The Social CMS Dilemma: Will they lead with Community or Publishing Features?

Apparently, a chord was struck in this recent post “Social Software: Here come the CMS Vendors“. In summary, the post indicuates that CMS vendors are sniffing the community space, and the comments lit up (you should read them) with vendors from both camps indicating this discussions are happening behind the curtains and hands are extending across the aisle. I also am getting more briefing requests from traditional CMS vendors, who are anxious to get my take on the many options I listed out.

There’s a few interesting discussions that spiraled off the post, and I’d like to highlight some of the interesting ones, there’s an interesting story developing, these stories segue nicely into each other.

Some enterprises may not be ready for social
First of all, Larry at ZDnet quickly picks up and covers the post: “Content management software vendors eye social networking“, and suggests that acquisitions (option two) for CMS vendors makes since. Larry adds a very important caveat, some organizations and members (internal or external) may not adopt social behaviors. Our social technographic research indicates that’s very much the truth, before any brand decide to use these tools, they should start with member behavior, we’ve already made some of this data available for free. Primarily, the main behavior is ‘joiner’ although depending on the deployment, it could also be ‘creator, critic,’ and certainly ‘spectator’

Some CMS vendors may not be ready for open
To echo that very fine point, Steve, in his thought provoking post “Social Publishing Systems: What about We, the Participants?” asks if “we” are ready to take on more social websites, he then also turns the discussion toward the vendors, and asks if they are prepared to accept open technologies despite that they are from rigid command and control legacies. Steve asks: “Will they embrace OpenSocial? OpenID? Will a focused, open source Drupal vendor like Acquia” When you think about it, CMS systems are designed for management (control) of content and publishing. Social software, which may have guardrails, tends to focus on sharing, connecting, learning, and self-expression in a very large sandbox. Most brands will need both.

Existing fragmented social implementations to be a challenge
EMC’s Len Devanna adds more to the conversation “Social Software and CMS“, as you may know, Documentum, a CMS vendor was acquired by EMC a few years back, and makes sense for this IT behemoth. Naturally, social software has creeped into the employee base (a groundswell) even at this IT vendor shop and Len points out the need for both a mixture of social and CMS systems. The question remains: at what point to they integrate? Where will social stop and CMS begin? Len is out here in CA, and I look forward to seeing him more often to discuss this issue.

Some features will be bolted on
We think highly of the 451Group, (read comments) and their post confirms it “Social (Web) content management” they’ve been watching this from the CMS perspective for some time (and I’ve been watching from the white label sonet) and they suggested that some companies like Vignette and Clickability are further along than realized. It’s difficult to tell how truly robust some of those features are from those landing pages, but compared to the some of the advanced features I’m seeing out of other players, they could be ‘bolt on social’ features added to a platform, rather than a truly social experience. I’m quite positive a debate in our industry over ‘core social platform’ vs ‘bolt on social features’ will take place, I plan to participate.

The Big Question: Will they lead with Community or Publishing Features?
Thinking forward, this really is the crux of the issue that each vendor and industry will have to answer. What will CMS and White Label vendors lead with? Social features or Publishing Features?

  • Are brands going to be satisfied with CMS systems that “bolt on” social features such as ratings, comments, and discussion boards that are added to existing CMS modules?
  • Or, will they want fully robust community platforms with extensive profiles, people matching, discussion monitoring, member created on the fly modules that integrate CMS publishing modules?
  • Will CMS vendors “bolt on” these social features, or offer truly robust community platforms that integrate CMS features
  • As I get closer to this space, I’ll develop my answer, (read Tony’s at the CMS watch) but in the meantime, let’s hash it out in the comments below.

    I’ve started some probes on where we could host a community not-for-profit meet & greet at a neutral location in Silicon Valley in a few months, stay tuned. Or, if you have a venue (you can’t be one of these vendors) and can hold a day event, please let me know via email.

    • Jeremiah, thanks for this erudite analysis of the CMS/social space, and your ongoing discussion in your blog.

      You’re right, it’s going to be a significant area for discussion in the near term. If we look at how many platforms are available, we see a plethora of different interfaces, with a variety of management solutions on the backend.

      The question is, when are customers going to start demanding turnkey apps that can meet their social needs within their management and budget constraints, and how will CMS vendors step up to the plate?

    • Jeremiah:

      Great idea! I posted something about your idea, likening it to a World of Warcraft clan gathering… [www_commonsensepr_com]

    • Thanks Jeremiah for opening this conversation.

      I guess the main problem CMS vendors will face is that they basically propose a multi-purpose tool for publishers.

      Managing Communities need specialised, dedicated products that will emphasized best-of-breed social media technologies on the front-end, and allow to enforce entreprise-class processes on the back-end.

      As usual, focused vendors will have a lead over generalists for some time, until community features become commoditized.

      Great fight ahead, users will choose, brands will follow.

    • Eric, interesting metaphor!

      Stepane, beyond products, the skills are far different. Wait for an upcoming blog post.

    • Tom

      Stephane, there isn’t a huge difference is how CMS companies manage both corporate generated and community generated content. The basic concepts are nearly identical. Many CMS vendors already have added basic community features to their CMS yet the dedicated “white label” providers still dominate most corporate communities. Why? Because as Jeremiah points out, it’s more of a people problem than a technology problem.

    • Tom

      I think there is some feature differentiation between social and publishing that need to be considered.

      Why? the use cases are far different, from community created content (which can be very unstructured) to content created by a brand/CMS (structured).

      CMS content can often be rigorously reviewed, edited, and vetted, where social content may have one approval –if that.

      As such the features of the product (what appears on the site, and backend management) could be very different.

      You’re right however, the biggest change is process, people, and skills.

      Launching a successful community is more akin to sociology, psychology than web publishing that’s magazine-like.

    • Jeremiah, Tom,

      I agree with both of you, I responded on the feature side, there is of course the people (and marketing) side which are prevalent.

      You have to be a social animal to build a community platform, you also have to incorporate relationship values and principles in your tool, transform best practices in usability, suggest new processes, while understanding technology challenges (cf twitter)… it’s a very demanding task.

      Of course UGC is unstructured, but you must help the brand to find structure and make decisions.

      So you need two brains : one for the community, the other for the brand, and that will a main issue for vendors in that space.

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    • This is a very interesting article. We believe that choice and simplicity should allow the “publisher” to choose their own medium and use new technology to “join the dots”, but centralised and coherent.

      We’re developing (and already using) a social platform that allows companies to manage their online properties (whatever they are) through a completely open system.

      We’ve plugged in our own CMS, along with other 3rd party CMS and e-commerce solutions with more to come soon as we get closer to a public launch.

      Like many popular social networks, we’ve already noticed MSG, stickyness, with clients.

    • Users should not expect 1st generation social content management platforms to fully deliver on their requirements.

      As the lead architect on one of the original Social Content Management platforms (the Affino eBusiness Suite), which has been evolved extensively to meet real-world needs for multiple industries and business scenarios, the answer to the question of content or networking is both, and … media, promotion and commerce.

      We have seen a big rise in the requirements of companies looking for single platform solutions for running their eBusiensses and it is in the synergies that you get from combining content and networking and commerce that allow companies to maximise their return on investment.

      Although there is value to be gained from bolting on social capabilities, the downfall is usually the customer experience, the ability to monitor and tailor the social experience and the ability to monetise user content and interactions.

      The biggest headache for companies usually comes in the form of how can they rapidly evolve their online experience to take advantage of trends and revenue opportunities (and identify them in the first place), and how to manage tens or hundreds of thousands of community members and their content without having to have large community management teams.

      We’ve had to roll out thousands of enhancements that allow our customers to fine-tune their communities and automate (and self regulate) community moderation. We’ve already rolled out three major iterations for the social content management publishing interfaces and workflows to meet the rapidly maturing requirements of our client’s communities, and it’s clear that other vendors will need to be equally fast at iterating their products.

    • This advice is really going to help, thanks.

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    • Tom

      Stephane, there isn't a huge difference is how CMS companies manage both corporate generated and community generated content. The basic concepts are nearly identical. Many CMS vendors already have added basic community features to their CMS yet the dedicated “white label” providers still dominate most corporate communities. Why? Because as Jeremiah points out, it's more of a people problem than a technology problem.