In this article, Theresa Cramer, editor of EContent magazine, explores the case study of Ipswitch.
Ipswitch, a privately held software company with a long history, offers several products, including WhatsUpGold, an IT and network management software solution. According to Ipswitch, WhatsUpGold can monitor networks from 25 to 20,000-plus, whether they are wired or wireless. The software boasts more than 100,000 customers.
As with many software providers, WhatsUpGold has an active userbase that has a lot of questions. And like those other companies, WhatsUpGold often deals with this base of users through social media, such as Twitter and user message boards. However, WhatsUpGold's user forums were not quite up to snuff, and the company found itself looking for a new solution.
Vendor of Choice: Igloo Software
Igloo bills itself as "an intranet you'll actually like," but it's more than just that. Igloo provides a web-based platform for collaboration with a fully integrated suite of tools. With about 250 customers, Igloo has been a for-profit operation since 2008. The company focuses on customers having fewer than 1,000 users.
The Problem in Depth
Ipswitch offers a number of products, and it decided to break into divisions several years ago in order to better reflect its business. The existing customer forums splintered, and, without anyone to watch over them, the communities languished. So the company put together a committee, chose a platform, and launched a new community, but even that didn't fix the problems. Users were angry and didn't like the new platform, but without anyone in charge of the day-to-day business of the community, there were problems that went beyond just the platform.
Enter Jason Williams. He had become the unofficial social media person at Ipswitch after he started theTwitter account to help provide a direct line of communication between the company and its customers. But soon he became the official go-to-guy, and he is now the manager of community management-a title that came with a lot of headaches.
Users were not happy with the new community they had been given; as a result, engagement suffered. It was now Williams' job to stabilize the floundering ship. "The biggest complaint from users was the ease of use of the old platform. It simply wasn't easy to do anything and the formatting of any of the content posted (including users' forum posts) was horrible, making it really hard to read," Williams says. "I remember speaking with a couple of the more active members and they went through a laundry list of complaints, unfortunately I don't remember too many details around those conversations now." He adds, "The first step was finding a new platform."
Ipswitch had recently been through one failed search for a platform to meet the needs of its community. This time around, it needed to make better choices with the bottom line in mind. Many of the big collaboration solutions--such as Jive and Zynga--came with six-figure price tags. That just wasn't in Williams' budget.
Soon he had narrowed the search down to two companies: Igloo and ONEsite. Williams says that while ONEsite had more in the way of gamification tools, Igloo offered a better back end. "I have complete control [over the look and feel], and the back end is really flexible from a management standpoint," he says. The homepage is driven by widgets, allowing Williams to choose which components he wants to use and where to feature them. Since gamification was still a big priority for Williams, he talked to Igloo specifically about it. As a result, it was written into the contract that Igloo would build out its points and rewards capabilities to accommodate Ipswitch's needs.
According to Stephen Rahal, marketing and communications director for Igloo Software, making these kinds of adjustments for customers isn't unusual. "We release updates every 90 days. Fifty percent of those changes are driven by customers," he says. Consequently, Igloo took this request from Ipswitch and made gamification part of its core offerings.
"With Igloo it's completely white label and completely configurable," Rahal says. This allows community managers like Williams to create their own points system and badges.
One more feature helped sell Williams on Igloo: document management. "We've built at our core really strong collaboration and document management capabilities," says Rahal.
For Williams, who was contemplating how to make use of all the information contained within the old forums, document management was the perfect solution. He says the company couldn't spend the time or money to import all of the old threads, but it also did not want to lose the information contained within them. Turning the threat into fully searchable PDFs and uploading them to the new community turned out to be just the solution he was looking for. "It was very handy in the beginning when people were looking for content from the older site," he says.
WUGspace launched in 2011, and by all accounts it's been a huge success. Users clearly love it, as evidenced by the soaring numbers of participants. "When we closed the old community down there were just over 2,200 members, including internal accounts. As of today, I have 11,982 members, in less than two years," says Williams.
A big part of building this level of engagement has been the reward features that were so important to Williams. Users are rewarded for all sorts of participation, such as posting a new forum topic, uploading a picture, or attending a webinar. Completing a profile will get a user 50 points, and submitting a script to the script library is worth 25 points. Users can win prizes-from pens and T-shirts to Amazon gift cards-and gain admittance to new areas of the community by achieving higher levels of participation. For instance, Williams says he often runs beta programs that only some users have access to on the site. They then have the ability to comment and give feedback.
Even with all this success, Williams still has plenty of things he wants to accomplish with WUGspace. At the top of his to-do list is creating an ambassador program that enables some of WUGspace's most committed community members to help monitor and run rewards programs and give out points and badges to their fellow users, taking some of the day-to-day tasks off of Williams' plate. "It will foster more activity from other people," he says.
Also on the to-do list is adding more content to the site. "One of the things I really love about ... our customers is being able to help them get the most out of their software," Williams says. He would like to be able to create more blog and video posts to help WUGspace users get more out of WhatsUpGold. He has already started a How-To blog, and he hopes to also empower community members to contribute to these content streams so they can share their know-how with each other.
While happy, engaged users are always the goal of running a community such as WUGspace, external validation doesn't hurt either. Williams and WUGspace got just that in the form of an award in 2012. "[WUGspace] recently won a SuperNova award," says Rahal. The award comes from Constellation Research, Inc., and it "recognize[s] leaders who fearlessly pursue implementation and adoption of disruptive technologies within their organizations." If that isn't a sign of success, then I don't know what is.
To read the full article, click here.