There has been a lot of hype recently about emerging innovations in the digital field, with buzzwords such as AI, IoT, blockchain, AR & VR, 5G … and many more.
But, looking from the other end of this fast-paced digital evolution, there’s another buzzword that’s quickly gaining ground: community.
In an era of ever-greater connectivity, interacting with like-minded individuals from anywhere in the world has never been easier. Some of the major tech giants of today have long since capitalized on our desire for human interaction and forming communities - we don’t even need to call any names (*cough*Facebook*cough*).
The community that’s best known to us is, of course, the Drupal community. Anyone who’s been in contact with Drupal knows at least a thing or two about its community, and has probably heard the now famous saying “Come for the code, stay for the community” (we know, we know, it’s getting kind of worn out - but it's very relevant here!).
Simultaneously leveraging Drupal’s open source code and contributing back to it, it is a very powerful, while also a very welcoming community, one that’s based on inclusivity and acceptance.
But what if Drupal’s versatile CMS could be extended to not benefit only its own community, but any community, anywhere in the world?
Enter Open Social - a Drupal distribution that enables anyone to quickly & easily set up a platform for their own community, no matter its size or needs. It comes out-of-the-box with a plethora of useful features; and, it’s open source, which means that if you’re at least somewhat familiar with development and CMS, it’s practically free to set up.
1. What will I get if I decide on Open Social?
Open Social offers a wide range of useful features; they are too numerous to list all of them in this post, so we decided to just pick and showcase a select few. You can get more information about all its features on their website. Here are the ones that stood out to us the most:
- Users can log in via social login, with accounts they have set up on other social networks such as Facebook.
- Users can enhance their profiles with tags indicating their company and their role within the company.
- Users can further connect and collaborate through creating events and groups.
- Site managers can make use of analytics to track users’ behavior; on top of that, integration with Google Analytics is very easy.
- Community managers can send bulk emails to community members.
- Users’ email addresses are encrypted on the server, adding an extra layer of protection.
- Thanks to its advanced risk analysis techniques, an Open Social community is safe from spam accounts.
- The performance of an Open Social platform and all its pages is super fast (and we all know that the #1 reason for users not using a website is its poor performance!).
Of course, all the essentials, such as management of personal data and social features, are all also present in Open Social. If you go through the detailed list of features that we linked above, you’ll quickly be able to confirm that the team really took every little detail into consideration.
What’s more, due to the platform’s open source status, you have way more control over yours and your users’ data than when setting up your community on one of the existing social platforms - we’ve all heard of the Facebook - Cambridge Analytica scandal.
A bit later on, we’ll see how Open Social is a community effort in the truest sense of the word - and, logically so, since it was born out of a community as inclusive and welcoming as the Drupal community.
2. How can I get even more out of Open Social?
But its countless features are not at all everything you can do with Open Social - if you opt for the enterprise package, you can customize your platform even more through its extensions.
Again, rather than just copying and pasting all available extensions (which you can find listed here), we’ll focus more on the ones that appealed to us the most. So, to give you a taste:
- WYSIWYG for Comments: community members don’t need to rely on markups to stylize their comments, but can instead leverage the what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor, familiar to all who have been working with CMS.
- Google Translate: thanks to the integration with Google Translate, Open Social is the perfect fit for a multilingual and/or international community.
- Crowd Innovation: likely the most interesting and innovative of all of these extensions, this feature allows communities to ideate and solve challenges together, through a true collective effort.
As you can probably surmise from these first two points alone, Open Social is much more than just a basic social platform. Its unique features account for every aspect of a great user experience, while at the same time making it as close as possible to a real-life community.
3. So far so good, but ... Is Open Social even the right fit for my community?
Well, based solely on the two previous points, it’d be more difficult to find a community for which Open Social isn’t a great fit.
Basically, its high customizability makes it ideal for any type of community by enabling its members to exchange ideas, collaborate and ideate together. Open Social efficiently solves a paradox of social networks and online communities: users want the features that they’re used to using, but, at the same time, they want innovation. Open Social delivers in both of these aspects.
Its wide range of available features and extensions allows you to tailor the platform to the specific needs of your community, while also retaining basic ones such as social sharing. Whether you need a platform for your thriving volunteer community, an extranet connecting stakeholders outside your organization, or a simple social network, Open Social will more than satisfy your needs.
If you’re at least somewhat familiar with development and CMS (Drupal in particular), there’s practically no reason not to give Open Social a shot. The only case where you should consider a different solution is if you lack development experience and/or have a small, self-contained community that isn’t focused on growth and needs just the basic social features.
4. Ok, then it just has to be costly and difficult to set up, right?
Aha - now we’ve come to the salient part that you’ve probably been eagerly anticipating! In this section, we’ll answer questions such as: How difficult is it to set up and integrate Open Social? Is it a long and expensive process? Do I need to be a developer to effectively use Open Social?
Let’s first address the primary concern: no, you don’t need experience with Drupal development if you want to use Open Social. However, the code is open source and is available for free on drupal.org, which means that setting up Open Social incurs no additional costs for those who are versed in Drupal.
So, if you or your team possess adequate Drupal expertise, you won’t have to worry about monthly fees; you will however need to invest a little bit more into maintenance, since you’ll need to handle all updates manually.
But not everyone who wants to have an awesome community platform can be expected to know Drupal. Fortunately, Open Social is also available as SaaS, with three very affordable packages:
- The Basic package offers all basic features and costs €195 a month. You even get the option of a 30-day free trial before committing - no credit card required at this stage!
- The Premium package, listed as the most popular, is a bit more costly, with €495 a month. Same as before, you get a 30-day free trial, but it also comes with huge benefits of a much larger number of users, as well as the ability to import these users from existing platforms.
- The Enterprise package is the most expensive, at €1,250 a month. As the name suggests, this is ideal for enterprises who want to build a large global community. With this package, you can have as many users as you want, and even benefit from API integrations as well as all the features and extensions exclusive to this package.
In contrast with the open source solution, by opting for one of the paid SaaS options of Open Social, you’ll only need to worry about the monthly fee - security and feature updates will all be automatic. Owing to this flexibility, Open Social really is a great fit for different needs and backgrounds.
5. Ok, I've set up Open Social, but I'm having some trouble with it - how & where can I get help?
Considering how the Open Social team take every minute detail into account, it’d only make sense if they also provided top-notch guidance and support to anyone who wishes to use the software for their community, right?
Well, you can actually educate yourself on the ins and outs of Open Social before you even have to decide on a package or start your free trial! There’s a standalone website available to help you jumpstart your community, as well as a free guide on their website. Moreover, their blog section contains a lot of content that’s geared towards community management.
But, not to worry - you’ll also be able to get help and support once you’ve set it up and started using it. Even the basic package comes with support via email, while the enterprise one also offers support by phone with guaranteed response times.
If you’ve chosen the path of open source, you can find help on Open Social’s page on drupal.org. You get a lot of information just by visiting the page, but you can also check out the project’s issue queue, where you’ll either find the answers you seek, or be able to contact someone who has worked on a particular issue and get more specific help from them.
6. Alright, I'm almost convinced, it's just ... How can you reassure me that Open Social will be as useful in the future as it is today?
We’ll see your concern and raise you this: not only will Open Social continue to be useful - it’ll only keep getting better and more suited to the wants and needs of its users!
How so, you ask? Well, you actually get a say in the project’s roadmap! This means that your input and ideas can help shape the future of Open Social. You’re able to make suggestions on which all participants can then vote. Your feedback is thus taken into account when developing new features.
This is all done through Open Social’s Roadmap tool. As you can see, you get a neat overview of what’s planned for a certain period of time and even to some extent track the progress of the suggestions.
So, even if you disregard the rapid pace of digital innovation (which presupposes continuously better technologies), you can safely assume that this receptiveness to feedback will lead to a software progressively catered to its users’ needs.
7. *sigh* You're really giving me no choice, are you? Alright, final question: who's actually using Open Social?
You can check out a list of showcases on Open Social’s website. Apart from that, there are some additional businesses using Open Social listed on the project’s page on drupal.org. Among the most notable ones are:
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that actually leverages Open Social for several projects and/or community platforms,
- Pachamama Alliance that aims to connect people and achieve a more sustainable world through its global community,
- Victims Support The Netherlands, where victims of crimes, traffic accidents and calamities can get emotional as well as legal support in a safe environment.
Moreover, what served as the initial inception of Open Social was Greenpeace’s Greenwire project. Launched in 2011, Greenwire was born out of the desire to make the world a better place by bringing people together and enabling them to better collaborate.
Drupal’s open source was thus the perfect fit for an active volunteer community. Based on the platform’s success, the GoalGorilla team realized their solution can help even more communities worldwide, and so Open Social came to be. If you want to learn more about the Greenwire project, you can also check out GoalGorilla’s case study or the one on drupal.com.
We hope we’ve successfully answered your questions. You can always get more specific information by visiting Open Social’s website or by contacting their team - they’re very open and very social (pun definitely intended), so there’s really no need to be shy.
Of course, there’s still much more that Open Social has to offer. The best way to discover more of the platform’s powerful capabilities is to do some exploration of your own, either by opting for the free trial or tinkering with the software downloaded via drupal.org.
Hopefully, we’ve given you enough of a jump-start to know what to focus on and make the process of exploring a fun one. We wish you lots of success in building and growing your own community!