I’m currently doing an intensive 3 month research project on the topic of Community Platforms, and it’s become very clear that by talking to many of the 27 brands, 9 vendors, and leaning on forecast data where many decisions are currently being made to purchase these enterprise software solutions. To start with, many solutions (define as a set of software, services, support) are being purchased by marketers who want to bring a social aspect to their corporate website.
These marketing folks, who may have worked with IT in the past to load CMS programs are bound by corporate red tape, de-prioritized by IT project management, or want to evade the rigors of legal and security and free to purchase community platforms using Software as a Service model (SaaS). Why is this beneficial? As they’ve only to rely on IT for single sign on (SSO) they often can handle the rest within the web marketing team, or lean on the services of the community vendor.
Yet, they aren’t the only buyers, HR departments are starting to become sponsors for enterprise social network platforms to improve internal knowledge transfers, collaboration, and developing specific programs for alumni, new hires, interns, and even women using pre-packaged use case features provided by these vendors.
You can see where this is headed right? IT departments realize that fragmented communtiy software is going to lead to a disparate mess to clean up, and many are starting to make recommendations for enterprise platforms that will span the usage of the whole company. Why? To reduce overall resources, ensure security, centralize data, and ensure, well that they are responsible and safe when it comes to their information.
I’ve only heard of a few instances from the marketers that I’ve interviewed where IT has thought of community platforms as an enterprise solution rather than a one-off by marketing.
Talking with many of these folks in this research project, I could make the case that in 12-24 months we’ll start to see CIOs start to initiate projects to deliver enterprise social networking mandates, take ownership over these disparate projects, and wake up and realize the importance of these tools beyond marketing and HR.
This yields all kinds of questions regarding: security, what does enterprise-class entail, how will Microsoft/SAP/IBM respond, will Saas or on-premise software be required, governance, flexibility, allowance of third-party widgets, and costs. More to come on this as I dive further into this research project.
It’s amazing it’s taken so many years for this to come around, I first started writing about this back in 2005 with Dennis McDonald.
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.
A few days ago, I ran a contest for two winners to receive free tickets to the Internet Strategy Forum Summit in Portland. The winning responses, based on insight, ability to back up their predictions and being succinct were Christopher Smith and Kristie.
I’ve selected the two winners, here’s their submissions:
Kristie Connor, a Marketing Consultant, submits on the concept of ‘fluidity’. I like this concept as the corporate website won’t be the only container of brand and product content but also this content will spread to wherever the conversations flow on the web: Social networks, blogs, friendfeed and wherever else. She writes the following:
“Corporate websites of the future will be less about canned content and more about fluidity. Meaning, the consumer will demand websites that are connected to the ‘users’ and ‘consumers’ personal networks which will promote and instill word of mouth as a best practice for business development and ultimately sales. The infrastructure will be designed in a way that company developed case studies, webinars and such will be replaced by real consumers leaving messages and user created video’s. The back-end will be light and built to accommodate the interactivity of users and social networks. Customer generated content will be ranked higher in search engines and push the website owner to move in the direction to capture mind share.”
Additionally, this evolution will put the consumer in the driver’s seat which will drive accountability from outside in.
Christopher Smith, VP of Digital Media Marketing and the Creative Director at MediaTrust submits an excellent piece highlighting that people, real humans will be front and center, rather than the stock photo and corporate happy talk, I couldn’t hope and agree more. Perhaps the future holds a ‘customized’ social network where people you actually know that work at the company are front and center on the website, or customers that are connected to you on your social graph:
“Jeremiah, in response to your contest I submit the following:
I actually believe in 5 years the “corporate website” as we now it will no longer exist. Gone will be the days of the static brochure site, supported by a “dynamic” sub-branded social community. There will no longer be the “self-service” document download centers, or the video case study hiding the infomercial inside.
I see the corporate website as hub of individuals that become your first point of contact, and guide you through your search for products, service or support. Consider the example of the Apple Retail Store experience and extend that to the web. You are going to the corporate site for a reason. Even casual browsers to a corporate site have a passive agenda. Virtual corporate ambassadors will assist you in your interaction with the company, blurring the lines of sales, CRM, and support, with the use of chat, video feed, guided browsing, VoIP… the list goes on.
How will this happen in 5 years? I have already begun this work for my company’s new site, and have begun working with our customer experience team from the tech side to insure that we begin building the opportunity today and defining the process in design and test.
And yes, I already have the date in my calendar, and plan on attending as much of the conference as I can. The downside of winning your contest will be that I am required to visit my mother in law if I am Portland.”
Doh! Have fun with your mother in law Chris. For additional reference, do read my post on the Irrelevant Corporate Website, and how to evolve it. Although over a year old, we’re just starting to see websites evolve.
Been a busy week, I was in L.A. (twice) helped many clients, and now am off to NYC today on Sunday in preparation for tomorrow’s Forrester Finance Forum. Aside from the hectic schedule, there are two major changes in my life: 1) My kid sister enters the workpace, 2) My parents contemplate retirement. Me? I’m in the middle, “Jeremiah-in-the-middle” as a young Gen Xer, experiencing it all unfold.
Gen Y Enter Stage Left
Last weekend, my kid sister (yes, the one who said she only uses email to communicate with old people like me) has graduated from college. 10 years my junior, she starts her first full time job in San Francisco. Already armed with a network connected to her on Facebook, Instant Messaging tools (and probably MySpace too), she enters the workforce connected to her new employers: customers, partners, and even competitors.
What they are on their profiles echos to their networks, and if they indicate they are employed (many do) then they are now representatives of the brand.
Companies have three choices when it comes to understanding this opportunity: 1) Do nothing. Most companies are unaware of these changes, or even if they are, they are unsure of the possibilities. 2) Shut it down. Some companies have locked Facebook, YouTube and other ‘time-wasters’ away from employees, but now with today’s pervasive mobile devices (iPHone, Blackberry, Nokia, Sidekick), there is no blocking it. 3) Make use of the opportunity. Employees, whether they realize it or not are the front line of the company, they can be support, they can be sales, or they can just be brand ambassadors. Check out this interview with me about the future of the outsourced Intranet from ZDnet, and how Serena Software encourages it’s employees to have a Facebook Friday.
These questions remain:
Do the once finite lines of the corporate firewall between work and personal start to fade?
Who is really an official spokesperson? Is there an unofficial spokesperson?
As Generation Y moves into the workforce, how will their communication habits change? How about ours? (I work with several talented ones)
Will Generation Y, who is accustomed to Facebook Applications, Google Docs, Rich internet application interfaces, and advanced web technology (all public) be shocked to find out how bad your enterprise software is?
How will companies adapt and changes their corporate policies to meet this change?
Baby Boomers Exit Stage Right
Although still a few years away, my parents are considering retirement. They’ve accomplished a lot in their careers, both have been towards to the top of the food chains in their respective careers in Education and Medicine. These baby boomers (the largest generation America has ever seen) leave their companies and organizations, and often with the know-how, knowledge, and networks that we’ve relied on. In fact, many senior leadership at corporations are members of the large boomer generation.
For example, at a previous company where I managed the intranet, I received stats from HR, in order to complete my user experience research. I found that 40% of the company (more than a third) of the employees were going to retire in the next 5-10 years, many in leadership positions. That was 3 years ago.
These questions remain:
Are companies prepared for this mass exodus of experienced leaders?
How will they harvest the knowledge from these professionals? Once they leave, they are under no obligation to return it.
How will some companies have ‘soft-retirements’ allowing them to work part time or have access to their networks.
Will they leave a gaping hole in upper and mid management giving a gravity well to Gen X to quickly climb to leadership –some with questionable experience?
Solutions? Dennis McDonald left a link to an interesting social network created by Dow that ties retirees to the company.
Comparing both generations, I often have heard from my parents generation about climbing the corporate ladder, getting a pension, and being lifers at companies. When I talk to the younger generation, they are at the stage of wanting to climb vertically, and they know the fastest way up is out –in just a few years. Without a doubt, we’ve changes ahead, it’ll be interesting to see how companies cultures and workstyle change.
I’ve started a new series, called Social Media Frequently Asked Questions. It’s a collection of the top asked questions I hear over and over. I’m putting them here on my blog is a great place to help everyone quickly get educated, convince their boss, or be able to help their clients get over these hurdles, so please, pass them around.
If you’re seeking advanced topics, cruise through the web strategy posts (it goes back pages and pages)
I’ve been speaking to a couple of companies each week from a variety of industries, and each at different levels of expertise (see the five questions I use to gauge their level of sophistication).
Now, in 2008, I’m often on the phone with the VP of Marketing, or speaking to a large group of corporate marketers, previous yesars, it was a small brownbag of those that were trying to evangelize –enterprises are waking up and seeing the impact.
I’ve noticed a trend of questions lately, where during the Q&A session someone will ask “Who owns the social media program?”. I get variations on the theme that include “Who should updated Wikipedia?” or “Who should respond to bloggers” or “Who should respond to twitter?”.
I’ve deduced there are two reasons why people ask this question:
The first reason is that companies are very unsure of who ‘owns’ this type of communication, one very foreign to the model of corporate communications who creates press releases and anoints official company spokespersons.
The second reason people ask this question is that they’re undergoing internal turmoil, and they are trying to get me to say something that will prove a point to someone else in the room. I can always tell, as I see the audience eyeballs shift from the person who asked to the person it was ‘intended’ to aim at. (Speaker tip: I watch the audience as much as they watch me during presentations –esp blackberry usage, and what’s said on Twitter)
..both are valid and real.
All of this gets trickier and trickier as when we realize that social media impacts nearly every department in the company, at first PR, then Marketing, Product Teams, Research & Development, Support, Engineering, HR, Legal, Sales, and of course the executive team, in fact, I’ve outlined how social computing impacts the whole product life cycle, only for advanced readers.
Social Media FAQ #6: Who Owns the Social Media Program
The answer to this question is “It depends”, and here’s how I answer it:
First, I discuss that the once solid lines of communication of corporate communications are now blurred at the edges of the company, where employees who blog, or Gen Y students who indicate they work for a company in their Facebook profile, or the product manager who guises as an expert in a third party product site participates –now everyone, in one shape or another can represent the brand online.
Secondly, I first share the three models of internal organization, the tower, tire, and the hub & spoke. After reading sharing this, I ask the audience which camp they currently are in, and where do they want to be.
Thirdly, I talk about the need for the roles of the community manager and the social media strategist, in fact there’s a report on it on the Forrester site. Roles are needed for success, in fact I was the former community manager at HDS –I’ve lived through this. (I’ve also developing the ability to quickly identify who these folks are in the room: by the questions they ask, head nodding during certain points, and when their eyes light up when I talk about connecting with customers)
Lastly, I discuss the air traffic tower, an internal tool and process where a cross-functional team assembles and communicates (the hub and spokes as I mentioned above)
I purposely did not directly answer ‘who’ owns the program (but something I would do for clients), instead, I’ve layed out all of the options, some goals, some roles that are appearing, that will help define where you should go. The thing is, each company will be different, although I clearly see some trends occurring.
Whew that was a lot, but each of those represent different takes of what’s happening in the external market and how they impact internal teams like Corporate Communications, Legal, HR, Sales, Product Teams, Support, and most of all… customers.
A new form of the Groundswell has appeared. What’s the Groundswell? We define it as a movement where individuals get what they need from each other, rather from existing institutions. The following hits home so hard for me, as I cover Social Computing as an Analyst, and I’m a former enterprise intranet manager.
In this case, employees are starting to collaborate, outside of the corporate firewall to connect, share, and learn from each other, here’s a few examples beyond the traditional Yahoo Finance Chat rooms:
Glassdoor: Rate Employers, CEOs, and find out Industry Salaries
This site launched today, although a few of my colleagues were briefed last week. Essentially, to obtain knowledge about company reviews, CEO reviews, and salary information, you have to first submit your information –all anonymously. This stealth startup, which just launched is being discussed on Techcrunch and on Cnet. I just reviewed my former employer to gain access. Essentially, companies are peer reviewed, and you can find out industry averages to see how well you do or don’t measure up to industry peers.
SalaryScout: Global Peer Salary Data
Although it feels a little less polished than Glassdoor, SalaryScout primarily offers the same peer based salary submission and review. Most interestingly is the global data available, it’s not just US focused. Do check out the map mashup of global salaries. The next step would be to standardize salaries to native currencies so we can compare. Since the technology is easy to grasp and build sites like these, the market winner will come down to aggressive marketing and fast iterative development. (submitted by bdthomas)
Criticat: Review, Advise and Discuss your employer
This startup, much in the same vein as Glassdoor offers a collaborative view into your company: “Do you feel you have a great solution to a problem in your company but not sure if everyone else will agree with you?”. Essentially, collaboration around company brainstorms happens outside the firewall. (thanks to Arjun for the tip)
UserVoice: Innovate with your marketplace
I covered this company a few weeks ago when they launched, essentially a public version of SalesForce’s IdeaExchange, it lets companies innovate (embrace) with customers by letting them submit –then vote– for the features, services, and products they want.
Get Satisfaction: Product Support –but not on your corporate domain
Although mainly satisfying startups with limited resources, and the occasional Comcast, this startup provides customers a universal way to support products, on one site, rather than visiting hundreds. A few savvy companies have started to monitor their brand.
F*ucked Company: Former dot com confession booth
Although currently shut down, it was very active in 2001-2003, this site tracked the many miserable failures of dot coms, and even Enron. Many internal memos were published within hours on this site.
Social Networks: LinkedIn, Xing, Facebook
Of course, it goes without mention that many colleagues are assembling on these social networks, before, during, and afterwork. Some frustrated companies block social networks from their firewalls, while the next generation of workers will simply bypass those shallow walls using mobile devices –the Groundswell is difficult to stop. Instead, brands should lead with policy, embrace, and look for the business opportunities of having a connected workforce.
Dangers and Opportunities of the Crowdsourced Company
The previous examples indicate a trend of what’s happening: The conversations that used to take place at the physical watercooler, has now shifted online, organized, and manifests as something greater. But what are the impacts?
Sometimes false, sometimes inflammatory, and sometimes truthful, yet frustrated sounding information will be posted to these sites from employees, former employees, and customers.
Employees get more control, as their voice will be heard to other colleagues, and in some cases, to the entire internet.
Salaries will be puffed, as professionals will seek to demonstrate how much they are valued, I expect salary data to be inaccurate, and inflated.
Candidates will have more bargaining power during hiring process, as they can view not only third party salary.com, but now look at pan-industry salaries –hiring managers and recruiters will refute.
Employees will seek out the hiring paying next step job, and develop career-pathing to lead to the larger pot of gold
Corporations will flinch, and many will setup policies to prevent employees from posting private information outside of the firewall although many of these internal memos will appear within hours on the very sites they seek to stop.
Dissatisfied and passionate customers will assemble on these third party sites to self-support each other, few companies will realize how they need to follow the conversation.
Some savvy brands will get ahead of this Groundswell, and launch their own tools internally and externally, some will successful centralize –then lead –their market conversation.
What other impacts do you see happening from this new pattern of websites that turn power over to employees and customers?