Customers Should Avoid Community Software Vendor Lock In: Own your data

Many corporations are outsourcing their community platforms
I’ve been talking to more and more companies that are creating their own corporate communities around their brand. For the most part, they lean on the SaaS models that the white label social network, collaboration, or even insight community vendors provide. While it certainly makes sense for marketers to lean on application service providers (it’s all setup, ready to roll, without the hassle of dealing with internal IT) and a decent to moderate price.

Avoid vendor lock in: own your data
One thing that I think is worth mentioning is that customers of these software providers need to protect themselves against vendor lock in, and the best way to do this is to make sure you own your data. The data is the ethos and soul of your community, it’s all the profile content, interaction content, uploaded media, and discussions.

Good for the industry
I’m hearing that most vendors have a clause that says that the client owns the data, but when you look deeper there may be vague descriptions or time limitations –which could really muck things up if a client wants to pull out.

Now why is this important for customers? It keeps them empowered to take their data and switch providers in the rare case a social networking vendor isn’t providing the right service or support.

What’s in it for community software vendors? It holds them at task to make sure they grow, take care of customer needs, and ensure that the relationship –and product roadmap continues to improve.

What should you own?
Customers should be able to pull their data (all of it) at any time with no questions asked, for a period as long as the forum has continued, or to receive periodical backups and exports perhaps monthly or longer. They should be able to get it at will, with no questions or withholdings by the vendor. If someone has a clause that has been written that meets these objectives, please leave a comment below, I’m no lawyer, so I won’t be creating the specific agreement content –but I know what it should meet.

Concerns and considerations
Of course, by owning the data doesn’t necessarily mean that you can quickly switch vendors, as the data will often be structured differently quite a bit of massaging from experts will need to occur, but you can sleep better at night knowing your more in control of what really matters –the ethos of the community.

If you’re a client (or vendor) in this situation, I’d like to hear about what policy you’ve all agreed upon.

Update: In one case, one client sent me an example of a vendor only offering the last 30 days of archived content. Only after they discussed it further with the vendor that they received the details. Vendors need to be more upfront about what this actually means.