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Fritz Nelson
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Socialcast's New "Town Hall": Executive Social Outreach

The social enterprise platform now includes a method for executives to communicate, answer questions and hold virtual office hours. (Video demo of Town Hall included.)

Socialcast, a small, but growing San Francisco-based startup announced Town Hall, a new capability that adds executive communication functionality to its web-based social enterprise platform. It's a relevant and timely addition, but ultimately it seems more like a new feature, rather than the product Socialcast makes it out to be. But perhaps I'm splitting hairs.

Socialcast is an intriguing application for businesses serious about embracing the benefits of social software, namely connecting employees, sharing knowledge, sharing activity data, providing an organizing mechanism around a distributed, or even mobile corporate culture. The platform looks and feels much like a grownup version of Facebook, with a little sprinkling of Twitter tossed in.

(For an in-depth video demonstration of Socialcast, watch the Reviewcam conducted with my colleague, David Berlind, at the very end of this article.)

Late last year, Socialcast added Reach, whereby Socialcast would be less of another application or web site to visit, and more directly linked into the every day productivity applications of a modern enterprise. In my examination of Reach (available here), I called it Facebook Connect for the enterprise. It is integrated via HTML/JavaScript, Adobe Air, Microsoft Silverlight, and a host of specific app plug-ins (like, SugarCRM, Microsoft Sharepoint, Microsoft Office, and more, including ERP systems). Customers can integrate other applications using the REST-based APIs.

The company said that General Motors has been an early and enthusiastic adopter.

Town Hall, then, starts to add some workflow to the product in the form of what Socialcast deems "virtual office hours." It fits as just another menu item within the web-based application. Scheduling a Town Hall is as easy as clicking a button, and then picking a date and time. There can be a moderator, and you can make the Town Halls both public (everyone can see) or private (just for a small, invited team).

(Watch directly below for a video demonstration of Town Hall.)

Town Halls can begin before the appointed time, with staged or submitted questions that can be flagged and then filtered for the actual meeting. Socialcast also makes it relatively easy to view questions that haven't been answered yet, just by applying a filter (a click of a button). File attachments, embedded video and other documents can be posted to start the executive address.

All of the Town Halls get archived; discussions can ensue after the meeting is over, and the further discussions spill over into user activity streams. Unfortunately, users can't ask questions anonymously, which will typically prevent the type of feedback executives say they crave (but let's be honest: who truly does).

The best part about Town Hall is that it starts to address a more practical side of social software: establishing itself as part of a workflow. An executive address is but one small, and infrequent example, but it's progress. Still, as companies struggle with incorporating (or reluctantly embracing) social software into the enterprise, one of the big challenges is getting executive buy in. Town Hall is intended to speak directly to those executives. Casting it as a product, rather than a feature enhancement, might be a fairly blatant play to appeal at a high level.

Come to think of it, that's a pretty smart move.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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