Is your company ready to socialize? Enterprise social software vendors like Yammer, Jive and SocialText have helped transform some businesses, cutting down on miscommunication while flattening organizational charts. But evaluating the various offerings can be difficult when many of the products seem indistinguishable. Even telling the difference between a fully baked solution and a college student's weekend Intranet project can be challenging if you just look at the feature check boxes.
"I have to admit we feel there isn't a lot of differentiation out there," said Sara Radicati, president and CEO of The Radicati Group Inc., which monitors the space. "It comes down to relatively small things that people find useful more than anything else, and it really depends on the customer organization and their own culture."
But those small differences -- whether it's tight integration with your customer relationship management (CRM) software or a killer mobile app -- can determine the success or failure of your own deployment. We spoke with the leaders in the field to find out what makes their products stand out from the pack. Here's a comparison of the leading enterprise social software vendors.
Cisco's WebEx Social
Formerly known as Cisco Quad, WebEx Social and WebEx Social Server provides a secure, business-focused Facebook-like experience that couples tightly with Cisco System Inc.'s other communications platforms, such as WebEx conferencing, Jabber and Cisco Unified Communications Manager.
The tool also makes it easy to collaborate on writing documents and scheduling meetings. It also allows fine-grained access permissions and seamless transitions between asynchronous status updates to live chats to video calls, all within one platform.
Beyond that, however, the focus of WebEx Social is on connections: helping map and define who knows who and who knows what. Employees can follow one another, and finding an expert in an area becomes as simple as a Google search.
Microsoft's Yammer and SharePoint
As Microsoft's social software offering, SharePoint has become a de facto starting point for many businesses looking at a way to better connect employees in a collaborative environment. Microsoft's recent acquisition of Yammer has helped bolster the Redmond company's social software pitch, although integration of the two suites is currently light.
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SharePoint is a repository of business documents and institutional knowledge. Files can be uploaded, shared, archived and edited, while wikis and discussion threads can help capture conversations for posterity.
Yammer covers real-time interactions with a series of mobile and Web apps that combine the simplicity of Twitter with more extensive features, such as organizational chart mapping, polls and groups.
Early integration of Yammer and SharePoint allows users to keep an eye on Yammer updates through the SharePoint interface or to share SharePoint documents through Yammer.
Connections, IBM's homegrown solution, is focused on self-service: Users can quickly set up their own profiles, create and manage groups and share files, status updates and wiki pages.
Over time, Connections becomes an expertise repository. It lets users seek out and find the answer to their questions or else quickly discover who might have the answer based on profiles or past discussions.
When used effectively, Connections might even help cure the modern ailment of email overload. Ed Brill, director of IBM collaboration solutions, said his own inbox traffic has declined 30% to 40% since he started using Connections four years ago.
Michael Idinopulos, Socialtext Inc.'s general manager and chief customer officer, bills his company as the "first social software enterprise company." The company certainly has a rich legacy in the space and continues to offer innovation, focusing on enterprise needs while paying close attention to what's happening on the consumer side.
That's led the company to focus on ease-of-use for employees in the office or on the road. That ease of use extends to dedicated iPhone and Android apps as well as simplified integration with existing business applications through an API.
For example, one railway recently integrated its signaling software into its Socialtext deployment so that alerts about train delays and mechanical problems are mixed into the same social stream as employee status updates and profiles. This integration leads to quicker resolutions of these problems.
Jive has proudly proclaimed the death of the traditional Intranet, and like many other social software companies, you can use its suite either to complement or replace an existing Intranet. Jive Social Intranet, for example, provides a mix of Facebook and SharePoint functionality to help keep all employees on the same page, while also integrating deeply into common enterprise applications, meaning users can collaborate without leaving the apps they rely on to get their work done.
Like many enterprise social software vendors, Jive Software offers mobile apps for workers on the go, but it also offers social listening. It can monitor popular sites like Facebook and Twitter, tracking analytics and providing alerts on hot topics. This social integration gives it an edge when helping manage external as well as internal connections.
This was first published in August 2012