The emergence of community platforms has been one of the most exciting technology marketplaces to watch over the past few years. These tools have \n\nrevolutionized digital marketing by allowing companies to develop online communities that they can use to facilitate conversations about products, \n\nstimulate innovation initiatives, and generate new levels of customer intimacy. Given the significant competitive advantages that can result from such a \n\nhighly visible technology, it's important that sourcing professionals play a role in their procurement. However, as the market for community platforms grows, so do the challenges associated with managing a variety of suppliers and stakeholder \n\nobjectives. Many sourcing teams find themselves struggling to consolidate several internal community platforms and indentify the vendor that most closely \n\naligns with long-term organizational objectives. To provide some clarity and best practices around sourcing community platforms, Forrester spoke with seven leading community platform vendors \n\nabout the evolution of their organizations and their history of working with sourcing teams. Our conversations highlighted seven key points for sourcing to \n\nconsider when evaluating these technologies:\n\n1. Pay close attention to business model differences\nThe diversity of business models in this market makes it important for sourcing pros to be savvy to their own business and supplier strengths. For \n\nexample, a company like Pluck has expertise with high-end publishing and advertising companies, but wants its clients to have some internal \n\ndevelopment competencies. Contrast that model to Kickapps, which operates more as an on-demand option for web publishers, or LiveWorld, which \n\ndifferentiates based on its premier services. The best company for one organization may not be the best fit for yours, so make sure to select vendors that \n\nare closely aligned with the organization's unique business goals. \n\n2. Consider how the platform will scale to multiple users and integrate\nMany community platform providers are shifting their focus to provide capabilities outside of the marketing organization. This is a positive change for \n\nsourcing teams, who are now able to consolidate their collaboration, idea management, and innovation technologies with one vendor. It also means that \n\nyou need to be keenly aware of factors that could limit scalability. Ask yourself: Does the supplier have familiarity working with non-marketing users? \n\nDoes the platform integrate with other collaboration tools? \n\n3. Look for a pricing model that fits your objectives\nThe most common complaint we heard from providers was that sourcing professionals too often compare them to Facebook \u2014 a "free" service \n\nthat lacks sophisticated business focus, customization, and support capabilities. While it's true that there are a variety of options for developing \n\ncommunities on the cheap, sourcing professionals need to carefully align the right pricing model with their business objective. Try to look for pricing \n\nmodels that are simple, transparent, value-based and future proof \u2014 they will scale easily with greater usage and make the sourcing process less \n\nrisky. \n\n4. Avoid the "checklist" trap in favor of prioritized features\nThe good news; new functionalities such as business analytics, workflow management, listening platforms, and Twitter or Facebook integration are \n\npushing the marketplace forward. The not-so-good news? These capabilities make it easier for sourcing teams to get lost in the diversity of offerings. \n\nAvoid the trap of creating long "checklists" of capabilities and assuming that the vendor with the most check boxes should win. Instead, prioritize features \n\ninto "must have," "nice to have," and "not important." Community platforms are not just about branded communities anymore, so building a list of \n\npriorities must factor in your expected use of typical community features as well as non-community features (e.g., listening tools, content management, \n\nsocial CRM, and response management).\n\n5. Be prepared to consider new risks associated with new capabilities\nThanks to their highly visible nature, community platforms generate some risk considerations that may be difficult for sourcing professionals to manage. \n\nFor example, while these companies typically don't take responsibility for the content generation within the communities, the SaaS models they use may \n\ngive rise to new data ownership and security concerns. Sourcing teams should clearly understand which risk considerations are worthy of a little "give \n\nand take" in order to gain new benefits. \n\n6. Look beyond ROI to overall business value\nConducting an ROI assessment for social collaboration tools can be a frustrating and complex process. Instead of trying to project a clear ROI, focus \n\non the high-level reasons for developing communities and zero in on the metrics which will signal the tools are a success. Look to companies like \n\nTelligent that are creating much stronger business intelligence metrics by allowing users to measure factors like user engagement, support metrics, and \n\nsentiment. \n\n7. Contractually protect yourself from the impact of market changes\nCompeting business models, coupled with strong growth and heavy backing from financial organizations, signals that there will likely be some supplier \n\nfailure and consolidation in coming years. Already, we have seen Jive's acquisition of Filtrbox and Lithium's acquisition of Keibi. While these acquisitions \n\nwere designed to bring new capabilities to the vendors, it's a good idea to keep an eye on contract provisions that protect your organization and \n\ncustomer information in instances of market change. Moreover, you'll want to make sure that your vendor has a high likelihood of surviving through any \n\nmarket turmoil. Christopher Andrews is a senior analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves sourcing and vendor management professionals. He will be \n\nspeaking at Forrester's 2010 IT Forum in Las Vegas, NV, May 26 - 28.