Welcome to the Best Value series, a Business-Software.com exclusive about the software solutions that give you the most bang for your buck. We created this series in an effort to address one of the most common questions we receive from our Business-Software.com community members, “what software is the best value?” Browse the entire series in the Best Value series section of our blog.
2014 is all about the customer. What she prefers, how she spends her time, if she makes purchases from a mobile device—you get the point. While companies have always tried to better understand their customers, a growing arsenal of customer engagement tools now makes deeper insight a reality. Today’s top-rated community forum platforms offer numerous features that help you focus on what matters most—your customers—and we’re here to make sure you find a comprehensive platform that doesn’t break the bank.
In our last best-value post, we listened to the Business-Software.com community and deemed EmpXTrack the best-value HR solution. This week, we’re uncovering the best-value community forum platforms. Top community forum platforms can help your company better understand and please your customer base, making them an increasingly important platform for engaging with customers.
Community forum software enables companies to create and moderate communities, and can net numerous benefits for both organizations and their customers. Online community forums empower customers to find the information they need 24/7. These forums also provide a place for customers to brainstorm, discuss, troubleshoot or comment on a company’s actions or products. For companies, these community forums reduce customer service burdens, offer valuable customer feedback and provide a controlled environment for companies to respond to and interact with customers.
Traditional community forums are customer-facing, meaning that they are designed for use by customers. Yet many of today’s forum platforms have dual functionality, meaning that they can be used to create either external customer communities or internal employee communities.
With this dual functionality, some community and forum platforms end up functioning more like enterprise social networks than traditional customer forums. This new trend is promising for companies looking to create an internal community or forum centered around topics and functions that benefit employees. For instance, a company could use an employee forum as a place where employees could provide written feedback on the company’s direction and decisions. In this example, the company executive might benefit from better understanding how employees are reacting to company change.
Keeping in mind functionality and affordability, we reviewed 15 of the top community forum platforms on the market. After analyzing the results, we uncovered the following three best-value finalists, each with comprehensive features and an economical price.
Invision Power – Invision Power’s IPS Community Suite is offered as both an on-premise and SaaS solution and has numerous moderator tools to make any administrator’s job a breeze.
Simple Machines – With word censoring, SEO tools and analytics reporting, this SaaS community forum is perfect for managing members. Oh, and did we mention that it’s 100 percent free?
Vanilla Forums – Vanilla Forums offers a highly customizable cloud-based platform that’s perfect for companies large and small. Plus, it integrates with a number of solutions that you’re probably already using, like MailChimp, WordPress and Akismet.
To provide as close of a true comparison as possible, we calculated pricing based on a small community, around 50 members or so. For more detailed pricing information, feel free to check out each company’s website.
We’ve tallied our reader’s responses and the results are in! The best-value community forum is… a tie! Our community felt like both Invision Power and Vanilla Forums were worthy of the best-value honor. To uncover the true best-value solution, the editors at Business-Software.com had to step in to pick which platform provided users with the most functionality for the smallest price. We’ve chosen Vanilla as the best-value community forum platform!
For a starting price of $599 per year (that’s about $50/month), Vanilla provides users with tons of features, including customizable themes, robust search tools and improved applicant spam filtering. Community moderators will enjoy the benefits of inline moderation tools, quick views of bad content and member-driven moderation queues. To see how your company’s community has grown over the years, analytics tools give you a quick look at all standard growth metrics tracked on a weekly basis.
Vanilla also provides a number of tools to keep community members happy and engaged, including one-click social sharing, single sign-on, mobile support and gamification badges. The cloud-based solution provides an intuitive, bright interface and can be used for both internal and external communities. Other impressive features include notifications, a Q&A forum, user profiles and a “Best of” page that helps users find the top content.
Are you ready to take the next step toward finding the best community forum platform for your company? Download our Top 10 Forum & Community Platforms report to browse and compare the leading community and forum solutions or visit our community forum research page for more news and articles on the best forum software.