E-community platform ups site stickiness

It is common knowledge that if average Web surfers cannot find what they are looking for on a Web site within three to four mouse clicks, they are off to the next site. But with an e-community built with Multex.com Inc.’s BuzzCompany BuzzPower 4.0 Portal Edition, you can enhance the quantity of click-throughs astronomically while increasing your site’s stickiness.

BuzzPower lets you add message-based forums, surveys, and other customer-grabbing tools to your e-commerce site.

Version 4.0 allows your company to incorporate an e-community into its Web site, creating a forum for marketing, sales and technical support to collaborate with customers. The results with an e-community are better customer service and sales support for current and prospective shoppers, which lead directly to higher sales and satisfied customers. Also, this edition provides an area in which customers can ask questions, receive answers and voice opinions – all of which serves to create a forum for valuable customer feedback.

Enhancements to the software include real-time surveys and polls, marketing reports, extensive database integration, sales lead tracking and client product reviews. Version 4.0 also includes previously released functions such as message-based forums, product sales integration, support for file attachments, banner ad rotations, ratings and end-user customization. In addition, e-commerce integration is possible by linking to a company’s existing e-commerce software.

BuzzPower is ideal for companies that target business-to-business or business-to-consumer e-commerce markets. The polls and surveys along with the various marketing reports save product and service development time. Although the server side of the software needs a robust system to function, an end-user only needs a Web browser. Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or Netscape Navigator/Communicator 4.0 or later are recommended.

After previewing many e-community and e-commerce software titles, I found that BuzzPower 4.0 provides the most bang for the buck. The software adds new features – polls, surveys, product reviews, lead tracking and marketing reports – that allow the software to maintain an edge over its primary competitors such as Lundeen & Associates’ Web Crossing, Oreilly’s WebBoard and Koz.com’s I-Chat Rooms and Board software.

Tricky installation

A site using BuzzPower’s e-community functions looks like a Web site with many topical areas. Users can peruse the Web site to gather product information and participate in a customer service forum.

The log-in process offers the choice to have log-in information stored or to be prompted during repeat visits. New users are able to create a profile, including setting their personal preferences to what forums they are interested in attending.

I reviewed the Microsoft Windows NT version of BuzzPower 4.0 and encountered one problem during the initial installation for which I had to upgrade various parts of the NT OS and the manual configuration of the Web server and databases.

The software requires a robust server with updates to the OS. Because of the advanced technologies implemented in BuzzPower, I had to install upgrades to the Microsoft Data Access Component and the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine. The server that I was using consisted of an Intel platform with 128MB of RAM and 13GB of hard drive space. I had NT 4.0 with Service Pack 5, Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0 and Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 with Service Pack 3.

The system requires connectivity to a Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 database for full functionality, but the documentation that I received only stated Version 6.5 and later. The software ships with a couple of Microsoft Access versions that you can connect to, but it loses its survey functionality.

The entire installation process was performed by hand, configuring the system from unzipping the file archive to the IIS 4.0 and Transaction Server configurations and then to SQL Server database creation and running the SQL install queries. Other than having to make a few configuration file changes to connect the Web site to the database, BuzzPower was installed.

Although the installation may appear to be cumbersome, the majority of an IT manager’s time will be spent tailoring BuzzPower’s look and feel to reflect your company’s corporate appearance, and setting up different forums, surveys and banner ad rotations. The best way to accomplish these tasks is to have your Web site graphic artists develop a design.

The next step is to have your ASP (Active Server Page) programmers insert the graphic design into the site. The length and extensibility of the development process is based solely on the complexity of the design. A simple design could be up within days. The final step is to coordinate efforts with your sales and marketing teams to confirm which surveys and products will be showcased in the e-community.

The creation of a forum, survey, or banner ad rotation is relatively easy. Through a standard Web browser, the designated administrator – usually a webmaster – logs in and accesses the administration Web page where the administrator chooses which area of the e-community site to modify. Once the area has been specified, the information can be entered. For example, the administrator can change the forum title and then, by clicking on certain features of that forum, make the features visible to the public or designate it as private.

Private forums keep sensitive product information accessible to designated users such as remote sales staff or contract developers. Clicking the submit key automatically creates the forum or item that is being added. For surveys and polls, the results can be viewed by clicking the survey link and choosing the specific survey.

The marketing reports are found in the administration section of the Web site. Clicking on the report’s link can manage and view the available reports. The many different types of reports range from new user registration and most active discussion forum to least utilized forum or message group. The software tracks the most active site users. The reports can be downloaded in XML or spreadsheet formats, which can be valuable for presentations and reports.

Overall, I found the product to be a reliable e-community platform that I would recommend. With the addition of surveys, polls and customer reviews, Version 4.0 will allow a company to enhance a shopper’s experience at its Web site. With the increased site traffic, you should dramatically increase the likelihood of boosting product sales and attracting repeat customers.

Snyder (jsnyder@viewmark.com) is a program manager in charge of e-commerce development at Viewmark, a multimedia development company.

Review box:

BuzzCompany BuzzPower 4.0 Portal Edition

Supplier: Multex.com Inc.

Cost: Starts at US$9,500; pricing is based on platform, quantity of processors, and number of URLs used

Platform: Windows 2000, Windows NT, Solaris 2.5 and later, Solaris 7

Pros: Includes real-time polls and surveys; easy forum administration by Web master; comprehensive integrated database

Cons: Installation problems in the form of OS upgrades and patches; requires a high level of customization