While it may not be a surprise that 70 percent of millennial consumers value and trust peer reviews and conversations over celebrity reviews, what is a surprise to many content marketing pros is that they can help enable those peer conversations. Let’s review three popular online community apps to do just that: Lithium, Influitive, and Higher Logic.
For years, content marketing has involved writing and publishing a blog article, sharing that blog on social media, and hoping that the content would be shared by your company’s fan base. While this strategy is still one of the leading ways to bring more visitors to your website and generate leads and revenue, the best content marketing is augmented with word-of-mouth testimonials and social recommendations. This has led to a need for companies to grow brand influencers.
In an effort to build this team of brand influencers, more and more companies are investing in subscription-based online community apps and platforms to help them monitor online conversations, comments, and also expand their reach and networks. Many companies have already seen a great deal of success from these types of strategies and how advocate or influencer marketing has helped brands build long-term relationships with individuals and other organizations.
In fact, according to an article published by Inc, approximately 84 percent of marketers have invested in advocate marketing. Furthermore, according to statistics published by TapInfluence, influencer marketing can increase ROI up to 11 times higher than traditional marketing methods.
Influencer or advocate marketing has become a successful strategy in helping companies build long-term, loyal relationships with customers and other organizations. Some studies show that the average return on influencer or advocate marketing investment is $6.50 for every $1 spent.
When we initially wrote on this topic back in 2017, we had only begun to see the beginning potential of influencer marketing. However, less than two years later, the future of influencer marketing that we predicted is here. And if your organization or company doesn’t embrace advocate or influencer marketing, then you will likely miss out on key opportunities to build a collaborative and successful online community and further business growth.
All in all, now is the time to think about investing in a community platform to further accelerate your advocate or influencer marketing strategy.
The top online community apps: Head-to-head review
There are a number of software and applications available to help marketers recruit, manage, and communicate with individuals and organizations to build a community of influencers. However, in the sea of applications available, each with their own claim to fame, how do you know which application will best fit your company’s marketing strategy?
In this article, I’ve already done the work for you. I have reviewed the top online community applications as well as key strengths and weaknesses of each. Read on for complete reviews of three popular online marketing applications: Lithium, Influitive, and Higher Logic.
The judging process
Before I jump into the list, I will first describe my judging process and how I arrived at fair, truthful, and unbiased conclusions. I’ve used the following criteria to judge each:
- Time to get going. How hard is it to get started with the tool? Are there training tools, tips, videos or tutorials to help you accomplish what you are trying to do or find what you are looking for?
- Overall ease-of-use. How robust is the user interface (UI)? How easy is it to use? Is it intuitive? Is it easy to get up and running?
- Feature richness. Does the application provide features that make it stand out from the competitors?
- Design aesthetic. Is the application visually appealing? Is the content clean and well organized? Is it easy on the eyes?
At the end of this article, you will see the grading rubric complete with specific criteria weighting. The conclusion will also present the “winner” of the applications we have reviewed and reasons as to why.
Please take note: Any mentioned features or prices are accurate as of the time of writing this article and are subject to change.
Lithium is an application that offers various services, including social media management, customer service and support, and communities, all designed with built-in analytics to meet enterprise needs. It is immediately obvious that this company has invested a great deal in developing an application that does it all.
After setting up a Lithium account for the first time, users will see a knowledge and support area of the dashboard, which provides a wealth of training tools and resources to help users get up and running easily, which include notes, forums, online training and a FAQs section. There is also a separate knowledge and support area specifically for developers, plus a section for Lithium’s blogs, organized by topic (social media marketing, online communities, and so on), which is a great place to get some tips, tricks, and other information on getting started with the product.
Two additional features of Lithium, which help differentiate it from other community applications, are the Developer’s Network section and the Best Practice Center. The Dev Network has been created as a forum specifically empowering developers to communicate with each other asking and answering questions related to development of the platform. The Best Practices Center enables users to share their own learnings with others, with a specific focus on the goals they have set, whether they be organizational, departmental or more campaign level goals.
Lithium has clearly done a great job in providing users with the tools and information they need to get accustomed to the application as well as its unique features.
Lithium also provides a wealth of content features, such as the Discussions area, which provides users a snapshot of ongoing conversations as well as real-time notifications so that users can easily keep track of conversations as they happen.
Lastly, in the past few years, Lithium has focused on providing best-in-class functionality for responding to customers in social media channels. While this social media functionality stands apart from the community solution, it does provide some seamless integrations between the two systems for any firm that wants to closely tie their community building and social media efforts to each other.
Although the Lithium user interface is certainly attractive, designed with a multitude of content and content features, appealing icons, and beautiful color scheme, putting Lithium above some of the other applications on our list, I also found it slightly overwhelming. When logging in as a first-time user, it was difficult to determine what to do first, which knocks a few points of overall ease-of-use.
Lithium doesn’t offer detailed pricing on their website. Because each organization’s needs differ, you will have to request a personalized quote from Lithium in order to determine what the cost will look like for your organization, depending on the features you need and will benefit from the most.
While Lithium’s community offering still lags behind that of Influitive (slightly) they have done a fantastic job of listening to their customers and adding in new functionality. Because of their speed of feature development, this puts them in a close second, ranking just steps behind Influitive.
Overall Grade: 4.0 – A-
Influitive is an application for advocate marketing, which helps B2B companies build and sustain their brands through the power of their customers’ voices. Influitive also helps brands with referral management, helping to collect, track, and reward referrals submitted by customers to help accelerate the sales pipeline.
After setting up initial access in Influitive, users are pleasantly greeted with a bright and aesthetically pleasing dashboard, empowering the user to immediately jump in and get started. The content is also well organized and broken down into organized boxes, such as “Testimonials”, “Informative”, and “fun”.
There is also a separate sidebar for recent activity, and different pages for referrals, rewards, and challenges, making the user interface and experience a pleasant one. These features are definitely unique, and definitely help put Influitive above other competing applications. There is also sufficient white space, which helps reduce the cluttered feeling and avoid information overload for the user. Influitive’s user interface gets the maximum number of points!
Influentive offers a wealth of products and services — more than when we reviewed them back in 2017. Influitive now offers different hub products and platforms, product integrations, and services, such as campaign services, launch services, and content services — just to name a few.
To get a feel for what Influentive costs, you can chat with their online chatbot or sign up for the Influitive VIP program to see how it works and request a quote.
I didn’t find too many weaknesses with this application. However, although Influitive provides the user with a highly interactive and easy-to-use user interface, it lacks training tools or a knowledge base to help users get up and running. Although Influitive is incredibly intuitive (hence its name?), having a training and support section to help users troubleshoot when needed would be helpful.
Another shortcoming of Influitive (one of the few), is that the responsive design of their app, which should make it work equally well on mobile, tablet, and desktop devices, still has some shortcomings that make it not as useful on these more mobile devices.
Overall Grade – 4.5 – A
Higher Logic is another online community application that has come a long way in the last few years, with the goal to enable companies to build an advocacy community around their brand. Higher Logic specializes in providing a community where customers, members, and prospects can connect, interact, engage as well as build and leverage value, making it the most dynamic platform I’ve reviewed thus far.
In addition to offering a community application and platform, Higher Logic now also offers marketing automation as part of their service model. Higher Logic marketing automation allows users to schedule and deliver tailored messages and emails to potential buyers throughout their journeys. This feature is a potential time-saver, and also provides users with robust insights to help improve and drive future marketing efforts, all while simultaneously increasing engagement and ROI.
All that said, getting into offering marketing automation seems like it may be too little, too late. See our discussion below (in the weaknesses section) for more details on that.
Higher Logic strengths:
The home page or dashboard of Higher Logic, also known as HUG for active users, is well-organized, easy to navigate, and provides the user with useful, informative content upon logging in.
As far as aesthetics, Higher Logic certainly isn’t the prettiest I’ve seen, but there is sufficient white space, which makes it easy for the user to digest the content and features, providing a workable user interface and one that is easy to navigate and find what you’re looking for. The navigation bar at the top of the page also aids users in the navigation process.
Higher Logic also provides the users with a comprehensive support section with FAQs, “how-to” community blogs, and best practice tips and tricks to navigating and using Higher Logic to meet goals. Users can easily click the different sections, navigate the pages, and easily access the help section as needed. Higher Logic also offers a “Browse” area, which allows the user to easily browse the application’s features as well as the content.
In the last few years, HUG has introduced automation rules that allow you to automate community emails, ribbon and badge awards, and additional steps that previously required manual intervention.
Higher Logic weaknesses:
Although Higher Logic provides the user with a workable and user-friendly user interface, it isn’t the prettiest to look at. It also lacks training tools and resources.
While HUG has introduced automation rules into the community solution, it has also built a separate marketing automation solution that is well thought out but falls short compared to the many other automation suites that have already been on the market, such as Hubspot. For example, HUG’s main functionality still focuses on email marketing, a sign of a fledgling automation suite that still needs to be developed.
While the automation suite is a separate offering from their community solution, the speed of development for their community offering seems to have slowed since the introduction of their marketing automation tool, which is a sign that this community platform may be left behind by Lithium and Influitive.
Overall Grade: 3.2 – B-
Grading criteria and rubric
These products are all fabulous to use, and I honestly believe you will enjoy working with any of them. While I’m definitely leaning towards Influitive for its highly attractive and engaging user interface and experience, and how much I love its design aesthetics, each application offers its own unique features and value.
I took the time to test out each aspect of each tool and then put the numbers together to see how they compared with one another. The results make Influitive the winner as the best all-around online community application. I believe that Influitive is the best option for brands that need an easy-to-use, highly intuitive and attractive user interface to easily interact with their communities.
Who should use Influitive?
I would recommend Influitive for those brands who require a more beginner approach to managing their communities, referrals, and rewards. The best part about Influitive is that it is a well-rounded application that will fit brands of any size and skill level, making it truly a comprehensive advocate marketing solution.
Who should use Lithium?
Although Lithium offers a number of training tools and resources for beginners, we recommend Lithium for users who have a moderate level of experience using online community platforms. Upon initial setup, Lithium can be a bit overwhelming, and almost offers too much content. However, some users may not find this to be so, therefore, it is likely the better choice for more experienced users.
Who should use Higher Logic (HUG)?
Higher Logic is another great tool for beginner marketers who are just getting started with building their communities. Higher Logic offers a number of great features, particularly the “Browse” feature, which is perfect to get the hang of the software as well as get a quick snapshot of ongoing discussions and content. Higher Logic has also introduced some automation functionality into community management that provides some hope for a more robust solution in the years to come. However, if you are a stickler for highly creative designs, then Higher Logic may not be the right solution for you. Design aesthetics for Higher Logic definitely aren’t as pretty as some of the other applications I’ve looked at.
The right online community app for you
I understand that every marketer has his or her own needs for using an advocate marketing application. I also understand that some applications require a substantial investment, which can put a lot of pressure on marketers to make the best possible decision. I hope you found this article informative and helpful, providing you with the information you need to make a more informed decision about choosing the right online community application for you.