"We're offering the full enterprise product completely free for up to 50 users," said Chuck Dietrich, VP of apps in the social software division of VMware, which last year acquired Socialcast as well as SlideRocket, where Dietrich was CEO.
For small businesses, the 50-user offer is an opportunity to use a full-featured enterprise social networking product for free, indefinitely, Dietrich said. That's worth it to the company to build buzz and prove the value of social collaboration, he said. As a sales strategy, Socialcast's primary goal is to win adoption in departments or project teams of larger companies, which will translate into paying accounts when those organizations want to use social collaboration more broadly. That's similar to the strategy behind Jive Software's 30-day free trial of Jive for Teams--without the 30-day limit.
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Socialcast previously offered a free version of its product with limited functionality, which is not so different from Yammer's freemium model. However, Dietrich said a frequent complaint Socialcast hears from potential customers is that they've had a bad experience with a free product that lacked administrative controls--something Yammer reserves for paying customers. Even prior to Wednesday's announcement, Socialcast claimed to offer more administrative control--but the features were still limited, Dietrich said.
"Partly because of our acquisition by VMware, and our vision of how important enterprise social is going to be, we've decided to take a much more aggressive approach," Dietrich said. "We don't want to limit adoption or create a subpar user experience." Organizations experimenting with social media need to get the full experience of social collaboration, with enough administrative control to enforce security and confidentiality rules and without having to worry about a time limit, he said.
Dietrich said Socialcast is following in the footsteps of Google Apps, which also built its business by offering accounts that were free for up to 50 users with access to full-featured versions of Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and other applications that could be linked to a business domain. Google has since pared that offer back to 10 users free on new accounts. Socialcast thinks 50 is a good number for its purposes because it's generous enough to allow workers to collaborate on real products, Dietrich said. "If those users have an incredible experience, then usage is going to grow within the organization."
Under the new rules, free accounts will also have features like the ability to include external users in a collaboration group, as well as API access for integration with other programs, and the use of Socialcast mobile clients for iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, and Android devices.
Organizations that see the value in going beyond the 50-user limit will be able to sign up for annual contracts based on $5 per-user-per-month pricing.
Socialcast is offered as a cloud service, although one of the ways it addresses enterprise requirements for paying customers is with an on-premises deployment option based on a VMware virtualized image.
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