Websites such as MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn have brought social networking and the concept of online community to a huge cross-section of our society. Penetration and usage of these platforms may vary depending on demographic (age and geography, in particular), but no one can debate the impact of Facebook and Twitter on both everyday life and on society in general.
Social features are increasingly becoming mission-critical within the modern enterprise:
- Within a business, enterprise social networks can improve productivity by enhancing efficiency and streamlining critical workflows - particularly if they are embedded within enterprise suites such as Saleforce.com, SAP, or Oracle Fusion.
- As part of a support site, they can help the user experience by allowing end users to generate support content and provide a superior product support experience.
- They can help create genuine community around products, which can increase product adoption and awareness.
- They can become a primary source of market intelligence, allowing companies to better understand consumer desires, refine product features and develop product strategy.
Salesforce.com introduced the "Chatter" product several years ago. Chatter provides Facebook- and Twitter-style conversations for Salesforce users as well as document sharing and collaboration. Salesforce users can use Chatter to collaborate on documents, make enterprise announcements, and to work in teams. Chatter includes a recommendation engine similar to Facebook, recommending colleagues to "follow" based your existing relationships and those of existing colleagues. Because Chatter is integrated into the Salesforce force.com development environment, third-party force.com developers can tie into the facility.
The SAP Sales OnDemand product has some superficial similarities to Chatter, but, while Chatter provides a general purpose internal social network, SAP Sales OnDemand collaborations are focused directly on SAP workflows.
In a similar vein, Oracle last year announced the "Oracle social network," a collaboration engine integrated within Oracle's Fusion applications. Like Facebook, the Oracle social network allows you to follow other members of the enterprise, and integrates tightly with Oracle's CRM system - allowing users to share leads or collaborate on Sales opportunities.
Chatter, Oracle social network, and SAP Sales OnDemand can all integrate into third-party tools - most notably Microsoft Outlook.
For organizations that want to use an internal social network without buying into a complete Enterprise solution stack, companies such as Yammer provide Twitter/Facebook style features for internal use. Using Yammer, organizations can create internal social networks for microblogging (twitter style messaging), as well as presence and document sharing.
Chatter, Yammer, and the Oracle social network aim to provide social networking capabilities within the enterprise, but they don't directly engage current or potential customers. A variety of platform providers has emerged to provide hosted social networking and collaboration capabilities.
Companies such as Jive and Lithium provide hosted platforms that allow enterprises to provide branded community sites. These sites can include forums, groups, customer driven support, and dynamic marketing content. Many offer APIs that allow for the possibility of embedding these social activities directly within commercial software products.
Increasingly, these companies also are adding value by leveraging algorithms that drive many successful Web 2.0 properties. Predictive analytics can analyze customer behavior within the social network to predict future behavior - identifying high risk "churn" customers, for instance. Collective intelligence techniques can be used to categorize or cluster customers for targeted marketing, or to power product recommendation engines. Sentiment analysis can be used to derive customer satisfaction levels from raw comments and other text.
These data driven capabilities show yet again the value of data in the modern enterprise - social and collaboration sites generate valuable data that can drive competitive advantage.