A challenge that we have seen both technology decision makers and business decision makers struggle with is the question on whether to opt for a self-hosted social networking platform or one that runs off a third party server / website and is offered as a service. Both of these options have pros and cons to weigh out and decisions are made, taking into account what’s important to meet their needs. I believe one of the most important questions to be asked while looking at communities is “who controls the data?”
Building a really great community, especially an external public facing community, is not an easy task. It requires time and effort to build it, grow it, and nurture it. Once you have this community online that you have invested in and put in so much to develop, the really tangible element of what you take from this is the community database. The community data is not just a business asset, but is also the result of all the efforts that go into the process. When you have a self-hosted community, it’s clear you have complete un-restricted access to all the data — since the database server is also within your reach. You can export, format, and re use that data as required, whether to send out email communications, direct mail invitations to an event, or communicate with the community members when required. If in the future you plan to migrate the community to a new platform or need the user data to extend membership to another online offering, it can be done.
What about when the community is built on a hosted solution or third party social networking site? There is no question that the community is still yours. Communities built on sites like LinkedIn and Ning also allow group administrators and community owners to communicate with their members and perhaps even send group messages across the entire community. But what needs to be asked is, “just how much control and ownership do you have over your community data?” If you don’t foresee the need to be able to migrate the user database or export and use any of the data for anything other than being able to send community-wide internal messages or emails, then a SaaS community platform or one built on a social networking website (like on LinkedIn) may be a good option. If you need un-restricted access and complete ownership over all the data, then perhaps the self-hosted option is the way to go.
All said and done, the database and the data contained within it is a very important consideration while moving ahead with an online community development plan and something to be considered carefully before deciding which the best way forward is.
Tim is a co-founder and president of Axero and the author of his forthcoming book, Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, CNBC, Today, and other top publications.
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