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PHOTO: Victoriano Izquierdo

In 2017, the community software landscape transformed overnight. At Jive’s annual user conference, then-CEO Elisa Steele announced its acquisition by private equity firm Aurea. Since that fateful day, the market has continued to shift bit by bit. Two years later, the landscape is dominated by a few big names and a slew of smaller, niche players. Many of the same brand names exist, but many of them have changed direction. Simultaneously, a new crop of platforms has entered the market, vying for the attention of enterprise organizations while they carve out their own unique market value.

If you’re making a buying decision about community platforms in the next year, you must understand this landscape and where the market is going. If you plan to invest in a third-party platform rather than build your own, the trajectory of the market will impact your own community’s strategic direction.

Here’s what you need to know about the landscape of community platforms in the coming year.

Enterprise Community Platform Options Continue to Consolidate

You’re left with just a few options if you are a large business without an in-house team to support from-scratch development:

  • Khoros (Spredfast + Lithium combined)
  • Salesforce Community Cloud
  • Higher Logic
  • Vanilla

Telligent is another option, though it requires extensive developer support.

Jive was once a major contender in enterprise-level external community platform considerations. With the company’s acquisition and effective dissolution, many of its customers have migrated to these other platforms over the last two years. Jive’s external community functionality is now part of Khoros as a result of Lithium's acquisition of said functionality in late 2017.

In some ways, this makes your search easier: there are fewer options to distract you. In other ways, it makes it more difficult. With less competition and increasing demand for community software by large organizations, the platform providers for enterprise clients are slower to evolve and, oftentimes, you need to bring your own team of developers and designers along with you even for platforms that might be billed as ready “out of the box.” Such an investment in outside resources can be in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

Of course, if you have the money and resources to spare, you have the above options as well as the open source options at your fingertips. Open-source community platforms are continuing to grow and evolve, though virtually no new players have come on to the scene since 2017. Discourse and DNN, two of the top contenders in this category, continue to attract organizations that have development and design resources to back their efforts.

Related Article: Just Because You Call it 'Community' Doesn't Make it One

Integrating Community Into Social and Influencer Outreach

Most of the large platforms like Khoros and Sprinklr (which acquired GetSatisfaction in 2015) are not necessarily shifting away from community. However, they are augmenting their community offerings to include integrations with influencer outreach and social media management. This may help your team if you are a marketer. It may confuse your team if you are trying to build something other than a mirage community. This means more broadcast-type marketing efforts will be billed as true communities, and those who choose to use these platforms must work to distinguish the purpose of their efforts and align it strongly with member needs.

Related Article: So You Want to Be an Online Community Manager?

Small Players Continue to Niche Down

There are now more than 40 offerings of niche community platforms, including Honeycommb, CMNTY (set to relaunch with all new functionality in September 2019), Mighty Networks and Mobilize.io. There are also newer platforms like Disciple, Tribe.so, and Bevy. Each has its own specialized functionality, like Telegram integration (Tribe.so) or Meetup and Facebook Events integration (Bevy). [Disclaimer: I hold a small financial stake in Bevy through its acquisition of CMX.]

If you plan to invest in these platforms, there is a need for an early and robust discussion of purpose and capabilities across IT, the community team, corporate leadership, and any other departments that will be utilizing the community.

Don’t make the selection in a silo in any one department. These niche platforms typically offer open APIs, but you need to know what systems need to connect and what potential privacy or operational concerns this might open up for you. If you don’t consider multiple use cases for community and the technical and security implications of these uses, you may find yourself limited in your ability to scale the platform across the organization. A discussion about the risks of not having integration across your various systems and departments, and possible workarounds to the siloing of information, is necessary.

Related Article: Apple Doesn't Hide Its Customer Community, So Why Do You?

Community Platform Choices

Community platform options for enterprises are becoming more limited, bit by bit. If you’re willing to go with a smaller player, however, options abound and are growing each year. Know if you go this route though, you risk the acquisition or merger of any of these platforms, which many large enterprises cannot bear.

If you want to invest in platforms, be ready to also invest in IT, outside vendors, strategy and leadership who can guide not only your internal team but also form a partnership with the platform company and any development or design resources you hire. It’s more important now than ever to do your due diligence.