Have you tried to SuperPoke! your customer? It's possible the popular Facebook application may not meet the business goals of the enterprise -- although it could depend on whom you ask. According to ABI Research analyst Zippy Aima, the enterprise is a unique creature with a need for its own form of social networking, separate from the consumer sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Aima, the analyst behind the report "Grown Up? White Label Social Networking Targeting the Enterprise," says that although the "white-label market" -- in which vendors create unbranded applications for use by a wide range of corporate users -- is in its early stages when it comes to social networking, the potential demand is high: ABI forecasts that the market will be worth nearly $1.3 billion in 2013.
"The market is flooded with companies and it's really at its very nascent stage of introduction," Aima says. "It's not that people are unaware of social networking -- everyone in the enterprise world knows about social networking. It's just that since the white-label market [is] at such a nascent stage that sometimes it's a challenge to educate [potential users] about the advantages and the benefits." Educating executives and employees about how enterprise social networking can provide value and enhance their jobs is a chore that many enterprises are beginning to face. Aima points out that white-label social networking for the enterprise not only helps enterprise employees to connect with one another, but also aids in dealings with customers, partners, and suppliers. For instance, with a networking platform's search option, a contact center agent, salesperson, or marketer can see who does what, finding with ease the right person for a particular job.
Aima says that the primary challenge for white-label networking vendors and for enterprises will be revving up adoption. Sure, users may be familiar with platforms such as Facebook, but applying social networking to business processes may be a new concept for some. The novelty may soon be wearing off: Many social-networking platform providers -- and CRM vendors, for that matter -- are beginning to embed social-networking features into business applications, continually blurring the line between personal and professional social networking. That boundary is made even more uncertain especially as companies create groups and profiles on existing personal-networking sites, and as those same companies build up marketing campaigns for those sites. Despite the challenges, Aima says she thinks that the two should remain separate. "Enterprises are implementing networking platforms and it's not meant for casual chitchat," she says. "I don't see integration between the areas because the goals are very different."
It's hard to say just how social networking will play out over the next couple of years, but one thing is for certain: The momentum is not slowing. Aima agrees that white-label social networking for the enterprise market is very new. However, she maintains that the demand will only increase over the next five years.
With the white-label social-networking providers popping up only within the past year or two, how should an enterprise go about choosing one provider over another? Aima recommends thinking, first and foremost, about which business solutions the social-networking features would be used for. Organizations, she says, should consider the following:
- What specific features does the enterprise need or want? Each platform has differentiating feature sets and applications. Also, consider integrating enterprise applications with the networking platform. Some providers have greater integration capabilities than others.
- Consider security measures. An organization -- especially a large enterprise -- will want to ensure that content and messages exchanged across the platform remain within the network. Research the level of security that each solution offers.
- Evaluate the ease of implementing the platform throughout the enterprise. What if it becomes a burden to log in and access? Also consider the amount of time it will take users to learn and adopt. As for cost, Aima says that most of the available solutions are delivered in the software-as-a-service model, offering low-cost subscriptions.
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