Widespread adoption of social networking in the consumer market by late 2000s, got the attention of B2B software vendors early on. Employees in an organization can potentially use a Facebook-like service internally to better communicate, network, share knowledge and expertise, and collaborate on projects. Such a service can also be extended to customers and partners by building and managing communities of partners and customers who may share knowledge and support each other. This was yet another example of consumrization of IT, where a trend has moved from the consumer market to the business and enterprise.

By 2010 there were a number of start-ups and pure-play vendors offering the so-called enterprise social platforms. Before long the big IT vendors such as Microsoft, IBM and Cisco entered the space either through acquisition (e.g. Microsoft acquired Yammer) or internal development and integration (e.g. IBM Connections and Chatter). Gartner in its 2010 Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace rated more than 20 vendors in this space.

Enterprise Social Software Market

According to IDC enterprise social software applications revenue worldwide in 2013 was $1,242 M, up from $968 M in 2012. That is an impressive growth rate of 28% however I believe “enterprise social software” is more than just the social networking software. IDC names IBM as the number one market share leader in the enterprise social software space. One of IBM’s biggest customers is itself with more than 430,000 employees.

Benefits of Enterprise Social Software

social-swThe increased connectivity, communication and collaboration enabled by social business software can provide considerable business value. There are numerous studies that show the value and positive return on investment (ROI) for use of social software at work. Some vendors even claim that social business can be transformative. The typical benefits of social software may include the following.

  • Increases employee productivity.
  • Reduces employee turnover and increases employee satisfaction.
  • Increases customer satisfaction while reducing support cost.
  • Promotes innovation.

Social Software Capabilities

Enterprise social software typically have the following general capabilities, though the specifics may differ from one product to another.

  • User profiles — may include details on work projects, knowledge and expertise on different topics.
  • Presence server where a user can indicate her availability and status.
  • Connecting with another user by means of follow or friend. Follow is usually a one-way relationship as in Twitter while friend often requires a hand-shake as in Facebook.
  • Forming groups, teams, or spaces per interest, function, project, etc.
  • Posting updates or status.
  • Messaging and communication — both chat (real-time and synchronous) and email like (asynchronous); possibly video conferencing.
  • Liking (+1) and commenting on any content, post, or activity.
  • Subscribing to topics of interest. Following or connecting with someone generally means subscribing to updates from that person. Subscription to a topic, system, application or a document may also be allowed.
  • Generating activity streams — an aggregation of the updates and activities that you’re subscribed to.
  • Receiving notifications on topics of interest, projects, documents, systems, or from the people ones follow.
  • Blogging. The system must allow approved bloggers. There may also be a workflow involving review and approval of a blog post before it is published.
  • Search — flexible and fast search to find the any object per some search criteria, including users, groups, projects, and documents.
  • Security, privacy and access control. A user should only have access to the content, groups and projects that she has authorized access to.
  • Basic integration with user directory (single-sign-on), email, and possibly social media services such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  • Administrative functions such as user management, configuration, customization, back-up and monitoring.

In addition to these here are other more advanced capabilities that are highly desirable in an enterprise social platform. Vendors may provide these either natively or through integration with other 3rd party software.

  • Mobility — mobile apps that provide the web functionality on smart phones and tablets. By now mobile capabilities should be core functionality.
  • Gamification, rating, scoring and badges. In its basic form a user may get points or badges from colleagues or the system for her work and contribution.
  • Analytics — generating and collecting data on user activities; providing visual tools to the approved users to define and publish reports.
  • Content management and document (including photo/image, audio and video) sharing and collaboration. This may include document editing and versioning.
  • Task, activity or process management so that a user or application can create tasks (per an automated process or manually) and assign it to another user. This may require an embedded process engine.
  • Advanced integration with other 3rd party systems and applications such as content management, process management, marketing automation, CRM and HR.
  • APIs — open up the platform and its services so developers and partners can build value-add apps and services on top of the social platform. This is an important topic as it makes it possible for business applications and systems to become natively social by consuming the social services through the APIs.

Use Cases

Enterprise social software can be used virtually within any group or team and for any project where a team must communicate and collaborate. Internal use cases may be in product management for ideation, in marketing for product launch or a campaign work, in sales for deal management and competitive intelligence. HR related processes such as talent management and social learning are other potential uses of social platforms. Extended enterprise use cases are typically building and managing communities for developers and customers.

Adoption is a Challenge

Despite all the benefits and successful case studies of using social software for work, the broad adoption has been slow. Even if a large organization makes the investment to license and implement an internal social network, employees may resist the use and not adopt it. In fact I worked at a large company where we had an enterprise-wide deployment of one of the leading business social networking platforms, and yet only a small percent of employees used the service actively. According to a Forrester report from end of 2012 only 11% of North American enterprise workers use internal social networks. Below are some of the issues that may hinder adoption:

  • There is more to it than just technology. Changing established work habits is hard. Use of such software requires cultural change. It is easy to fall back to email and phone over using a social network to get work done. Those who spend time on Facebook (which includes most of us) associate social networking more with wasting time, not working.
  • Companies are hierarchical with traditional management structures. An employee network at work is not the same as the network of friends and family on Facebook. Employees may not feel comfortable participating in an employee based social network where their actions and words will be observed by the bosses and may cause issues for them.
  • Employees are already busy and don’t have time to “network”, which may require logging in to yet another system.

Increasing Chance of Adoption and Success

Here are some ideas on how to make social networking at work succeed.

  • It requires executive sponsorship. Get someone from the leadership to sponsor the initiative.
  • Social networking for work should not be just for the sake of networking. It must be tied to work — to specific problems and processes to be solved for specific groups. It is important to identify the use cases and understand the users’ needs.
  • From a technology perspective, the software or service must integrate and blend well with other tools and applications that the employees use to get their work done.
  • Create incentives and rewards for participation. Gamification and recognition can help.
  • Define success factors, metrics and timeline. Measure and calculate ROI. Showcase the success

A fundamental issue in how an organization approaches social: (1) revolutionary rip-n-replace that may require drastic change to how workers get work done; or (2) non-intrusive and incremental where social in small increments is integrated into existing IT systems and business applications that they use. The latter has a better chance of adoption and success. An extreme example of this is attempting to replace email with a modern social platform with messaging and collaboration tools vs. integrating the social platform with email.

Vendor Landscape

The vendor landscape as of this writing in 2014 is somewhat less crowded than it was back in 2010. Gartner in its 2013 Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace rated Microsoft (Yammer and Office 360), IBM (Connections), Jive and (Chatter) as Leaders. Google, Telligent, SAP, Cisco, and Acquia were rated Visionaries (lower right quadrant), while Tibco (Tibbr), VMware (Socialcast), NewsGator and Atlassian were Challengers (upper left quadrant).

Forrester in its Wave for Enterprise Social Platforms, Q2 2014 ranked IBM (Connections), Jive, (Chatter and Communities), Microsoft (Yammer + Office 365) and Zimbra as Leaders. Tibco (Tibbr), Sitrion (ex NewsGator), SAP, Atlassian (Confluence), blueKiwi (Atos acquired in 2012), Neudesic and OpenText (Tempo) were rated Strong Performers. Zimbra was a messaging and collaboration software that Telligent acquired from VMware in 2013.

As always, these ratings are not absolute. A lower rated product may be more suitable for an organization because of its use cases and IT environment. For example, Chatter is tightly integrated with its CRM. For a large sales organization that is using CRM, it may make sense to use Chatter for social. Citrion and Neudesic are closely tied to Microsoft SharePoint. IBM integrates and bundles with its own ECM.

There are other vendors in this space (e.g. Lithium communities, Saba talent management, Cisco WebEx Social, Oracle Social Network, and Socialtext) that are not in these analyst benchmarks but may still provide good solutions for certain organizations.

Consolidation and Convergence

While some consolidation has taken place over the last few years, the space is still crowded. We should see further consolidation and convergence across different product sets. There are several somewhat distinct product categories that are closely related: messaging and communication, file sharing and collaboration, team collaboration, and social. These enterprise social platforms offer most of these capabilities either natively or via integration with partners. For example, IBM integrates and bundles with its ECM product, while Jive partners and integrates with Box. Jive also partners and integrates with Cisco for unified communication (WebEx).


Use of enterprise social platforms can increase employee productivity and morale, promote innovation and increase customer satisfaction. It’s still a young market with good growth. As products have matured some consolidation has taken place and many large vendors have entered the space. IBM, Microsoft and seem to dominate the market but there are still independent vendors like Jive with strong offerings.

In general using social technologies at work can provide significant business value. However, broad adoption has proven to be a challenge. Though technology itself is an important consideration, organizational issues and how they’re handled may be the key factor for success. How organizations go about enabling social can make the difference between success and failure. There are some best practices that can increase the adoption and improve the success rates for deploying enterprise social platforms.