More enterprises are deploying internal social networks to encourage collaboration and improve productivity. Take a tour of the major platforms and see how they are being used by leading organizations.
The common shorthand description of enterprise social networking is "Facebook inside your company"--not literally Facebook (although it's possible public social networks will enter this market) but software that mimics some of the functions of a public social network, while adding features specific to use within a business. The early adopters are looking to add some of the spontaneous social interaction associated with consumer social networks, but with the goal of business productivity rather than pure entertainment.
Consumer social networks are media properties programmed to observe the interactions between individuals for clues on how to deepen their engagement with the service (for example, by connecting them with people and content that match their interests) and, ultimately, make them a rich target for advertisers. Enterprise social networks can use the same techniques to divine a user's professional interests and expertise, suggesting colleagues and discussion groups they might be interested in connecting with. In the enterprise, the focus is on making people work better together. Enterprise social networking software takes on some of the same functions as portal software in allowing personalized views of information, but social software elevates the role of people, making it easier to navigate from a document to the profile of its author and from the profile to other documents--or groups, events, applications, and activities--that person is associated with.
Enterprise social networks must also meet an organization's security requirements and integrate with other content, collaboration, and identity systems.
Jive Software just had a successful IPO on the basis of its social software, and what they are showing in this screen shot is how your home page on the corporate network can bring together all sorts of information about what your coworkers are working on and information they have chosen to share. This is a social network organized around work, so you can see what's going on with projects or teams you're associated with. Also, just like Facebook recommends people you might want to have a friend connection to, Jive recommends interesting people and topics you might want to follow.
With the Apps Market introduced in Jive 5, Jive is also trying to turn itself into an integration platform for lots of other social applications, in much the same way Facebook has created an ecosystem of partnerships with the creators of social games and applications.
Jive is one of the best known players in internal enterprise social networking and also makes software for managing external communities (such as discussion forums for customers). The IT advisory firm Gartner ranks Jive as a leader in both categories, whereas many competing products are focused on one or the other (Jive says its revenue is split about 50-50 between internal and external applications).
This is a young market, with many competitors and new ones emerging on a regular basis. This slideshow provides an overview of some of the major players, but it is not a complete list. It also shows examples of how social software is being applied by specific organizations.
Competitors like to dismiss IBM Connections as some warmed-over version of Lotus Notes and Domino, with a little bit of social functionality sprinkled in. Although it started life as a product from the Lotus division, originally called Lotus Connections, it's an independent Java-based technology platform and one of the early market share leaders. IBM Connections may be of particular interest to organizations with existing investments in other IBM products it integrates with, including Notes, WebSphere portal, Documentum content management, and Sametime instant messaging.
However, it is also one of the leading enterprise social platforms on its own merits and is central to enterprise social initiatives at organizations like TD Bank and 3M.
IBM promises that the next release of IBM Connections will expand the platform's support for the OpenSocial social application integration standard, making it possible to embed a transactional user interface within a social news feed, so users can act on an item without ever leaving the social context.
Socialcast brings its enterprise social networking product to market as cloud software, although it can also be applied in a private cloud mode in conjunction with VMware's virtualization software. VMware acquired Socialcast in May 2011 as part of a play for collaboration dominance and now forms the core of a cloud and social software business that also includes such products as Sliderocket, another acquisition.
Cisco Quad is significant for the way it ties together social networking and unified communications. Many of the leading platforms provide the notion of a "contact card--move your mouse over a person's name or profile picture and up pops a mini-profile. This is similar to how consumer social networks will let you see a few pop-up details about a connection to make it easier for you to determine who to follow or establish a connection with. Most enterprise social networks will include a person's phone and mobile numbers in the contact card and also an instant messaging option. Quad also wants to make it easier for you to start a call or a video conference through your Cisco-powered network.
In this image, you can see that the Quad home page also displays a summary of the users waiting voice mails, with phone and video icons to make it easy to return the call.
Early success stories for Quad include the international law firm Minter Ellison.
Yammer came to market as a business version of a microblogging environment, like Twitter, but has layered on features for group discussions, file management, and application integration.
Yammer is a widely used social collaboration platform because a basic version of the product is available for free. Yammer's freemium model allows it to take advantage of the viral growth patterns associated with consumer applications, meaning that employees who find it useful can easily invite their coworkers into the network without worrying about licensing fees or administrative overhead. Anyone with a verified email address associated with the company domain can join this social workgroup.
CIOs of large organizations often find out after the fact that thousands of employees have joined a Yammer network and are actively collaborating there. They then must choose whether to endorse Yammer as an official collaboration system and become paying customers to get administrative control over it, tolerate Yammer as an unofficial resource (but set guidelines for its use), or try to shut it down.
Paying customers get greater administrative control, including the ability to include accounts from more than one company email domain and synchronization with Active Directory, ensuring that the accounts of former employees are automatically deactivated along with their corporate profiles.
Of those organizations that have decided to embrace Yammer, some like the Supervalue grocery chain have capitalized on its cloud delivery model to simplify delivery of the application across sprawling organizations.
SharePoint is a huge factor in the enterprise social networking environment, even though analysts agree it falls far short of the other products in this category, at least as an out-of-the-box experience. SharePoint 2010 holds more promise as a platform for building social applications, adding basic building blocks like profiles and activity feeds.
With some customization, or the addition of third-party social software products, SharePoint can deliver a social experience that takes advantage of an enterprise's existing investments in the portal and dovetails with other Microsoft collaboration technologies, such as Lync unified communications.
Even when SharePoint is not at the center of a social collaboration strategy, it is almost always in the picture somewhere, just because SharePoint has been so broadly adopted as a portal, content management, and collaboration platform. Other enterprise social networking products are judged, in part, by how well they integrate with SharePoint.
NewsGator Social Sites adds social features including a more full-fledged activity stream function on top of SharePoint. NewsGator is the leading option to plug the holes in SharePoint as a social platform, with a full suite of social features such as video sharing.
So far, NewsGator has done a good job of staying a step ahead of Microsoft on the SharePoint roadmap, taking advantages of the platform's built-in strengths, adding features it lacks, and avoiding collisions with features of the base platform.
Consumer social networks like Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn also have the potential to create private social networking versions of their products. Google has explicitly signaled that it is working on such a product, which would mirror what it has done with the Google Apps versions of Gmail, Google Calendar, and related applications.
Google+ Circles already provide a means for users to share content with a limited circle of contacts, but what's missing is a convenient way of limiting a conversation only to coworkers.
Enterprise social networking platforms are only the beginning of the story of social software for the enterprise. Rypple offers a more focused suite of applications for recognizing employee accomplishment, boosting performance, and reinventing the performance review process. Rypple aims to encourage ongoing, public recognition of employees by their managers or their peers--a process it has validated at customers including Facebook.
One prominent customer of Socialcast is SAS Institute (see SAS's Year of Living Socially), which has branded its social network for employees The Hub. This private labeling of the enterprise social network means many users of The Hub have never heard of Socialcast--to them, The Hub is just The Hub.
SAS employees say one reason The Hub has become valuable is it allows them to connect with other employees with similar interests from around the company, and discover new contacts through existing contacts. Because SAS is a global company, this greatly expands the pool of people they can collaborate with, rather than being limited to contacts in their local office.
SAS has also integrated The Hub into corporate communications, for example by using it to solicit questions for the CEO prior to a Town Hall webcast.
As a much smaller organization than SAS, the Fool didn't have the same issues with trying to unite a global workforce, but employees did complain about being overwhelmed by email and "reply to all" conversations. Enterprise social networking helped address that by allowing users to follow the people and topics they were interested in, and target broadcast messages only to the people who wanted to receive them.
Enterprise social networking success doesn't just happen. Old habits, like reliance on email, die hard. Often, social software initiatives meet resistance from established bureaucracies and business processes, or different technology camps within the organization.