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Making sense of Social

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Everyone knows that “social” is important, but it’s a messy and fragmented market, and difficult to sort out. Social software can be categorized in numerous ways, including by technology and by function, but that doesn’t provide a unified, coherent picture because most types of social software can be used for multiple functions, and each functional area may use multiple technologies. Various taxonomies have been devised for categories of social software and for functional areas, but a comprehensive overview is hard to find.

IDC defines social business as “an aggregation of several markets that enable applications to deliver social workflow capabilities.” It organizes the market sectors around the business processes that social business impacts, including enterprise social networks (ESNs), innovation management, socialytics, customer experience (including social customer support, social marketing automation and other functions), social sales enablement and social talent management. IDC categorizes the technology markets as: collaborative applications, enterprise resource management and customer relationship management.

Gartner defines the social software market as those products used primarily to support people working together in teams, communities or networks. In this definition, social software is not being used for a particular business process or activity, but supports any type of collaborative activity. The products are used within enterprises, primarily by employees but also by external customers, suppliers and partners for networking and expertise location, team formation and information sharing.

Many well-established enterprise software products in the KM arena that did not originally have a social component have added one, which broadens the reach of social business to platforms for which it is not the primary purpose. In addition, software solutions are used to keep track of and guide responses to consumers who are using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to voice their opinions. More software products are entering this market every day as the social media environment continues to evolve.

“Business social” platforms

An early entrant into the social business market, Jive helps connect people within an enterprise and engage with customers and partners. “All our technology focuses on connecting people through a modern interface that is as appealing as the ones consumers have become accustomed to, but in a work context,” says Tim Zonca, senior director of product marketing at Jive.

Jive is used in three primary ways: for strategic alignment, such as communication from upper management to employees; for productivity-oriented collaboration; and for engaging partners and customers. “Many Jive customers use the product for more than one of these purposes,” adds Zonca. “For example, the sales department might use it for alignment and collaboration, and marketing might use it for collaboration and customer engagement.”

Jive consolidates activity streams from Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Dropbox, Yammer, Twitter, RSS feeds. “Jive works with other software to provide a cohesive user experience across devices and applications,” Zonca says, “even if the other application is an old backend system.” It also integrates with other enterprise software, such as SharePoint and Salesforce.com, so users do not have to leave an application to access its capabilities.

“Jive’s social layer is especially useful to new employees,” Zonca explains. “It helps them learn about the organization and the people in it, and it also helps experienced workers connect to other experts with whom they can share information.”

Platform with a purpose

Bloomfire is a social business platform for enterprise knowledge management and collaboration. It is designed to integrate simply and easily with the tools employees are already using to get work done.

“We are a tool for purposeful collaboration,” says Bob Zukis, CEO of Bloomfire. “The first generation of social software was oriented around networking and communication, but companies found that the Facebook model on its own does not translate well into business. The communication needs to be connected more directly to work-related activities.” However, some enterprise collaboration platforms do not have the ease of use and visual nature of today’s consumer interfaces, which are the standard by which software applications have come to be judged.

The knowledge-based communities supported by Bloomfire can easily publish and share information in a variety of formats, including video, documents and messaging. “We are a platform with a purpose, helping teams efficiently share and leverage group expertise so that everyone is better and more productive,” Zukis says.

Looking beyond the functions of the software, he sees a larger goal. “Social networking leverages the power of human capital by removing the transaction costs of interacting,” Zukis explains. “It has the potential to dramatically change the way we manage knowledge by pushing against the hierarchy, which has been more of a barrier to innovation than a facilitator.”

KM solutions add social

Appian’s BPM software has a social interface that supports numerous collaborative functions. Users can send messages, assign tasks, share content and “follow” their colleagues. “Business social is best applied to carrying out specific tasks and work activities,” says Matt Calkins, president and CEO of Appian, “rather than being positioned as a standalone social network. The social aspect needs to be deeply integrated into the business and the tasks.”

Many enterprise content management (ECM) solutions generally have added collaborative components that include blogs, wikis and the ability to rate and share documents. OpenText Extended Collaboration, for example, includes forums, blogs, wikis and real-time chat, along with its project workspaces, polls, news channels, tasks and milestones. Its ECM application allows the same policies to be applied to social networking content as to its other documents.

Search software has added some social components such as voting, rating and “liking.” As well as being a collaborative platform, SharePoint allows ratings of its content on a five-star scale, and products have sprung up to produce more elaborate ratings. Bamboo Solutions, for example, allows SharePoint users to choose from among three kinds of ratings, filter and sort them by average ratings or number of ratings, and obtain real-time statistics.

Monitoring, analyzing and acting on social media

Shifting gears to another dimension of “social,” a tremendous amount of time, energy and money are going into monitoring, analyzing and responding to consumer comments on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Companies can use that input for marketing, promoting customer engagement and driving product development. Ignoring it can endanger business.

Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight monitors and analyzes social media commentary. Topic Waves, part of ForSight’s social media monitoring solution, identifies themes being discussed in conversations such as hashtag campaigns. The feedback allows companies to address concerns or to use the information in future social media campaigns.

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