Endgame: Social Business Platforms

What U Choose Is What U Get

The news started trickling out late last week that Google is freezing support for social media management solution Wildfire in order to integrate more closely with DoubleClick. The company’s official statement says that they “won’t be building new features or signing up new customers” and current customers and competitors know what this means — there are suddenly dozens of brands and agencies looking for alternative social business platforms.

What U Choose Is What U Get - same goes for social business platforms

As an analyst at Constellation Research, I’m ramping up my marketing technology coverage and see a familiar pattern emerging as the social business software market matures. We’ve evolved well beyond the early days of the The Stack first identified by Jeremiah Owyang and now point solutions — which received all the early attention — are yielding to platforms.

My early take is that a “big three” have a headstart as the leading social business platforms:

  • Adobe (Marketing Cloud),
  • Oracle (Social Cloud), and
  • Salesforce (Marketing Cloud).

Each of the “big three” platforms acquired a standalone Social Media Management System (SMMS): Context Optional (now Adobe), Vitrue (now Oracle), and Buddy Media (now Salesforce), and Google + Wildfire, integrating with other social technologies to offer a multi-faceted value proposition. But buyer beware: websites and logos are easy to create; integrating multiple solutions to deliver a fully functioning unified platform takes a lot of time and effort.

Remaining standalone SMMS players have rebranded the space as Social Relationship Platforms (SRP) and include Spredfast, Hootsuite, Expion, and Sprinklr. Some have started to expand capabilities (e.g. Sprinklr has added listening and Expion has added advocacy) and some clients still want point solutions, but it’s clear that these players need to get big fast or find their way to an exit before they end up like Syncapse. It appears that they may be heading in that direction: as Forrester’s Nate Elliott recently found out, most SRP clients aren’t willing to recommend their vendor to a colleague.

In fact, I see SRPs on a path similar to brand monitoring providers. Their solutions gained a lot of attention in 2006 and I wrote the first Forrester Wave on these vendors. Here’s the current status of those original leaders:

  • Nielsen Buzzmetrics: went private, JV with McKinsey, shut down.
  • TNS Cymfony: acquired by Visible Technologies
  • Umbria: acquired by J.D. Power
  • Biz360: acquired by Attensity
  • Factiva: integrated into Dow Jones
  • Brandimensions: pivoted into anti-fraud
  • MotiveQuest: still standalone (!)

Even after rebranding as “listening platforms,” the market made clear that listening is a feature, not a product. Increasingly, publishing / social media management / social relationship management is turning out to also be a feature, not a product.

My take: the big three have the early lead in the competition to own the social business platform market, but we are in the early innings of the game. Standalone vendors will add features as rapidly as possible in order to stay competitive, and some categories originally thought to be independently viable — like enterprise social networks — will turn out to be nothing more than bundled feature sets as well.

I’ll write more to define social business platforms in upcoming weeks, including user case studies, vendor profiles, and technology evaluations. Stay tuned.



SXSW 2014: Capital vs. Talent

Since returning to Dachis Group earlier this year, I’ve been focusing on internal operations and consulting with a select group of clients, leaving little time for publishing thought leadership. However, one event I’ve always enjoyed participating in has been SXSW, where I’ve spoken for the past five years.

SXSW 2013 Book Signing

The 2014 SXSW PanelPicker is live and the session I’ll prepare and present is “Capital vs. Talent.” I’ve been watching the rise of social media and its impact on business for about seven years and issues of power and control are far from resolved. In fact, while social technologies may be new in the workplace, organizational dynamics are the same as they ever were.

Here’s a full description of what I’ll discuss:

The Next Battleground of Capital vs. Talent: Social Business

Since the Industrial Revolution, every business has been forced to manage a fundamental internal conflict between individuals who control the means of production and individuals who operate those means to a profit. Roger Martin outlined how this struggle originated in the 18th century and persists today in the 2003 Harvard Business Review article “Capital Versus Talent: The Battle That’s Reshaping Business.”

As we progress deeper into the 21st century, businesses are still struggling with the ever-shifting balance of power, albeit with a new dimension: the rise of social media. 72% of US online adults are social networking site users, creating indelible change in personal technology use and interpersonal relationships which inevitably impact professional operations. In the early days of corporate social media adoption, individuals like Robert Scoble gained global recognition by using emerging channels to share insider viewpoints with the world — Martin’s Talent had discovered new tools to gain advantage over Capital. Management reacted by putting policies in place, trying to quell the rise of a workforce filled with “personal brands.” These policies have now come under scrutiny, leaving employers wondering what defenses remain to mitigate the risks of an employee base that is active in social media.

The best solution for Capital in this case is counterintuitive — brands are best off by wholly embracing social business. By intimately understanding the dynamics of social engagement and leveling the conversation landscape among customers and employees, management can harness the collective efforts of seemingly self-guided individuals for corporate gain. The potential benefit: McKinsey estimates that productivity increases of 20 to 25 percent are achievable, along with $1.3 trillion in value that could be unlocked within four key industries alone. Managers would be wise to recognize the value creation opportunity inherent in social business and potentially stabilize the long-lasting tension between Capital and Talent.

If you’d be interested in hearing more about this, the session has been included in SXSW Interactive’s 2014 programing in a “core conversation” format. See you there!




MIT Sloan Management Review and Social Business By Design

We are well into the mainstreaming of social business. In this interview with Robert Berkman of MIT Sloan Management Review, my Social Business By Design co-author Dion Hinchcliffe discusses how “companies are at a stage of disillusionment with social business, but building social media literacy, integrating initiatives, and connecting social tools to how work gets done will help ensure success.”

More: MIT Sloan Management Review: How Companies Can Move Past a Trough of Disillusionment in Social Business

What’s beyond social business?

Let’s face it. Great brands need to be thinking about what’s beyond social business.

Social Business

You might be thinking, “Wait a second…the social business era has just begun!” And if so, you’d be correct…

Let’s rewind it back:

  • 2003 – 2006: Early Adoption. Professionals viewed social media with curiosity and kept an eye out on the trajectory of corporate+consumer engagement. Despite early brand experiments like Randy Baseler’s Boeing blog, most companies were skeptical of the long-term impact of this emerging media/technology. However, some unlucky brands would eventually have no choice but to participate, as detractors used new outlets to broadcast their dissatisfaction – and mainstream media amplified the discontent. Early adopters including Charlene Li, Steve Rubel, and Robert Scoble explained to the world what needed to be done. 
  • 2007 – 2009: Early Majority. Brands decide to get involved. They’re getting educated, listening to consumers using new technology, rolling out internal collaboration platforms, and starting to consider how to integrate “social” into existing operations. However, as the global financial crisis caused the world to slide into the Great Recession, budgets were slashed and program momentum stalled. The silver lining to financial meltdown? Brands had to get clever with what they had on hand and also had time to think strategically about integrating social into their businesses. Thinkers like Jeremiah Owyang, David Armano, and Chris Brogan help move brands, big and small, put pieces together and move forward. I identified over 300 brands using social media marketing.
  • 2010 – 2012: Mainstreaming. Budgets start returning to brands and technology adoption starts to hockeystick. The term “social business” becomes increasingly adopted and companies go on record to report return on investment from their initiatives. The pace of social technology acquisitions and IPOs picks up as investors seek to monetize their bets. Social business leaders including Scott Monty, Michael Donnelly, Richard Binhammer, and Bonin Bough have pioneered the creation of corporate social media teams and the presence of this construct is now common for most brands.

So what now?

Social business certainly still has a way to go. Many brands still lack coherent strategy and tactics for coping with two-way engagement, not to mention internal change management. However, the trail has been blazed by pioneers like IBM, Coca-Cola, and Dell for others to follow. The mainstreaming of social business will continue throughout 2013, as brands focus on scaling programs externally and internally. Emerging challenges like SoMoLo (social/mobile/local) will occupy attention even further. Most approaches are focused on building four of five capabilities outlined by Umair Haque: singularity, sociality, spontaneity, and synchronicity. I see this playing out primarily in employee education and consumer engagement, with a focus on training, tools, and measurement.

But what’s beyond social business?

Solving for social at scale requires implementation of solutions for today, not tomorrow. That’s delivering on mainstreaming.

Along the way, the concept of “social business” risks losing meaning, similar to the reductive definitions placed on originally expansive concepts like BPR and CRM. Is the pinnacle of social business success equal to the presence of robust two-way communication? That’s difficult for many brands and a step forward for sure, but ultimately limiting. It’s only focused on plateauing on the top of the social media S-curve.

It’s critical that brands position themselves to participate and potentially own experience ecosystems. In a world of increasing connectedness, brands must employ a holistic point of view with regard to consumer relations, employee collaboration, and value chain management. This requires thinking through communications and how they’re aligned with products and services.

“Social” describes everything we do, but technology always underpins the change. As Deb Schultz has said: technology changes, humans don’t. The rise of social business has not been about figuring out humans – it’s been about how people and companies use new technology to communicate, transact, and entertain.


I’m a free agent

Four years ago, I saw a market opportunity and left Forrester Research to start Dachis Group. We outlined that opportunity for the world and gave it a name: social businessDion Hinchcliffe and I co-authored a book that endcaps what we’ve seen so far.

Today, the social business market has matured. Companies are devoting budget and staff to social business efforts and their partners are becoming increasingly specialized. For example, Dachis Group has been building up its SaaS product offering and now offers six data products under the banner of “Engagement @ Scale”: Campaign Performance Monitor, Employee Insight, Advocate Insight, Social Performance Monitor, Social Portfolio Insight, and the Social Business Index.

Sounds pretty good, right?

I think now’s a perfect time to switch to a new s-curve.

Change is Changing

The season of value creation in the social business market is over; it’s time for value capture. We’ve been seeing this primarily in the technology segment of the market, with acquisitions including Buddy Media, Involver, and Yammer and initial public offerings of Jive, Bazaarvoice, and others. Internally, companies are organizing for social business and focusing on operationalizing programs for tens and hundreds of thousands of employees. Service providers have also seen movement here – Big Fuel was acquired last summer and more social shops will follow.

To prepare for this next industry shift, I’ve separated from Dachis Group leaving the firm in great shape and focused on executing the same strategy announced over four years ago. I have some thoughts on what’s coming next, for example needing to own the experience to own the future.

For now, I’ll be writing here and available as an independent analyst for speaking and advisory work. As for what’s next…


Vanilla Ice on social business


I’m in Miami. And when I’m in Miami, I think about the city’s heyday in pop culture, during the mid- to late 1980’s. And when I think about the music from that time and see signs for A1A, I think about Vanilla Ice.

View full size on Flickr

Whether he knew it or not, Mr. Ice was a social business visionary. Allow me to translate the knowledge he dropped twenty years ago that should guide us today.

  • On strategy: “All right stop collaborate and listen”
  • On new tools: “Ice is back with my brand new invention”
  • On work ethic: “Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly”
  • On social’s staying power: “Will it ever stop yo I don’t know”
  • On bad tools and process: “killing your brain like a poisonous mushroom”
  • On quality control: “Anything less than the best is a felony”
  • On scalability: “Love it or leave it you better gain weight”
  • On getting things done: “If there was a problem yo I’ll solve it”
  • On authenticity: “Quick to the point to the point no faking”
  • On agility: “Burning them if you ain’t quick and nimble”
  • On guru rockstars: “I’m on a roll and it’s time to go solo”
  • On MySpace: “The block was dead”
  • On Twitter’s spam followers: “Girls were hot wearing less than bikinis”
  • On Facebook detractors: “Reading for the chumps on the wall”
  • On leadership: “Conducted and formed”
  • On social business design: “This is a hell of a concept”
  • On effectiveness: “slice like a ninja / Cut like a razor blade”
  • On how to celebrate wins: “Ice ice baby”
  • On ROI: “Word to your mother

To take a drive down memory lane this morning and be astounded by Mr. Ice’s prescience, click here.

Are you slowing down or speeding up the game?

In [American] football, when players move from one level to another (e.g. high school to college or college to pro), commentators often talk about game speed. You’ll hear phrases like “the game is a lot faster at this level.” In order to succeed, players must quickly adapt to game flow and apply their skills in context.

Conversely, skilled players like Tom Brady can use what’s known as a “hurry up” offense to act quickly and catch their opponents off guard. Great players can speed up game flow to create competitive advantage and achieve success.

We all have been at this game of social business/media/computing for a little over five years now. Brands are getting involved and many are scoring points – some in dramatic fashion – while others have committed fouls along the way. One fact has become clear: there’s serious money in social business. But to compete effectively, brands need to invest in assembling the right roster to play.

Early on, a handful of brands had a social media “rockstar” on board to champion their cause. These were lone rangers who were questioned regarding their commitment to themselves vs. their commitment to their employers. Today, a more effective corporate approach lies in the team concept, most apparent in social servicing presences like @TeamTurboTax, @DeltaAssist, @ATTCustomerCare, and @TWCableHelp. These brands first educated their teams (slowing down the game) then activated their teams (speeding things up).

Although the social business game evolves continuously, I sense that the pace of change has slowed a bit. Successful brands should be using the opportunity to speed things up vis-a-vis their competition – or getting up to speed if things are still moving too fast.


SXSWi 2011: Social Media Middlemen

The main office finally wants to activate social business programs – great. Now, are the front lines ready to follow through?

Dachis Group consultant Tom Cummings has proposed a panel for South by Southwest 2011, titled Leveraging Social Media Middlemen. Tom has worked with clients to structure social business operations and will share that experience in this panel.

In Tom’s words: For B2C companies, almost all social media strategy and advice is aimed towards how the corporate brand can leverage the unprecedented opportunity to interact directly with consumers. But as adoption of social tools increases – and new applications like Foursquare and Yelp combine online and in person interactions – corporate brands will need to make sure that all employees who engage with consumers are familiar with and understand the implications of social media campaigns. The frontline employees who interact directly with your target consumers will have to be increasingly familiar with social tools. They will be your social media middlemen. This panel will help you to identify them, train them, and develop ways to best leverage these employees who your customers will go to for help when their online and offline worlds begin to merge.

His panel will address these questions:

  1. What are social media middlemen?
  2. How can you identify your brand’s middlemen?
  3. How will leveraging middlemen increase effectiveness of your social media campaigns?
  4. How will leveraging middlemen increase the effectiveness of your traditional media campaigns?
  5. Why are social media middlemen the critical missing link for all future successful social media campaigns?

If that sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to give a thumbs up to Leveraging Social Media Middlemen.


SXSWi 2011: Social Business Center of Excellence

Interested in learning more about how to build a social business “center of excellence”?

Two Dachis Group consultants, Brian Kotlyar and Cynthia Pflaum, have proposed a panel for South by Southwest 2011, called Social Business Zen: Finding Your Company’s Social Center. If selected, Brian and Cynthia will share their experiences with you that they’ve gained across multiple client engagements this year while constructing social business centers of excellence.

Their description: Large companies don’t turn into social businesses overnight – they evolve toward an improved state of collaboration and transparency. One of the key steps in that evolution is establishing a center of gravity from which policy, process and technology guidance flows. After this presentation you will know the answers to these questions: what is a Social Business Center of Excellence? Why do I want one? How do I build one? What do I do with it once I’ve got it?

They’ll answer these questions from a client-side perspective:

  1. Do I need a social business center of excellence?
  2. How do I start a social business center of excellence?
  3. How should I structure a social business center of excellence?
  4. What responsibilities does a social business center of excellence have?
  5. What does a social business center of excellence do?

If that sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to give a thumbs up to Social Business Zen: Finding Your Company’s Social Center.