More than one client has been surprised to learn the $250k a year they pay for a community platform doesn’t cover the implementation (which typically costs from $50k to $500k).
A community platform is essentially an empty house with great potential. The foundations are in place but everything else costs extra.
The fee you pay for the platform dictates the size of the house, the number and type of rooms, and other basics, but it’s the implementation partners who act as the decorators, plumbers, and electricians etc….(note: some platforms offer implementation as a service too).
You should spend as much time deciding the implementation partner as you do on your platform. If you get this part wrong, it’s hard for the community to be a success.
Having done this many times with clients, there are a few things to work out.
Before you approach an implementation partner (7Summits, Grazitti, Paladin, Oktana, SocialEdge etc…), you need to figure out:
- Strategy. Going to a platform vendor or implementation partner without a strategy is like going to a car salesman and asking what car to buy. You’re likely to buy whatever they want to sell rather than what you need for your budget. Get your strategy in place first.
- Specificity. Some are better at helping you figure out what you need (e.g. 7Summits) whereas others are better at taking precise plans and making them happen (e.g. Grazitti). The latter is cheaper, but if you forget to put something in you need later (i.e @mentions) your community will suffer. It’s also not a good idea to go cheap if you’re not quite sure how every single detail and function work. If you haven’t done this before, going cheap is especially risky.
- Staffing. This is a major project which requires project management. If you don’t have someone who can spend up to 50% of their time managing the project, you’re going to need the implementation partner to provide project management. Good project management is critical. It’s what stops your community being delayed for weeks while you wait for your in-house developers to collaborate with external developers and respond to emails/tickets (among many other things).
- Level of integration. Will the community look the same as your support center? What are the SSO and authentication requirements? How many distinct audiences will there be? Will each distinct audience require a separate or integrated community? Do you have clear branding guidelines to work from?
- Do you have in-house skills to maintain the code once the project is complete? If you do, you need to be sure the code is well documented so you can improve and build upon it later. If you don’t, you’re going to need a budget each year for further developments.
- How will they work with your team? Are they friendly and open to feedback or do they get defensive and irritable? Do you and your team personally click with them? Are they in the right time zone to collaborate throughout the day with your team? Do they understand how to work with a business like yours and the stakeholders/level of collaboration it requires?
- Speed. Some are busier than others. If you have a tight schedule, you need to book your implementation partner’s time as early as possible. Few partners have so much slack they can take up a major project next week.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but be aware that working with an implementation partner is a skill and requires a huge amount of work with plenty of things to figure out first.
I can name dozens of projects which have gone off the rails because a community professional either selected the wrong partner or didn’t know how to work with their partner.