Today, both Jive and Salesforce announced updates to their customer community offerings. Although their updates do not include any groundbreaking innovations (where is McKayla Maroney when you need her?), I find it interesting that Jive and Salesforce have significantly dialed up their marketing efforts for their external-facing community solutions. Historically, both vendors have primarily focused on their internal enterprise community tools and seemed to be on a gradual trajectory to building out their external customer-facing community products. Today's announcements reflect my position that customer communities are becoming the tour de force of social marketing strategies. In fact, last year we published a Forrester Wave that evaluated the ecosystem of community platform vendors in which Lithium was the leader. In that report, I discuss how brands will increasingly seek out the best-of-breed social depth tools and/or enterprise community platforms that facilitate digital interactions with their prospects and customers — on their owned web properties. In response to this demand, Jive, Salesforce and other community platform vendors are dialing up their customer community features. 

So what do Jive's and Salesforce's announcements really mean to marketers? Here are the key takeaways and my perspective on why they are important:

  • Cross-lifecycle engagement. Both Jive and Salesforce emphasize that their community solutions help brands engage with customers across each stage of the lifecycle. Although both platforms are well suited for customer support communities, they also provide features that facilitate interactions during discovery and exploration. For example, Salesforce states that its solution is developed for SEO optimization and unauthenticated access, which allows nonmembers to discover the community via an Internet search and then explore the community content. In its press release, Jive emphasizes that its community platform will both "attract and retain customers." What this means: With these updated solutions, marketers will be able to develop content and community activities that will drive brand awareness, increase product exploration and influence a purchase decision — in addition to providing customer support.
  • Responsive design. Both Jive and Salesforce communities now have responsive design capabilities which improve the mobile experience. What this means: Responsive design allows digital marketers to create a seamless online community experience whether the customer is on the desktop, smartphone, or tablet. This will be critical as customers and users spend more and more time accessing communities on their mobile devices. 
  • Tighter connections with business processes. It is not a surprise that Salesforce 1 Community Cloud is tightly connected to Salesforce CRM (that's a no-brainer). The Jive X Summer Release provides out of the box "bi-directional" CRM integration through the JiveX CRM Connector. What this means: Integration with CRM and other marketing platforms is crucial to get the most return out of a community investment. It is also a primary reason that brands are building their own customer communities instead of building communities on social networks. This is because LinkedIn and Facebook keep a firm grip on user data which cannot be connected to the brand's internal systems. Integration with key marketing and CRM platforms should top priorities if marketers want to achieve a positive ROI. 
  • New partnerships. Jive's recent announcement of its extended reseller agreement with Cisco and bundled offerings pertain to its enterprise collaboration solution, and it is uncertain if this partnership will also impact its customer community offering. Salesforce's announcement of its partnership with Deloitte Digital has a direct impact on the implementation of its customer communities: It will now have a dedicated Deloitte Community Cloud practice. What this means: Complex solutions that require advanced customization will require close partnerships with integration and consulting practices. Marketers should take this into consideration before choosing a platform vendor.
  • Active customer communities. Salesforce states in today's press release that it has more than 2,000 active communities built on the Community Cloud. Jive has not published total customer communities but has communicated that it is seeing "significant growth" in customer-facing communities. What this means: Customer demand for online communities continues to grow, and interesting community use cases are popping up every day. If marketers have the right audience and a savvy community strategy, customer communities can drive significant business outcomes.
  • Analytics. Jive added sentiment and influencer reports to its analytics capabilities, providing marketers with a way to track and engage with community influencers. Salesforce did not mention any analytics updates in its press release — a notable omission, considering how important analytics capabilities are to marketers. What this means: Marketers who use the Jive platform (or this other competitor's influencer offering) will now be able to identify and engage with community members who are influential — this is a key objective for many brands that want to drive organic word of mouth. 

Do today's announcements mean that you should jump on the bandwagon and create customer communities for every product, idea and engagement objective? No! Communities require the right audience, a structured approach, and carefully thought-out design elements to ensure success.  

Are you running your community on Jive or Salesforce? If so, please share your experience with these platforms.