Packaged Community Management vs. DIY Approaches

I am often thinking about how SugarCRM does a much better job at “CRM 2.0” in its operations versus how much it offers in its product. The fact is, Sugar is a brand that was built thanks to online communities, and all that word of mouth brings, in addition to the traditional marketing channels and simply having a great product.

The forums, blogs, wikis, etc. that are dedicated to SugarCRM and its extensions, form a tightly knit network. SugarCRM has added more and more social media management tools in the form of Sugar Connectors and other features like the Wiki-based Knowledgebase. But the “secret sauce” of community building is not available in a distribution of SugarCRM.

And it makes me wonder…can you really package up “community tools” and sell it?

Some companies will answer with a resounding “Yes!” I met up with a friend of mine who is working at Lithium on Friday, and we had a lengthy discussion on the concept. (Lithium, if you don’t know them – basically offer packaged social media and online community building and management tools.) My friend was telling me how Lithium has a lot of business right now – as a lot of traditional B2C companies see the value of community, as proven by open source start ups and those effectively leveraging online media.

And I guess it makes sense for large companies to want to have a single, overarching strategy around their online communities and networks. And, it makes sense to have tools that enable firms to monitor and manage their “reputation” in the blogosphere and beyond (as Lithium’s Reputation Engine is designed to do).In essence, these well managed community tools become an ersatz B2C CRM system. But of course, integration with a “CRM 1.0” system is ideal.

But for smaller firms, there are a lot of free tools that allow companies to do much the same thing that Lithium can do for large organizations. Anyone can start a blog or a company-centric Wiki, or create free public networks and forums using Ning or other free community aggregator tools. Of course, in the tech world, the first step is to get the product out there on some sort of open source repository.

I guess it comes down to where your organization is right now. With a global, established brand in place, sure, it makes sense to want the best possible integrated method of managing all the activity around the brand. For startups – a more “do it yourself” approach can suffice…The important thing is understanding the value of all that is going on “out there” about your brand, products and services…

2 thoughts on “Packaged Community Management vs. DIY Approaches

  1. Hey, Martin. Interesting perspective. While companies like Ning offer a nice contained package, they provide minimal assistance with the key success factors that allow companies to outline goals and achieve real business benefits, combined with the necessaruy moderation, community management and best practices for developing a vibrant community. So, a little advice for people getting into community – consider first what your major objectives are (i.e. marketing, idea sharing, customer service, customer advocacy, etc.) and then consider what method or software solution will be most capable of meeting your needs.

  2. Dan,

    Responding to your post above…I agree with your points, well made. And just as SugarCRM’s Community Edition targets those with the wherewithal to manage a CRM system on their own – Ning and other online community tools offer the same promise. And I agree that there is an important needs discovery step that must be taken before any firm jumps into community building or management – and I imagine there is a huge untapped market for B2C and larger B2B organizations seeking packaged, well-managed community packages…

    -MS

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