Two Mistakes to Avoid When Talking to Platform Vendors

Sifting through the dozens of mentoring, networking, and career platforms out there is hard. It's tough to separate marketing speak from reality and to find the best fit for your team and your institution.

We know because we help dozens of schools through the process every year.

Here are the two biggest mistakes to avoid while evaluating which platform is right for you.

Don't let flashy design distract you.

It isn’t always easy to tell a well designed interface from a poorly designed one without dozens of hours to explore and use it yourself. Like a car, a website or app might look great on the outside, outfitted with all the newest accoutrements, but need a lot of work under the hood. You’d have to be a mechanic—or, in the case of an alumni platform, a web designer—to catch every possible flaw.

Sometimes the first things you see in a sales demo look nice—the login screen, the home page, user profiles—but the platform's functional aspects are actually clunky and confusing.

We can’t imagine every possible design flaw you might encounter, but here are a six questions to keep in mind when you’re looking at a new platform:

  • Does the platform explain to users how to use it and guide them through their first session, or does it sign them up and let them go without introduction? Does it throw them into the deep end of the pool or teach them how to swim first?

  • Is the platform just a collection of user profiles of people who have signed up and forgotten about it, or are people actively using it?

  • Does the interface make sense to users young and old? Will an older alumna be able to use it as easily as a recent graduate?

  • Does the platform fix problems you have now, or do its features feel like solutions in search of problems that don’t exist?

  • Is the platform generating new connections, opportunities, and content, or just recycling old material from elsewhere?

  • Are users coming back month after month, or do they stop using the platform within a few days or weeks?

Before you sign on with a vendor, ask to be shown other schools using the platform further along in the growth process. Then you can explore the platform yourself and see whether users make full use of it or whether they have trouble understanding how to use it.

Don't let products get away with ignoring the metrics that really matter.

Which numbers would you track to measure your success and the success of your office? How would you go about measuring them?

Tricky questions, right? When you choose to work with a vendor, you need to answer the same questions. Then, down the road, you can decide whether their platform meets your needs and expectations.

Too many platforms gloss over the metrics that are most important in measuring their success.

Instead of focusing on ongoing user engagement stats, they put adoption front and center. It’s impressive when 1,000 people have signed up for your platform! Less so when you realize 95% of them stop using it after a month.

Some platforms also highlight absolute numbers rather than percentages. Again, it’s exciting when 1,000 people sign up. But if that’s only 1% of your alumni community, is it really that big of a coup? Always evaluating success relative to the size of your community and the amount of time and effort your team invests.

It’s easy to measure the wrong sort of user behavior. If 500 alumni check a box on their user profile saying they’re willing to be mentors, that’s great. How many of them actually served as mentors after they checked the box? How many conversations have they had with students? How many students have walked away happy?

If vendors aren’t sharing the statistics that matter with you in an easily accessible analytics dashboard, you can’t know whether your investment is worth it.

In short...

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the numbers and features vendors present, and challenge them to be more transparent.

And always, always, always ask to speak to some of existing customers.