The need for services in social technology

Two of my former Forrester colleagues published Wave evaluations this month.  Suresh Vittal evaluated "Listening Platforms," aka brand monitoring vendors and Jeremiah Owyang evaluated "Community Platforms," aka white label social networks.  By the way, you can download both Forrester reports for free – see Telligent for Community Platforms and Visible Technologies for Listening Platforms.

Both analysts outline consulting services as a key success criterion.  To fully understand these technologies and capture value, you're going to need some help.  In the future, this won't be the case when companies integrate social technologies naturally into process and mindset.  During the long transformative transition in the meantime, companies will need help getting there.

I'm seeing a structural issue in these two markets and others related.  Social networking and listening products are in demand, with 100+ and 50+ vendors in each market, respectively.  And they all started as product companies, explaining why most of them still lack a service offering.  Product and services organizations operate with fundamentally different structures.  But as Forrester points out, to successfully implement social technology, companies need both to be successful.

The current economic environment has put immediate pressure on vendors, requiring them to choose between two familiar directions.  At one end, vendors close to full-service already will tout existing service capabilities harder, becoming margin plays affordable only to the largest clients/budgets.  At the other end, self-service vendors will capture the volume end of the market for smaller budgets and experimental dollars.  Vendors in the middle need to choose quickly, or crash and burn.

Either way, marketers should be okay dealing with either approach, trained by their agency relationships.  Some prefer full-service, others prefer to integrate and aggregate on their own.  But social technologies aren't meant to serve marketers alone – they need to support the entire organization.  To that end – I believe that full-service is the best approach…but when you think of the term "platform," shouldn't more than a point solution be involved?  Well, both of these smart analysts also mention integration as a key success criterion.  More to come…