The Stack: The Fifteen (now Sixteen) Classes of the Social Business Software Suite (Q4, 2010)

Update Nov 5: I’ve created a framework based off the following data, and have a full presentation available. Click here to see the full Social Business Stack for 2011, which now supersedes this blog post.

Background: From Three Software Classes to Fifteen (Sixteen) in 4 Years
From When I first started as an industry analyst about covering this space there were really only three classes of companies: Social networks like Facebook, community platforms, and existing BBS and Blogging software companies. Fast forward a few years, this space has grown tremendously with an influx of new types of software vendors as well as specialization from a growing market.

[The social software space has ballooned into a disparate set of technologies, data types, and over 1000 vendors confusing buyers. Despite the explosion of innovation, expect a 'Social Business Suite' to appear that consolidate many of these features for enterprise buyers]

Categorization is crucial in managing this rapidly evolving space
It’s very difficult to completely segment this space as many of the vendors cross into multiple categories so I’ve separated it into major function groups.  If you’re completely new to this space, I’ve created this easy to understand slideshare comparing this ecosystem to a marine ecosystem. Here’s my take on how I see the categories taking shape within the Social Business Software Suite, while there’s 15 now, I know this will only grow over time.

Update: Added the social commerce platforms as a category under platforms


The Stack: The Social Business Software Suite
Category Name, Short Description, Frequently Heard Vendor Names

Listening and Learning (2):

  • Brand monitoring: These listening and learning tools provide data to brands by filtering data via scraping and APIs then sorting by keywords.  Frequently mentioned vendors include Radian6, Alterian, ScoutLabs, Visible Technologies, Cymfony, there are over 145 known vendors.
  • Social Analytics and Social Insights: Beyond just monitoring these vendors offer insight to what the data actually means by trying to identify influence patterns, conversion rates, and thereby making pragmatic recommendations on what brands should do:  Frequently mentioned vendors includes Crimson Hexagon, Crowd Factory.  This space is quickly going to become crowded as existing Business Intelligence software vendors move in like SAS, Oracle, Sap, Qlikview.  See how I segment these vendors into specific sub classes.

Social Platforms (7):

  • Social Networks (organic): There’s a large group of social networks all across the globe but Facebook continues to take dominance in adoption.  Yet don’t discount other systems, as when you look closely, Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL are also social networks, and will continue to innovate as well as aggregate.
  • Community Platforms (private or white label): Having tracked  this space for a few years now, and these tools allow companies to have their own ‘branded’ or ‘private label’ Facebook for their customers.  Often used for customer facing, it’s also extended to partners as well as employees. You’ll find vendors that straddle this as well as the Collaboration Platforms as the component features are easy to interchange.  Commonly heard vendors are Awareness, Mzinga, Jive, Telligent, Ingage Networks, Kickapps, Pluck, Lithium, Liveworld, and to some degree,  recent counts have placed this space at 125 vendors, it’s a commodity and most have evolved past offering these features only.
  • Collaboration Platforms: Primarily for internal use within a company, these vendors are quickly extending to also involve partners they allow for teams to work together regardless of distance, time, or organizational models.  Frequently mentioned vendors include Sharepoint, Jive, Telligent, Atlassian, SocialText, PBWorks, and recent entrant BroadVision’s Clearvale.   Furthermore, a subset of vendors has emerged dubbed “Insight community vendors” that allow brands to build communities and derive intelligence and reporting from their reactions and behaviors.
  • Enterprise Microblogging Platforms: A subset of collaboration technologies these features allow employees to quickly connect to each other with micromedia much how Twitter first formed.  Commonly mentioned vendors include SocialCast, Yammer, Gist SocialText, Chatter. Although I started a list, my partner Marcia Conner specializes in this space, and has an upcoming research report on this topic, follow her on Twitter to learn more.
  • Blogging Platforms: While a common feature in community platforms the dominant platforms include WordPress, SixApart, Squarespace and a variety offered at other companies like Google’s Blogspot.
  • Innovation Platforms: Often a feature of the above platforms these tools allow companies to collaborate with customers to build better products.  Early entrants includes Salesforce Ideas, UserVoice and open source Pligg.
  • Social Commerce Platforms:  A late entry, but these vendors provide social promotions, social recommendations, group deals, loyalty programs, social badging, gaming, and the reporting and intelligence behind it.

Aggregation and Integration (3):

  • Social Inbox Aggregation: Tightly related to Microblogging tools, these technologies aggregate an individuals social streams from a a variety of sources via social connections into a single page. Much how Facebook offers this on the newsfeed we’re seeing similar features from vendors like Chatter, SocialText, Gist.  Often these features are integrated into Microblogging tools or Collaboration platforms.  There are a handful of vendors in this space, plus countless features embedded in other platforms.
  • Identity Brokers: Integration of social networks and corporate websites are already starting to happen.  As a result, brands are stymied by the complex ever-changing set of social logins, profiles, graphs, and APIs to manage.  A new class of identity brokers are much like a router and make connecting simple for brands.  The most common vendors include Gigya and Janrain.
  • Aggregation and Curation Solutions: Curation and aggregation are the next set of technologies to emerge as social networks and websites start to integrate.  This efficient solution aggregates the discussions about a particular topic back to a single webpage, bringing relevance back to the corporate site.  On my blog, I’m using tools like Disqus, and at work we’re experimenting with Echo.

Publication, Sharing, Connection Technology (3):

  • Applications in Social Networks: There are over one million of existing applications within Facebook alone, and other social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter continue to allow third parties to develop.  This disparate landscape represents a few solid hits and thousands of long tail apps that will never get used more than a few times.
  • Social Media Management Systems. This recent entrant spurred out of the need for individuals to manage their multiple disparate identities and information from a variety of social networks.  For example, a single individual may have accounts on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Posterous, YouTube, etc.  Now, as brands have moved into this space, each sub product or region may have separate iterations of their identity making management a nightmare.   Commonly mentioned vendors includes CoTweet, HootSuite, Sprinklr, Objective Marketer, Expion or SpredFast.  Expect rapid acquisition of this product set if they can’t evolve beyond simple features into a suite.  There are 19 social media management system vendors in this space.
  • Sharing Tools: These dead basic technologies allow an individual to share content they find interesting to their social networks.  Not much more than a feature, these have spread into a variety of other systems (mainly community platforms or email vendors) or we’ve seen acquisitions.  Commonly mentioned vendors are Sharethis and Addthis.

Infrastructure/Core Functionality (1):

  • Social CRM: This set of technologies and strategy enables companies to use a variety of the above technologies to predict and anticipate customers by aggregating content.  Many vendors have SCRM claims, yet we’ve yet to see a single vendor that spans the gaps across all the use cases.  Read the Social CRM report to learn more. Update: I changed this category to “Core Functionality” at the suggestion of Ray Wang, my partner on the research report.

The Future: Expect Consolidation Into a Social Business Suite
It’s been an incredible ride to watch this space grow, and I know that we’re still very early in this nascent industry as we’ve not seen a clear dominant platform in this space.  Yet as we advance towards maturity, here’s what we should expect to see:

  • In a sea of choices, buyers will demand consolidation. Even among the fifteen classes that I’ve segmented out, there are sometimes over a hundred vendors in each of these classes. As the choices increase buyers will continue to demand a ‘do it all’ system that offers more than one system. As a result, we’re already seeing a land grab by some of these vendors to build a single system.
  • Vendors torn between building, partnering and being acquired. If you’re a vendor that’s attempting to offer multiple offerings, you’re on the right track. Any vendor that’s only focused on one of these is unlikely to survive the long haul as the buyers who I’m speaking to are frustrated with the massive amount of choices.
  • Slower incumbents will use a war chest to buy innovation –few will innovate. Expect incumbant enterprise software vendors to head towards the acquisition approach, and then glue these together. Secondly, we’re seeing some vendors like Jive, Lithium, Exact Target, make some key buys (Filtrbox, ScoutLabs, CoTweet, respectively) in order to expand to a suite of services.

In my upcoming report on the social strategist role in enterprise (you can find out how to get a copy here) I’m asking specific demand and buy side questions from the buyers. More data to be revealed shortly.

Disclosure: I work with many of these vendors, yet unlike most analyst firms, we do our best to disclose, as a result, we hope you trust us more. Thanks to Doug Camplejohn for letting me know about an inaccuracy I had with one of the vendor acquisitions, Exact Target acquired CoTweet.