

How do you use your CMS vendor communities? Do you feel encouraged to participate?