The market for business social media platforms continues to get more crowded with this week’s announcement of Salesforce Communities. This new platform is designed for enterprises to create private social communities to connect with customers and partners in new ways by combining social networking with the business information, processes and Chatter function in Salesforce.
What does the rest of the market look like?
The big news this summer was the purchase of Yammer by Microsoft for $1.2B. That, combined with the public offering of Jive (now worth $1B) and buzz around internal testing of business social tools by Linkedin, has driven a lot of interest in business social. In fact, there are over a hundred players in this space and growing quickly.
Gartner and Forrester both analyze this space:
What this list doesn’t include is the dozens of platforms that were purpose built for a specific industry.
Good examples of these include:
•iShade.com is dedicated to the accounting industry, targeted solely to accountants.
•linkedFA.com is for financial and insurance professionals and investors.
•Architizer.com was created for architects to interact, show their work and find clients.
•GLOZAL.com is for real estate professionals .
•Biznik.com is for small business owners. Users can interact with other small business owners to get ideas and advice, and create referral networks.
•TankChat.com is for the oil and chemicals business and has since grown to encompass all in the area of logistics.
•Sermo.com is a place where 125,000 physicians can network on everything from patient care to practice management across 68 specialties.
•Lawyrs.net allows lawyers to create professional profiles for themselves and their firms.
•ResearchGate.net was built for scientists with the idea that science can do more when it’s driven by collaboration.
•BuilderLink.com is for builders, lumberyards and product manufacturers where they network, collaborate, estimate and conduct research.
•ChannelEyes.com is for the broad technology channel, connecting vendors, distributors and resellers of all types to engage.
How is this going to flush out?
The future of business social will move in three directions:
1.The mega-directory – dominated today by Linkedin and in a smaller way, Facebook. Strongly driven out of the consumer space, these platforms will drive business value and succeed due to their vast size. The power will come from making connections and adding timeliness and editorial to contacts in your CRM tool. The drawback will be the massive noise and clutter in this unfocused free-for-all.
2.The social extranet – the large platforms reviewed above from the likes of Microsoft, IBM, SalesForce, Cisco and Oracle will extend the concept of an extranet to add social collaboration. Users will benefit as they can use more powerful tools such as profiles, real-time feeds, trending topics, recommendations and influence measurement instead of email. The main drawback will be size – these are closed networks and will rarely extend far enough to be useful to larger audiences. Also, the average Channel professional could be invited to a dozen different social networks across a dozen different platforms – creating a problem much worse than an overflowing inbox.
3.Industry networks – as outlined above, social networks that were built by industry experts that understand the nuances and language spoken by its membership. A major benefit is scope – understanding the broad and complex connections that knit an industry together. Another clear benefit is hyper-focus – clearing out the noise and clutter of a digital world and allowing members with similar interests and goals to collaborate, help each other and give back to the larger community.
Why do Industry specific platforms have an advantage?
Industry platforms are usually built at a grass roots level by veterans of the industry who are looking to bring people together in a more powerful way. These experts know who the influencers are, as well as the connectors and thought leaders. Word of mouth and peer pressure are key drivers for building membership.
The experts also know that industries are inherently complex. There is not a simple hierarchy exists that owns all of the communication, education and specialties within a given field. For example, in the global IT Channel, the centers of influence span 25+ media companies, 100+ key events, 500+ key vendors and distributors, dozens of associations, peer and user groups, and hundreds of bloggers and thought leaders. Literally hundreds of micro and dozens of macro-communities exist that would benefit from engaging with each other.
This is exactly why the ultra-large “build it and they will come” platforms will fail to grow beyond social extranets.
Only a grass roots team of industry insiders will be able to convince leaders and influencers from these disparate communities to join together and endorse a single platform. Security around controlling members and the ability to filter out noise will be critical success factors of these emerging platforms. No one is looking for another consumer-style massive scale public network.
How will we use social media in the future?
There are thousands of companies vying to be the next Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter or Pinterest – and a few of them will likely win that lottery in the next 10 years. The odds of winning that lottery, however, are probably in the Powerball neighborhood. No one is sure yet on how things go viral and why we gravitate to different things. It is a complicated behavioral discussion combined with a good dose of luck.
What we do know is that a massive platform like Facebook has tremendous value from a consumer standpoint. The ability to share updates, stories, life events and rich media with the largest possible group of connections is definitely a winner.
On the personal side, people will also participate in a secondary and possibly tertiary network as well based on their demographics. Whether you are a musician, artist, sports fan, parent or foodie will ensure you have a place to socialize with likeminded people around town and around the world. These sites will cater features and functions based on the type of audience.
On the work side of things, people will choose a network based on people similar to them in their industry and also possibly based on their profession. For example, an accountant that works for an IT firm may join an accounting site like iShade as well as an industry site such as ChannelEyes.
The point of social diminishing returns is around 3 to 4 sites. People will start unsubscribing to newsletters (personally and professionally) once they feel the peer-generated information on these networks provides adequate filtering. There is an outside chance that the messaging within these platforms will provide the context and permissions necessary to reduce traditional email to an afterthought.
One thing is for sure, if you are planning a field of dreams where you are going to build a general network that a billion people are going to use, you may want to reconsider (and buy a lottery ticket). Make no mistake, it will happen – Facebook will be replaced as the largest social network on the planet within the next 10 years (I am not referring to Qzone and Weibo in China which will likely eclipse Facebook sooner because of 95% social penetration among the Chinese in Tier 1-3 cities). That is how viral the world has become.