Focusing social platforms for enterprise collaboration

Last week Salesforce.com taglined its Dreamforce user conference “Welcome to the social enterprise” and introduced a handful of features for its Chatter social communications tool. Gartner forecasts that spending on social CRM will grow to $820 million worldwide in 2011, up from $625 million in 2010. Companies like Jive Software and Telligent are jockeying with IBM, Microsoft and Cisco for IT spending on social platforms that are used for both employee collaboration and consumer marketing objectives. As competition heats up, vendors must implement more focused strategies on feature sets, packaging, pricing and integration.

Packaging features for corporate customers

Last week I wrote about how to optimize social platform strategies for community marketing. For corporate customers, Jive and Telligent are ahead in the specialization game. Jive offers different configurations for corporate communication, sales support and customer support in addition to social media monitoring. Telligent packages different suites aimed at enterprise collaboration and community marketing. These packages are sometimes only subtly different, but they emphasize employee skills profiles and business intelligence capture, leaving analytics and sentiment measurement for the marketing packages.

Salesforce.com is a little later to specialization, and some of the new Chatter features scheduled to ship in late 2011 are catch-up offerings. But it is building features that will suit collaboration nicely, including real-time elements like presence management and screen-sharing, as well as an approval function that could be used for things like signing off on documents, sales discounts and new hires. Chatter is also adding Microsoft SharePoint integration, but that’s a basic requirement that competitors like Jive, Telligent, Yammer and Box.net have already implemented.

Enterprise strategies

Integration is the key word for differentiating corporate social media from customer- or consumer-facing products. Unlike customer communities, which are relatively new, there’s a huge installed base of legacy enterprise applications and databases that social media must plug into. Besides enterprise software from Oracle, IBM and SAP, social collaboration must be able to access information and insert messages into the dominant enterprise communications tools: Microsoft’s Outlook and Active Directory services. Likewise, social platforms must integrate with corporate management and monitoring tools like those from IBM/Tivoli and Hewlett-Packard. Application deployment and provisioning are especially tricky in environments that mix cloud-hosted and local enterprise resources.

Social platforms aimed at enterprise collaboration must fine-tune their strategies around:

  • Groups. Mainstream social networks take varied approaches to groups. Though it’s not aiming at enterprise collaboration, Facebook’s symmetric approach (people know they’re in a group and must accept an invitation) is better suited to workplace collaboration than the asymmetric style of Twitter or Google+. Invitations and supervisor controls can help with potential security issues, especially if, as Salesforce.com is working on, collaborators want to mingle employees and customers.
  • Message filtering. Message feeds will quickly be overwhelmed without filtering devices. Group and topic tagging is one obvious answer – Jive’s Proximal Labs acquisition filters based on that – and competitors should emulate LinkedIn’s or Google Priority Mail’s data mining and filtering algorithms rather than Facebook’s. That’s because collaboration messages and tasks need to be driven by responsibilities, assignments and skills at least as much as by interaction frequency and self-expressed interest.
  • Partners. One path to enterprise integration is through consulting and services partners. For example, Jive works with several of the big IT consultancies as well as specialists like Dachis Group and Razorfish. Social marketing platforms should seek them out, too, along with more traditional agency partners.
  • Pricing. Social media has used consumerization tactics and freemium pricing as a Trojan horse entrée into enterprises. But IT managers need more familiar enterprise pricing models to be able to compare and budget social technologies alongside legacy IT solutions.

Although Salesforce likes gamification, I’m not convinced that badges and points are crucial for social collaboration. Likewise, marketing features may work as Facebook apps, but even Millennials think public social networks aren’t for corporate communication. If the youth of today sees that kind of distinction, social platform features will likely diverge even more over time.

Question of the week

What other features should enterprise social collaboration platforms employ?
Relevant Analyst
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David Card

VP Research Gigaom Research

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