I’m deep into the Wave research (read my latest status update) for nine community platforms (big list here), in fact, this week and next, I’m in 5 and a half to 6 hour meetings with vendors getting to know them very well. Of course, that’s just one side of the story, I’m interviewing up to 27 of their customers (brands) to get the ‘other’ side of the story. You’ll see me pop up online for “Twitter breaks” here and there, surfacing for air, then submerging back again.
I wasn’t surprised to hear from a few brands that not everyone is a fan of Software as a Service (Saas), in fact, for some, on-premise software makes a whole lot more sense. What exactly was the pain point with Saas?
Of course, the most obvious points continue to come to mind: conservative companies, or those with truly critical data wanted to have the data on site, or wanted to self-support their own architecture, or wanted to modify the software at their choosing, yet I learned about something that I hadn’t even considered:
Some brands felt that being tied to SaaS meant they were at the mercy of the vendor when it came to the software architecture. While this is certainly the case not just for SaaS but all non-opensource software, when a vendor would upgrade a version, some brands were forced to accept the changes. In some cases, some brands were not aware/prepared of some upcoming upgrades to the SaaS software and were blindsided to the changes.
Furthermore, these brands felt that the larger customers who wanted specific feature upgrades were able to influence the vendor through direct pressure or even fueling the R&D work through feature requests. What’s wrong with that? Alot, if the feature requests of the larger customer don’t reflect the needs of a smaller SMB customer. Since the software is delivered over the web, there was little recourse for the smaller brand to deny the changes, they pretty much had to suck it up.
Now you may ask, isn’t this a problem with all software, SaaS or on-premise? Yes but vendors are more likely to allow customers to use multiple versions of on-premise software, of course there’s a date when they will no longer support it. Yet vendors who provide SaaS are far more likely to provide only one version, forcing clients to swallow the changes on demand.
Have you had a bad experience with Software as a Service? Leave a comment, let’s explore this further.
Related reading: Community Platforms: Here comes the CIO.
Update: As usual, the conversation has also splintered into FriendFeed.
We’re all social creatures, and we thrive on the interactions of others, in fact, these interactions are the primary drivers for troublemakers in communities.
I’ve read stories about how babies that are given all the proper medical attention, food, shelter to deem them ‘healthy’ whither away to near death if they don’t get human contact and love and care. The same applies to prison, perhaps one of the more dreaded punishments is sending inmates to the ‘hole’ for isolation from all social contact. POWs can muster the strength to survive knowing that a series of Morse code taps can signal to fellow inmates that they’re ok and cared about. How does this apply to online communities?
[The 'Bozo' Feature renders the troublemakers' activities invisible to everyone else, naturally severing what they most crave from others --attention and reactions]
One of my primary coverage areas is on community platforms (also known as white label social networks) that are used by brands to deploy their own social features on their corporate domain. I’ve come across both Mzinga and Pluck that offer this feature, leave a comment below if you also have this feature.
Community managers have a few options when dealing with troublemakers, the first is to take them on head on, either in private or public, sometimes it leads them to banning them. Banning them (removing their account) often doesn’t solve many issues, instead they may choose to create new accounts, or figure out how to cause additional trouble in subvert ways.
Some community managers who can’t deal any further with these troublemakers are left to only one option, by rendering the troublemaker as a “Bozo” using the communtiy software. What’s the “Bozo” feature? It renders the troublemaker invisible to everyone else.
Troublemakers thrive on the attention they get from others and enjoy stirring up fights, but they won’t know that no one else can see them, and therefore assume everyone is ignoring them, or their ploys hold no weight. As a result, they’ll slowly move away, sometimes never realizing that they’ve been labeled a “Bozo”. This gives the community manager a way to defuse the situation, in a non-confrontational manner, allowing for the troublemaker to quietly move on their own.
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.
One of the ways I tell companies how they can best serve their market is to be transparent on how they build products. By doing so, it helps folks not only understand, but appreciate the level of effort that goes into creating a service or product. While analysts offer guidance and advisory sessions, we’re most known for the reports that we create, in fact, these are key products that help decision makers be successful.
Demand for community platforms, yet too many vendors
I’m asked a few times a week on which community vendor to choose, with a list of 80-120 vendors on my blog and a more refined catalog on the Forrester site, it’s very confusing for brands to determine who’s best. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know I’ve been watching the community platform (aka white label social network space) with great interest, even before I joined Forrester. A few weeks ago I announced my intention to start a Forrester Wave report, which will segment out nine vendors that will meet the needs of Interactive Marketers at Enterprise Class companies (companies with more than 1,000 employees).
The Forrester Wave Methdology
Using the refined Forrester Wave methodology that has been completed by many analysts before me, we’re nearly half way done with this 3 month research project to understand, and segment the community platform market. For this particular report, it doesn’t make sense to utilize crowd sourcing methods (although I’ve used crowd sourcing for other reports), the Wave method is already refined from the many analysts before me.
To date, we’ve created a detailed scorecard that involved a feedback loop with major brands who have recently deployed community software. This particular scorecard contains over 54 criteria that was assembled through client discussions, a panel of a trusted folks who have deployed communities, discussions with fellow analysts, and feedback from the vendors. Next, we collect data from the 9 vendors, each completing the scorecard for a total of 496 cells, then I create my own sheet of cells verifying what we found for a total of 992 cells of data collection.
Also, we’ve started interviewing and recording feedback from 27 brands that have deployed community software from these vendors, in order to find out what went right –and what could be improved from each of these nine vendors. Again, more spreadsheets and data collection.
Starting this week, we start a series of day-long labs with each of the vendors, where will be looking under the covers at the actual software, discuss their business strategy, and understand how their community offerings can best help marketers. We’re looking at the market from a variety of angles, to ensure that an accurate report is created.
At Forrester, an analyst never works in a vacuum, it’s collaborative and I’ve a lot of minds to lean on. It’s not just me alone, I’m getting help from analyst and my editor Shar Vanboskirk, analyst Oliver Young who knows the enterprise side of this space, analyst Suresh Vittal who’s completed many waves, analyst Laura Ramos, and constant support from research associate Sarah Glass (my guiding light, and detailed taskmaster) and research associate Zach Reiss-Davis. I’m under the guidance of my research director Christine Overby, and am in constant contact with our seasoned Josh Bernoff. Despite suggestions that some analyst firms do not have knowledge management strategies isn’t quite true. In fact, we retain the knowledge of our colleagues through tools like internal wikis, constant team communication, and most importantly knowledge and insights generated by reports will live on for colleagues and clients on the website.
That’s just the half way point: next I have to analyze, score, conduct follow ups to ensure all the data is correct, and begin the scoring process. You’re going to notice a decrease in my posting over the next few weeks, and my online activity start to wean off as I work hard to deliver a quality report later this fall that will help interactive marketers make the right decision.
Read more about this Wave Research project:
Part 1: Starting the Wave
Part 2: Data Collection Process
Part 3: The Analysis Process
Part 4: Announcing the Wave, the final report
A few months ago, I put a call out to the industry to submit to this catalog of the Community Platform space (also known as the White Label Social Network space), my interest in this space grew from a list I started over a year ago on my blog even before I was an analyst covering this space. The list continues to grow, as commodity software is fueled by market demand for brands to create their own hosted communities.
Forrester Report: Announcing Vendor Product Catalog of Community Platforms For The Interactive Marketer (part 1/2)
This report is the first of two, If you’re a client, you probably have access to the report, or you can purchase it on the site, we stand by our work and offer a money back guarantee if you’re not completely satisfied.
This Vendor Product Catalog which we’re launching today is more or less the “yellow pages” of the space, but unlike my generic list on my blog, the companies have been vetted and important information has been added such as:
Enterprise focus (percent of clients with more than 1000 employees)
SMB focus (percent of clients with less than 1000 employees)
Categorization of their business model (Breakdown of Hardware, Hosted Web Service, Services, Software, Support)
Top three industries the vendor is involved with
Focus on external/vs internal community deployment (customer/employee)
Brands should use this report to:
You should use this report to help narrow down specific needs and questions you have – given this is such a large industry, these key attributes will help you filter.
In the spirit of Social Computing, this report has rating and comment features, this way clients can rate and rank their experience with the vendors, much in the way CNET or Amazon.com does for consumer products. So if you’ve used these vendors –leave a comment and rank the experience.
There were almost 50 products submitted to this Vendor Product Catalog which is pretty amazing considering how young the market is. The data has helped us to select the vendors for my next report:
Vendors should use this report to:
If you didn’t initially submit to this catalog but feel you should be on it, you can submit their information online here and selecting ‘Community Platforms For The Interactive Marketer’ from the VPC topic drop down menu.
Underway: Wave Report on Community Platforms (part 2)
I recently announced my intent to complete a Forrester Wave report which will focus on the nine firms best suited for Fortune 5000 interactive marketers. This is currently underway. I’m gathering market requirements from clients and analysts to create a detailed and thorough scorecard which will be completed during in depth meetings with each of the nine final vendors. In order to keep the process simple, I won’t be disclosing who the nine vendors are until the report goes live in October. You can learn more about this and other Wave reports on the Forrester site.
In addition to thanking all the vendors who submitted, I’d like to recognize Sarah Glass who has been instrumental in getting this catalog done. Although you can’t often see, behind the scenes, there is a large research group here that supports the analysts – I’m grateful.
If you’re a white label social network vendor, you’re likely getting many new clients at corporations that have special pricing needs, let’s discuss this scenario.
Yesterday, I spoke to a white label social network who had some challenges pricing their product for their corporate clients. I speak to both vendors and clients, so it’s interesting to hear from both ends about concerns, triggers, and final deals.
There are a few ways to approach pricing your social media product for corporate clients, you can do a fixed amount, a layered pricing model (buy as you need), variable on performance (pay as you consume) or a combination thereof.
I’ve found that for new programs (like social media) these are often experimental “new media” budgets and although these products and services tend to be inexpensive, there are still some pricing considerations you must be prepared for. Most corporations issue quarterly or annual budgets to business groups, often with a fixed amount. If you require additional funds, you’ll have to present a business case to management, which can also take some time, as well as be a headache to validate one’s new business programs.
One additional factor is that budgets that are not entirely used up, they get recaptured by the umbrella organization, and could be an indicator that the business group doesn’t need further funds, resulting in reduced budget the next quarter. There’s an inherent risk here as well, as if all of the budget is used up on primarily a single vendor, the ability to have flexible spending for other services is limited. I draw these factors from both my experience having a small budget for social media as well as speaking to many clients on a similar front.
In my vendor product catalog (which will publish soon), I can see that there are many different pricing models happening for the white label social network industry, while there are many different pricing styles, perhaps the most common is fixed band pricing (fixed monthly fee with low variable by user).
If you’re a white label social network and are getting push back from clients about pricing and you’re not sure why, you should examine your pricing offer. For situations like this, social media vendors should experiment with fixed price bands (rather than variable by usage) so that business groups confidently purchase and keep within their budget. Then, as the program grows, the client business group won’t have to go to management when costs exceed their budget in early stages of this program, and then having to demonstrate success.
Of course, when the community platform shows high degrees of success, the opportunity for increasing support, hosting and pipe capabilities, and other services (including pay as you use pricing). So in summary, keep it simple, when dealing with corporations who are just experimenting with community software, offer a set or fixed price, at least till the community is up and running.
I’d like to hear from you, are you a vendor or a client? What are effective pricing models for new business programs (esp social media)
Blogging the status of my research agenda has become an efficient way for me to communicate with the market I cover, as well as signal to clients new areas of expertise.
Fortunately, much of the market I cover (or their PR firms) read this blog and my tweets (and vice versa), making my job as a researcher very, very efficient.
Many weeks ago, I made a call for the vendor product catalog in this market, (and via email and twitter) that document, is a detailed index of over 40 vendors in the space, (aprox 50% of the market) and will be available to Forrester clients and those who submitted to it in the coming days.
My research agenda for this quarter is to complete a Forrester Wave (learn more), which is a market segmentation and prioritization report that will help clients (Fortune 5000, Interactive Marketers) determine which vendor is right for them. (I get asked daily in one medium or another who to buy). The primary purpose of this report is to aid my clients to efficiently come to a short list or decision on who to buy. The lingering side effects could also signal to the VC space who to fund, as well as within the industry who will want to partner from a CMS, ERP, CRM, widget, services aspect.
Due to the rigorous methodology (there will be thousands of excel cells created, analyzed, and weighed among our team) The Wave will only include several vendors. During this 10 week process, I’ll be following the guidelines set before me (we’ve done many Wave reports) this consuming activity will meet my entire report coverage for the entire quarter. This coupled with the changes in our team, will keep me very busy, I hope it doesn’t impact my other duties, as well as blogging.
From time to time, I’ll post updates about where I am in developing this product (reports are one of our products), in that spirit, I’m now whittling down the big list to the core vendors that can stand the rigors of enterprise requirements (Fortune 5000) and are primarily suited for interactive marketers (mainly external deployments) who I serve.
If you’ve already submitted to the vendor product catalog, I’m already reviewing with the team. However, if you have an extensive track record for the Fortune 5000 interactive marketer (perhaps with references), and did not submit, you ought to let me know, email me at jowyang at forrester.com . I’ve already reached out to a few who I think could qualify.
You’ve already shown that you know what analysts do, but how we do it is a shrouded mystery, so now, you’re getting a behind the scenes tour as I trek forward –a little transparency should help you to better understand what we do.
Read more about this Wave Research project:
Part 1: Starting the Wave
Part 2: Data Collection Process
Part 3: The Analysis Process
Part 4: Announcing the Wave, the final report
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.
When many things are equal: your features, your customers, your products, your product roadmap, it’s often hard to differentiate.
Often, I’m getting pitched during briefings by White Label Social Network vendors they’ll often advance to a quadrant slide (almost always in the first quarter of the deck) and their almost always on the right hand top quadrant, using parameters they’ve selected. I’ll frequently ask them to tell me ‘how they are different’, only then, does the conversation get interesting. Of course, I already see stratification in this industry, with differentiation on product offerings.
This is not an endorsement for Jive Software, I’m simply commenting on the marketing efforts that they deploy to stand out from the very crowded marketplace (80-100 competitors, with more on the way). It’s also only a reflection of my perspective, I’ve not done a formal survey to brands to ask them what they think.
With that said, if you take a look at how Jive has been marketing themselves, they clearly stand out. Their VP of Marketing blogs, he ‘s part of the conversation in Twitter, and he tells stories that are intended to relate (whether they do or not is unknown) to corporate clients using imagery, storytelling, and icons.
But does it work? Maybe it gets attention, maybe it starts a conversation with those that are pained, but it doesn’t necessarily impact the product, service, and delivery of products. One thing is for sure, it’s significant enough to get me to tell you all about it.
When your market is one sea of gray, and underneath the corporate color scheme you’re all very similar, what are you going to do to standout? This applies to not just your company, but you as a future colleague or employee.
This is really heaven for me, many of the vendors I cover such as SmallWorld labs, Jive, Telligent, Hivelive, Lithium, Webcrossing, Google all at the same table.
I’m here here at the Online Community Unconference at a session where we’re probing the problems with the White Label Social networking space. The question? Are social platforms shit? (I didn’t come up with, I’m just taking notes)
[The question posed to this roundtable of vendors, clients and analyst: "Are social platforms shit?"]
If you don’t know the value of white label social networking vendors are, many large brands and organizations are hiring them to build online communities for their customers and prospects. I get a few calls every week from clients to discuss this growing need.
What’s interesting is that all the folks at the table are collaborating (as one would expect from the community industry) to discuss pan-industry problems from clients, features, etc.
Who was here? A dozen folks, a majority are vendors, and a few community managers and strategists from brands and companies. Leading this session is Greg Biggers.
Challenges expressed by the table:
Lack of Interoperability within this fledging industry
Platforms don’t have interoperability, due to lack of standards. For example brands create a community for customers, while marketers launch a facebook campaign. Differences include objects, protocols, data types, login, profiles, news page data.
Community Managers don’t know what they want, so who should educate them.
Owners want to move data from one vendor to another. Some say that the database schema is very similar from some vendors, it wouldn’t be hard to develop a migrator.
One community manager from a large tech brand (she asked me not to blog her company) wants to expose and share CRM data.
Lack of Flexibility
Not having a standard supply of community feature ‘recipes’ are difficult, no cookie cutter approach.
Content and navigation is sometimes not organized in a way of the communities’ need.
Communities software need to be flexible to adapt to the communities needs. For example, if a ‘food’ community shifts their focus from recipes to menus or then to ingredients, the software needs to be able to adapt and change.
How can a platform adapt to emerging technologies, such as twitter.
Who is responsible for understanding the domain of the community.
Lack of User Experience too many community projects
Confusion around Measurement
Would like to have user behavior analytics, current metrics are not easy to use. Telligent showed off their product, right time at the right place.
Difficult to get customer data behavior.
Lack of standardization of community behavior, such as a standard support metric, standard growth metric, etc.
Behavorial metrics are easier to gather but tying back to ROI will be difficult.
Large communities cannot self-manage
Tools need to allow the community to manage it self, with the right features to remove, alert, reduce bad behavior.
High Performance issues rising
Having hosting services in multiple locations is a challenge for communities that need to scale for large enterprises that need high-availability. (Webcrossing and solutionset). Expect this to continue to be an issue as communities become a node in the enterprise software system.
Update: Dennis McDonald suggests the solution could be process, not more technology.