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6/2/2011
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Jim Rapoza
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Enterprise Social Networking Buyer's Guide

These tools can improve collaboration and productivity, but only if employees use them. We provide guidance for picking the right product.

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SaaS and E-Discovery Dangers Companies are increasingly turning to enterprise social networking tools for collaboration, project tracking, and knowledge management, according to our InformationWeek Analytics Enterprise 2.0 Applications Vendor Evaluation Survey. But don't think these systems are just knockoffs of Facebook or Twitter. Yes, they offer user profiles and microblogs, but today's enterprise social networking products are built for business, with powerful tools like wikis, document sharing, and community knowledge spaces. Employees can collaborate on projects, find experts within their companies, and partner easily with colleagues on the daily tasks that constitute business operations.

Still, choosing the best system for your company can be a challenge. The market is flush with enterprise-focused social networking startups, such as Socialtext, Jive, and Yammer, looking to win customers with leading-edge features and functions. Meanwhile, the largest technology companies in the world, including Microsoft, IBM, and Cisco Systems, are also playing in this space. But size doesn't always matter: Socialtext and Jive trumped Microsoft and other big rivals in overall performance in our Vendor Evaluation Survey of 619 business technology professionals using or testing enterprise 2.0 products.

Before investing in a social networking product, answer two key questions: What features do you need, and how will you deliver the capabilities? Status updates and profile pages are available on just about every platform, but your company may be more interested in document sharing or wikis. And some products are traditional on-premises software, others live in the cloud, and a few offer both options. Moreover, decide whether you want a product that's closely linked with your other applications, such as SharePoint's tight integration with the Office suite, or if a standalone platform is the best bet.

To help answer those questions, we examined the state of enterprise social networking, cataloged capabilities top products bring to bear, and analyzed criteria IT should use to determine the best fit for their firms.

The Business Side Of Social Networking

Companies are looking to enterprise social networking for a full slate of business value. IT professionals ranked the ability of a social networking product to meet business needs as the No. 1 feature in our InformationWeek Analytics survey--along with data security and authentication. In other words, these products aren't being rolled out just because microblogs are fun, or because it's the in thing to do. Companies want to see a return.

The catch is, to see value from enterprise social networking, employees have to use the tools. And that can be a problem: User adoption is the greatest management challenge IT faces when it comes to social networking, according to our InformationWeek Analytics Social Networking in the Enterprise Survey of 624 business technology professionals at companies using these systems. Thus, one common aspect of nearly all the enterprise social networking tools is a striking similarity to the interfaces of Facebook and Twitter. In this case, familiarity breeds adoption.

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Enterprise Social Network Buyer's Guide

Become an InformationWeek Analytics subscriber and get our full report, Enterprise Social Network Buyer's Guide.

This report includes 14 pages of action-oriented analysis. What you'll find:
  • Features and pricing for 11 products
  • Guidance on vendor selection
  • Criteria for successful adoption
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