Exploring vertical and niche corporate social networking vendors

Enterprises can get more out of corporate social networking by working with vertically focused and functionally specific vendors.

Collaboration vendors like IBM and Microsoft are rolling social media products into their unified communications products, but single-vendor sourcing for corporate social networking doesn't work for every enterprise.

Specialty vendors are emerging in the social space, according to Nikos Drakos, research director of collaboration and social software for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., who recently published the Enterprise Social Software Magic Quadrant report. These smaller vendors are building specialized social applications like content creation or social analytics, instead of full suites of social tools.

Some enterprises can work with these specialty social networking vendors to deploy the applications they need, rather than clutter end users' desktops with unused tools.

Corporate social networking: Best of breed targets specific verticals

Forty percent of large enterprises will have a corporate Facebook page by 2015, according to Gartner research by Drakos. As enterprises execute a corporate social networking strategy, many are buying social product suites from large vendors, said Ken Landoline, principal analyst of unified communications and contact center for Washington, D.C.-based Current Analysis Inc.

Emerging specialty vendors, however, are building corporate social networking tools that serve vertical industries or provide specific social media functions, Landoline said. "Social media and networking tools are uniquely used across different markets, and I think we will see an uprising of vertical-oriented solutions that help certain industries -- like finance, retail or education."

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TransforMED, a Leawood, Kan.-based health care consulting firm, uses Igloo Software for a corporate intranet with embedded social capabilities for its employees and consultants. The software also includes a separate social networking application for the primary care physicians who work with the company, said Nathan Bieck, marketing and communications manager for TransforMED.

TransforMED was using GroupSwim for social collaboration until Salesforce.com acquired the vendor. The firm switched to Igloo four years ago. Igloo’s software allows companies to create private areas -- or niche group spaces -- for communication among particular workgroups. TransforMED adopted these niche groups spaces for intranet conversations, as well as for the social network it offers physicians.

"[TransforMED] wanted to create a Facebook for doctors, and the group spaces within the software allow primary care physicians to have private conversations with each other without any involvement from outside individuals -- like pharmaceutical representatives or billing companies they have to speak with every day," Bieck said.

While physicians and other medical professionals control the content and conversations on the corporate social network, TransforMED consultants use Igloo software's social analytics function to track activity, he noted.

Having the ability to report to clients what their physicians are discussing and are interested in has offered a competitive advantage for TranforMED. "It's really helpful for our project managers and our hospital system clients to be able to get a snapshot of trending comments, who are the most active physicians on the network, and what documents and webinars are being viewed," he said.

The private social network tailored to physicians has experienced tremendous growth, Bieck said. It started with just four users, but now it has 6,500 physicians on the network, with 155 being added every month.

"Physicians located all over the country are collaborating and learning from each other more quickly, without dealing with the silos that email can create," he said.

Will specialty vendors stand the test of time?

Larger vendors have begun to emulate the vertical and specialized focus by vendors like Igloo. Microsoft created SharePoint for content management, but the application never took off as a social tool within enterprises, said Bill Haskins, senior analyst for Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC. This year it acquired social networking specialist Yammer.

"While SharePoint may have been positioned to do it all, a number of specialty services -- like Jive, Chatter and Yammer -- were growing in popularity. There is something special about the requirements and user experience for [corporate social networking] that is best met by a specialty vendor," he said.

Social engagement within companies is constantly evolving, which means new vendors are always emerging with corporate social networking products that can enhance collaboration in a new way. Even if a company chooses a single-vendor social networking suite, they can still add these new vendors to enhance user collaboration, Haskins noted.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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