1:50am on the Social Software Dance Floor

It’s at the end of the night on the dance floor, do brands know where their social software providers are?  Like the end of a dance, social software vendors are understanding who they can partner with –or be confident on going it alone.

Once the lights go on in the next few quarters, the ecosystem will emerge in a new day, with brands stuck answering “Do I buy a suite?” or “Do I invest in integration?”. This post is intended to provide illumination on what’s happening behind the scenes –and who dance stars will be.

Matrix: Social Software and Services Scenarios

Above: Here are the options brands have when it comes to integration social software and services, the ideal scenario is upper right, but at this time, this promise is a lofty one.

I first alluded to this metaphor on an interview on Techcrunch, where we saw acquisitions occurring in spring of many of social vendors to create Social Software Suites (see the growing list).

  • Consolidation in a Fragmented Market a Sign of Maturity.  In prior posts, we’ve found over 100 vendors in community, brand monitoring, and the recent social media management vendor list is upwards of 40.  We saw an increase in M&A announcements in spring from Oracle, Salesforce, Google, esp as fall conference season picks up for these software giants.  Up and down highway 101 in Silicon Valley, there are business development meetings where there’s shopping, dating, flirting, and discussions around larger companies seeking to acquire more focused startups who’re seeking an exit.   Buyers and sellers are all speaking to multiple potential suitors to see who will be a good fit into their Social Software Suite.
  • Two Forces: Top Down Suites Offer it All vs Agile Point Provider Community.  The largest impacts will be to the buyers, who will have to re-establish their software integration strategy.  Will they go for the one-size-fits all vendor that offers all the needed use cases, or focus in on investing on a point provider that can deliver the best experience for the required job.  Each offers benefits and draw backs.  Vendors who offer the larger suite will tackle at the C-suite level and go down (longer deal sizes, larger scope, with potential larger pie) vs more agile point players that can quickly pivot, innovate, and partner with system integrators to get the job down.
  • New Innovation as Ecosystem Reforms, Services Come to Forefront.  For specific software innovators that plan to go-it-alone after the lights come on, they can still be very innovative by developing in the next phase of the social web “Performance Social” that focuses on analytics, data driven decision, and automation of these technologies. Furthermore, we continue to see new case studies emerge from social engagement command centers that bring together service and software players, to new mobile and augmented reality platforms spurred by Google.  Expect this to be a booming opportunity for system integrators and digital agencies to partner with both sides to craft experiences for brands.  The savvy system integrators and digital services providers will offer playbooks, methods, and teams that can integrate at all levels.

The good news is, there’s another dance the next night, as the market continues to grow and evolve –this is just a new session in the continued evolution of the social software space. In 2008 I hosted an event for software vendors (while at my former employer), social networks, and brands to discuss the future of the market, if you think it would be valuable for me to host again (including service providers), please let me know.

  • Excellent TITLE !! Really happy to see this, have been trying to watch what’s going on, but that’s why we follow you. *wink*

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  • pheffring

    Timely post as brands are overwhelmed with social software
    options. For the social web to truly become aligned with business objectives I
    agree that the industry needs to gravitate toward “Performance Social”
    (great term, btw.) Expion definitely welcomes your idea of hosting another roundtable
    to get all the multiple players together to discuss how we, as industry leaders,
    help empower and enable brands to become social businesses.

    – Peter Heffring, CEO & Co-founder, Expion

  • Thank you Peter, I would be happy to invite you, should the event formalize, thank you for the comment.

  • It does seem like a real mess out there right now. If anything like what happened in the VLDB space, consolidation, acquisitions, and a very select few independents will remain.

  • One of the keys here and also a benefit of remaining independent is having the ability to move and innovate quickly in the space. It will take a good bit of time before any of the acquired companies can tie together and execute something cohesive. We are on to the next dance but also thinking about the dance next week…

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  • Jeremiah – a “social business software summit” would be insanely valuable. We had a private event at Dell in January, but it was limited to the vendors we were working with.

    I asked each vendor to do 3 simple things:
    * Describe (in their words) our current use of their tool
    * Give us direction on how we might use it more effectively
    * Show us your 18 month roadmap

    The presentations and discussion were very valuable – we also had projects spring up between vendors who had never met before.

  • Would love to have your perspective there Bill.

  • I would like to see these players really outline their abilities by dept/function. Customer Support needs different functions over Marketing/PR (Support tends to deal in much larger volumes and with a much higher rate of engagement). When we were shopping most apps/systems/companies seemed to be tailored to Marketing/PR and were just trying to “fit” Support into that model.

  • I think brands will appreciate the hard reality you lay out here,
    Jeremiah. That in any scenario the brand will have to navigate complex
    ever-changing territory. No single company, platform or
    service can do it all. Even the big guys that are integrating social
    suites, a) have a long way to go before those products integrate and
    make real sense together, b) still won’t have everything a client
    needs c) as you point out may tradeoff integration for best in class on
    any individual application. And of course the big software suites in any segment tend to be quite
    poor at integrating with each other. Across our F100 client list we see little trend towards standardizing on any set of software vs. other choices.

    Service organizations that
    integrate tools can help by choosing best in class More flexibility
    here for sure than a brand gets from a suite vendor. But we find many
    service organizations also lock into a narrow set of choices due to
    significant costs of learning and maintaining tools. Recent example of this is listening tools.

    Similar dynamic for the large marketing agencies that preach all
    marketing services (TV, digital, print, social) and lately all social
    (paid, owned, earned) have to be integrated. The client doesn’t always
    get the promised integration and even when they do, it’s usually a
    tradeoff of integration vs. best in class quality that comes with

    On the specialist, point provider end we’re beginning to see partnerships
    without M&A, in an effort to integrate the best in class tools from
    different companies. This actually lends itself more towards the
    nimble, fluidly changing and API nature of social media. Though it
    still is quite complex.

    We generally think that in social, whether software platforms, services
    offerings or marketing agencies, the brand itself must become the grand
    integrator. Most important as is the case with social media itself, the
    brand must be prepared to be constantly evolving, and by that we man
    day to day and week to week. In social, month to month and year to year
    are far too long to adopt changes.

    (Disclosure: LiveWorld provides social platforms deeply focused on
    management of user content, whereas most vendors are focused on brand
    content. We also provide the services for our platform and others. With
    that often take on 3rd party platforms in the services role you
    describe. A hybrid vendor platform-services-integrator model.)

  • Jon Fahrner

    Jeremiah – all of this implies that brands have gotten good at providing social experiences. Most have not. Most brands are spending money to measure small amounts of data that won’t help their business. With all of the social tech energy concentrating on management and analytics, everyone has left out the most important part: the social experience to manage and measure. I see innovation winning in the long run, as it has in e-commerce, and no one size fits all social technology sweeping up social budgets. From the front lines, brand-able social technology and differentiation are what marketers are asking for right now. And please host that event again! It sounds awesome.

  • Brian Kling

    To continue the metaphor, we can dance with vendors, but are any at the point of deserving a long slow dance? That is your “Social Suite Nirvana” – not there yet. I agree with Bill, an event pulling together vendors would be very valuable; the trick is not to give too open a forum for them to just broadcast their message, but to hold them to specific topics and questions. Very much like a political event, if it is merely a vehicle to broadcast a general branded message it would hold little value, but if focused and narrowed to specific topics, it provides real insight.

  • Brian, I’m thinking closely about your suggestions on the event. Thank you.

  • Bless you Sandy.

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