Community Is Long-Term: Technical Considerations for Evaluating your Community Stack

  • Viraj Mody

    September 2nd, 2021

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You understand that delivering great products and experiences means your company has to be community-driven. To elevate the voice of your community, you have to invest in the products that bring your internal teams closer to your community members. A critical early step in that process is choosing the right community intelligence stack. This is because your community is made up of your biggest customer champions, influencers, educators, advocates, and users, along with all the conversations they’re having and content they’re sharing both online and offline. That data is as critical as the data housed in your Salesforce instance or customer data warehouse. The right stack will connect and map your community data and customer data together for you. This enables you to take content from your community tools and convert it into intelligent, actionable insights to both nurture your community and help your business thrive, all while being able to measure and report on its impact.

It can be daunting to pick a community intelligence stack because it will be time consuming and costly to migrate away from it in the future should you need to. To set your community up for long-term success, you want to pick the right stack from the start. Outside of baseline evaluations about the value that community intelligence software provides to your team and how user friendly it is for cross-organizational collaboration, this means evaluating your vendor options across their ability to achieve the following 3 objectives: 1/ deliver deep member insights, 2/ securely store community and customer data, and 3/ optimize for performance and scalability.

Deliver Deep Member Insights

Provider integrations are the heart of the stack because it enables you and your teams to understand what is being said and by whom in your community. Native support for a wide array of integrations means you can get a single, unified view of community activity that has historically been siloed. This allows you to identify members with the most impact, view trending topics and sentiment, and map community activity against your success metrics (e.g., product usage, revenue data, etc.). Community sources such as Slack, Salesforce, Discourse, and Bevy, etc. are feature-rich and each provide their own set of unique interaction data and insights. An integration that helps securely pull in this information with minimal setup overhead and maintenance cost is ideal—especially one that avoids the need for any custom code or is developed by unknown sources.

You should choose the vendor who integrates with and provides insights from all of your sources, and one that is committed to maintaining support for those sources. This allows you to focus on nurturing your community instead of wasting time performing technical setup and maintenance.

To ensure you choose the vendor that will enable you to do the most with your community through integrations support, now and in the future, evaluate the following:

  • They integrate with all the sources you want, now and in the future. Check for this by evaluating their integration roadmap for depth and breadth. (If their roadmap isn't public, ask them. The right vendor will understand that this is a key piece of information for customers to make this important choice, and they should be transparent with you.)
  • The integrations they offer:
    • Pull in historical and ongoing data about both the members in your community and the content they’re creating, with minimal delay. This includes platform-specific details (e.g., threaded content from a conversational platform like Slack, event registration details from Bevy, pull requests / issues / comments / stars from GitHub, etc.)
    • Allow you to connect them in a self-service manner or require minimal engineering resources to set up and maintain.
    • Are directly developed, maintained, and monitored by the vendor.
    • Continue to evolve to support new capabilities of underlying platforms.
    • Comply with the terms of service of the underlying software they connect to.

Securely Store Community and Customer Data

Communities are built on trust. When you evaluate a vendor, you need to consider the core security, compliance, and privacy practices that they follow—these are non-negotiable to earn and maintain your community's trust. Selecting a vendor that is experienced with handling these complex-but-important requirements for you helps you focus on what matters most—building relationships with your community.

At a minimum, your community intelligence stack should have SOC 2 and GDPR compliance. SOC 2 compliance provides assurances that the security practices and policies of the vendor have been independently audited. GDPR compliance enables your business to comply with the need to anonymize content or pass along Right-To-Be-Forgotten requests that you receive from your community members.

To confirm the vendor has the right security, compliance, and privacy expertise, look for:

  • An independently audited SOC 2 compliance report.
  • GDPR compliance, including APIs (application programming interfaces) that handle user requests to be forgotten, or the ability to automatically handle these via integrations with your software stack.
  • A DPA (Data Processing Addendum) and privacy policy that explains how data is handled from a privacy perspective.
  • Ongoing security practices such as penetration testing and automated infrastructure scanning.
  • Completed privacy and security risk assessment forms such as a CAIQ questionnaire.
  • Advertised uptime and SLAs (service-level agreement) of the service.
  • Their availability to directly engage with your security and compliance teams (as needed).

Optimize for Performance and Scalability

One of the incredible aspects of a thriving community is how it can exponentially grow—hundreds of members can quickly turn into thousands and hundreds of thousands of members. On top of that, when you aggregate all the engagement and conversations happening online and offline by your members, the volume and scale of data that you generate and that requires storage and analysis grows exponentially. That in turn makes significant demands on your resources to convert that data into insights. This type of growth is exactly what you want when it comes to community—and it shouldn’t mean compromising on the value that your community intelligence stack provides to you. Your software must perform at any scale, along with your business and community needs.

To evaluate your vendor’s ability to deliver an excellent product and experience at any scale, ask them:

  • Questions that enable you to understand how they deliver user experiences at scale. For example, questions like, "What is the speed of search for communities over 10K members?" and "What are page load times and how do they change based on the size of the community?"
  • Do the insights and metrics that you provide continue to perform as data in the system increases exponentially?
  • Are there advertised limits to how much data is supported? (For example, members, content, history, etc.). Ideally there are none, and the software is developed to scale as your community scales without limiting the capabilities it provides.
  • What technical restrictions exist today? (For example, how quickly or frequently data is refreshed, the number of provider integrations or concurrent logged in users, etc.).

A Checklist for Choosing the Right Community Intelligence Platform

When selecting a community intelligence platform, here’s a short list of what you should ask your vendor to evaluate their product and ensure the long-term success of your community:

Deliver Deep Member Insights

✅ Do they integrate with all the sources you want?
✅ What is the depth of information you can get from each source (e.g., historical, ongoing, platform-specific, etc.)?
✅ Can the integrations be set up in a self-service manner (or with minimal engineering resources)?
✅ Are the integrations developed, maintained, and monitored by the vendor to ensure quality?
✅ Will the integrations evolve to support new capabilities of underlying platforms?

Securely Store Community and Customer Data

✅ Are they SOC 2 and GDPR compliant?
✅ Do they have a DPA and privacy policy?
✅ Do they have completed security and privacy risk assessment forms?
✅ Do they conduct ongoing security practices (e.g., penetration tests)?
✅ What are their advertised uptime and service SLAs?

Optimize for Performance and Scalability

✅ How do they deliver user experiences at scale (e.g. speed of search and page load times)?
✅ Will insights and metrics provided continue to perform as expected as data increases exponentially?
✅ Are there any data limits?
✅ What technical restrictions exist today (e.g. number of provider integrations)?


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