Enterprise social Software technology
In other words, the same suite vs. best-of-breed debate that characterizes many other technology spaces is alive and well on the social software landscape as well (see sidebar below-The social software marketplace). The best way to sort out your needs, however, is to avoid calls of "Let’s install a wiki," or "Our staff should be blogging," or "We need an online forum." As with any other software implementation, you have to ask what you’re really trying to accomplish.
Different scenariosThe good news is, you are not alone figuring that out. Enterprises around the world are experimenting with social computing, and various common-use cases–-we’ll call them "scenarios"-–are emerging. In CMS Watch’s vendor evaluation research, we’ve identified 11 common social software scenarios. Overall, those scenarios represent different business objectives or outcomes that can yield real business benefits. In some cases, they may represent specific projects as well, although we find that many social software implementations target multiple scenarios.
To be sure, the scenarios are abstractions. In practice, your own efforts are likely to represent variants or some hybrid combination of scenarios. And the cases overlap somewhat. Nonetheless, they are useful for understanding which types of products tend to work better for which type of projects.
We break the 11 scenarios down into two broad categories—external and internal:
- External scenarios involve social networking and collaboration with people primarily outside your firewall.
- Internal scenarios focus on activity that takes place primarily behind your enterprise firewall. We say "primarily" because in practice enterprise networks can get fungible, especially where collaboration is involved.
Internal scenarios include: project collaboration, enterprise collaboration, enterprise discussion, information organization and filtering, knowledgebase management, communities of practice and enterprise networking.
External scenarios include: branded customer communities, customer/reader interaction, partner collaboration and professional networking.
Among other benefits, scenario analysis can help with product selection. Explicitly or not, different social software products target different use cases. Understanding the business scenarios that fit better or worse for the different packages enables you to dispense with horse-race-style evaluations (e.g., "What’s the best wiki?"—as if such a thing could exist) and helps you peer deeper into their relative strengths and weaknesses for your particular circumstances.
For example, we find that most technology offerings in this space target either internal or external scenarios. Or, if the same product is used for both, typically it is implemented as two wholly separate environments. Similarly, some wiki tools facilitate the kind of structured information management required for building and maintaining formal knowledgebases, while others are better suited for the unfettered flow of information exchange typically found in a community of practice.
So, while social software is relatively new, the key to success is as old as the first line of application code ever written: Know what you’re trying to accomplish before you invest in the technology.
In the face of the difficult cultural and organizational challenges that social software implementations can raise, you don’t want to over-expend resources on tools when you really need to focus on managing change.
At the same time, it does truly matter which technologies you deploy and which vendors you select as partners. Social software may engender a kind of healthy informality of communication and information exchange, but enterprises looking for long-term success should take a very methodical approach to selecting the right tools.
The social software marketplaceThe social software marketplace is highly fragmented and likely to remain so for some time. Here is an incomplete but representative list of the major players.
These are behemoth software vendors who arrived belatedly but with some force to the social software landscape. With the exception of Google, they are also among the pricier offerings.
Social software suites
These are smaller, privately held vendors that offer an array of different social software services, but, individually, they come to this space with a particular background in one application or another, which typically remains their core strength and orientation.
These are standalone wiki software packages. Nearly all the other vendors in the tiers already mentioned offer some sort of wiki services, but they generally pale in comparison to what you would find in these dedicated wiki tools.
Although all these vendors have ambitions about expanding to become more full-fledged Web content management and social software offerings, the core of each of these platforms is its blogging service.
White-label community services
These are hosted suites of social software services that an enterprise can private-label to create their own branded, public offerings.
These are public networking sites catering to individuals, but with the opportunity to create groups and networks that can be leveraged within and beyond the enterprise.