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Enterprise 2.0: The Social Needs Of Smaller Businesses

A panel discussion led by InformationWeek.com editor-in-chief Alex Wolfe finds differences in the way SMBs should approach social collaboration tools.

Social collaboration software has value for companies large and small, but those at the smaller end of the spectrum have a different set of concerns.

InformationWeek.com editor-in-chief Alex Wolfe explored the SMB perspective on collaboration tools at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference on Wednesday with four panelists: Larry Housel, systems administrator for manufacturer Industrial Mold & Machine; Chris Yeh, VP of marketing for collaborative software maker PBworks; Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, VP of marketing at social marketing firm Involver; and Isaac Garcia, CEO and co-founder social software maker Central Desktop.

In contrast to large organizations, which have to involve a variety of stakeholders and generate broad buy-in, SMBs don't have the time or the money for lengthy project pilots. Nor do they have the luxury of philosophical platform commitments.

"SMBs are really focused on how these tools help them solve specific problems," said Yeh. "I think this is what it comes down to: whatever works."

Such focus can be said to be a function of necessity: "In larger enterprises, you may have two or three competing products," said Kaykas-Wolff. "In SMBs, you have one."

But one such product may be all that's necessary for the social imperative to take hold. Housel, whose company first explored social tools through the free, open-source MediaWiki software and subsequently switched to Socialtext, said his organization got started on its social networking journey because of a specific need, to collaborate with another company. While Industrial Mold & Machine didn't end up using the software with its customer, it found success with it internally.

Free may be the way in at budget constrained SMBs. SMBs often have "literally zero budget" for social software, observed Garcia. Not only that but they often don't see value in improved productivity, a traditional selling point for social software.

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