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.
I’m in the unique position that I get to speak to enterprise brands, white label vendors, and now CMS vendors on a regular basis, here’s what I’m seeing:
It’s now quarter 3, and I start research on the big report, the Forrester Wave (learn about the reports) on the Community Platforms (White Label Social Networks) the Vendor Catalog of this space will be published for clients in the coming days. The process, which has been completed for many other markets, is detailed, granular, and will take me over 10 weeks to complete. The results will yield a report that indicate the strength and weaknesses of those vendors for enterprise class interactive marketers.
[Trend watch: Enterprise CMS Vendors to enter the White Label Social Networking Space and offer Community Features and Platforms]
Social Features a Commodity
As I’ve mentioned time and time again, it’s a crowded space in the white label social network space due to low barriers to entry, and commodity features, in fact with 80+ vendors (could be 120+ if I counted insight vendors and collaboration vendors), there’s no shortage of those who will throw their hat into the ring.
Overview: Enterprise Content Management Systems
I’ve started to notice more of the ‘traditional’ CMS and Portal players that already have deep footprints into the corporate web teams that are inching into this space. First, let’s take a historical view, many of these vendors appeared in the late 90s, they offer easy ways to publish online for corporations, often including advanced review workflows, templates, and staging and dev sites. I’ve been on the teams (I’m a former corporate web guy) that have had to implement, manage, or train stakeholders to use these. Next, in the early 2000-2002 we started to see acquisitions into this space by large ERP players: Microsoft acquired CMS which eventually evolved into Sharepoint, EMC acquired Documentum, and other ERP players such as Interwoven, Vignette, Stellent, IBM’s Filenet and LotusNotes, edDot CMS, Xerox’s Docushare, and Saperion started to extend their KM products for public websites. There’s a great list of these vendors from CMS watch.
CMS Vendors sniffing the social space
Fast forward to 2008. With the demand and buzz for social network features, or community offerings, these established CMS/Portal vendors recognize the demand, and see opportunity dollars falling through the cracks. I’ve started conversations with several of the big players to gauge where they are headed. Of course, the conversations don’t end up on this blog (unless they give me permission, or publish first) but it’s quite obvious where things are headed. In fact, see my predictions referenced in a recent Techcrunch article. They won’t be the only ones, we’re starting to get glimmers of social platforms tying to CRM systems too –integration afoot.
Three Options for CMS Vendors
There are at least three ways these large CMS vendors can head:
1) Develop the features and roll out community suites. Acquire new staff to understand this new world (it’s a different skill set than CMS rollout and management). This will involve client side training, consulting, development/design, new metrics packages, and series of recurring support revenue streams.
2) Acquire the successful white social networking vendors that complement their existing offerings. Find a player that digs deep within Fortune 5000 that offers 100k revenues on first year from a solution sell, and 50k for ongoing support and services. Or either find and easy to use vendor that offers few but broad features, and attached advertising streams and develop a media network.
3) Do nothing. Some CMS vendors may be content with their current product offerings to client, and don’t want to jump into a crowded pool and may choose to avoid offering social features to clients. With third party developers offering widgets and embeddable applications, they actually may not have to.
Four Options for White Label Social Networks
Some of these enterprise class vendors (I’ll know more when wave report comes out), it’s likely they will do a few of these, it’s not exclusive, and will have a strong stance to do the following:
1) Stay independent. I could call this ‘do nothing’ but it’s not the case. Like the CMS/Portal space in late 90s, some of these vendors will continue to grow and be stand alone companies, who knows, some may actually become publicly traded companies.
2) Start partnerships. We’re already seeing some of these companies band together such as Mzinga/Prospero, and now Awareness ties data to Sharepoint, this nods to a direction of working with others, or at least having interoperability.
3) Design for acquisition. Some white label vendors have thought this through, and are building their software in the platform or language of another traditional CMS company and are making themselves ripe fruits for acquisitions.
4) Develop flexible architectures. The future of the web is amorphous, therefore some white label vendors will heavily depend on open APIs, Data, and develop or work with widget vendors to let social content be shared and ‘fly’ around the web. Eventually, some of these widget features could easily be embedded into CMS systems, even if they don’t offer these features.
Four Options for Brands
In our recent forecast report, we predicted that the largest growth spend at the enterprise level for social services and products will be social networks. Brands have a few options:
1) Develop their own social software features. I know a few brands (despite me suggesting they buy) are extending their home grown CMS systems to add on social features. For those with large web development teams it makes sense. For others wanting to be fast and flexible, it’s often not an efficient path.
2) Work with a White Label Vendor. Many are choosing to rope in these vendors to develop, train, design, and manage these communities, in most cases they sit ‘off to the side’ of the corporate website and are not integrated with product pages. Of course, this whole discussion excludes marketing efforts on organic social sites like Facebook, MySpace, etc.
3) Wait for CMS vendors. Many brands are just toe-dippin’ into the social space, they are not offering community features, don’t see the point, or have other objectives to fulfill. As a result, they may just wait a few quarters till CMS vendors offer this ability within their existing platforms. Of course, this comes with risk from deploying too late, or not offering features that meet the needs of community members
4) Do nothing. In the end, some brands will choose not to engage customers in community sites, for a variety of reasons such as products or services that are sold to resellers and rebranded, deep technology components that are mainly a b2b sell, or lack of vision to embrace customers.
Watch this emerging trend
Where are we now? We’re at the very beginnings of this journey, with most white labels being around for just a few years, and the established CMS vendors starting to sniff this sector and gather requirements (many are coming to me) we’re clearly at the R&D stage, with some banding development teams to enter this space.
Questions that will be need to be answered by this space:
Will CMS vendors be able to adapt to social features into their legacy systems?
Is the demand from client side strong enough for CMS vendors assert flexibility?
How will these commodity social features be monetized, with everyone having them, how will you differentiate?
Will CMS vendors build, buy, or ignore social features?
When will we see existing internal knowledge management systems integrate these features?
Will the small white label vendors start to get friendly with the CMS space and start to develop an exit strategy?
Are white label vendors building their products for easy integration into CMS vendors?
I’ve been thinking about developing a ‘show and tell’ event where both of these vendors can come together for a meet and greet, if I did, would you attend?
Chime in, love to hear you answer these questions I posed above.
Update: Larry Dignan from Zdnet throws in his hat and predicts, in his opinion, the most logical options.
In the late 1990s the CMS invaders deployed their systems at large corporations, as managing web pages using HTML editors wasn’t scalable and non-technical folks needed to publish. In many cases after the invader left, the company’s business teams and technical web teams were stuck cleaning, fixing, enhancing, for years to come.
Unplugging web publishing systems (and community platforms) ain’t easy.
Publishing from Word Docs, ouch.
I was a web manager at a very large corporations, as such, I was the business sponsor for the website, and therefore the tools that were used to publish the website. Often, in most cases, I inherited a legacy CMS system, one that I did not choose, the underpinning structure of the site revolved around it, documents, navigation, ability to edit pages, and look and feel.
This was one of the worst implementations of CMS systems I’d ever seen, the idea was for non-technical people to edit the webpages, so the system would have the ability to check out a ‘word doc template’ filled with macros, publishers could edit the word doc, check it back into the system and a new webpage would appear. fail.
The templates were so complicated as users had to be trained on how to use the word docs, understand the styles, and all the nuances associated with the code. The linking structure linked to a primary key for a document, which also caused confusion. That’s just the publishing process, it gets worse.
The Pains of Content and Structure Coupled
The site was unfortunately designed so the structure would for the most part, remain constant. The structure of the site, and the content were coupled together, and that’s a major problem. As the site would grow and more pages were added to the taxonomy, the system became more and more inflexible. The developers had a very complicated way of managing the pages, the changes took a few days to work as the underlying code had to be changed. The simplest of web changes that you would expected to see from a web CMS system required ongoing developer support –not content changes at the business level.
I’m not going to mention the name of the CMS vendor who provided this less than stellar tool, as I believe the deployment of the system was to blame from the in house technical group –all of which happened before I got there. Whew, I feel better, that’s been pent up inside of me for a few years now.
Thinking forward: Community Systems of today, to be legacy systems tomorrow
As we deploy community solutions that have social media features, are we thinking about in a few years how these legacy systems will be inflexible, don’t talk to our other systems, cobbled together application ware that we loosely couple with our other customer facing web systems?
I also know of many business groups that are deploying community software, often by ‘notifying’ IT that they are doing it, sometimes without thinking about the long term implications of these systems not being able to migrate, talk, or share data with other websites. In many cases, the business sponsor will move on to another role, job, or company, leaving the archaic community platform in the hands of the next web strategist.
Two questions for you:
1) I’d love to hear from you about your CMS horror stories, feel free to leave a comment below, go ahead, vent away.
2) Are you deploying a community platform for your web strategy at your company? What are you doing to plan for the long term 5+ years impacts of this system in regards to the rest of the enterprise web strategy?