Enterprise Communications


Lotusphere 2012 Touts Social Business -- But What about Social Media?

by Jake Wengroff 20 Jan 2012
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This blogpost first appeared on Social Media Today.

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Lotusphere, the large business conference produced by IBM, kicked off in Orlando, Florida this week. The term and evangelism behind ‘social business’ was everywhere – and palpable.

According to keynote speaker Alistair Rennie, General Manager of IBM’s Collaboration Solutions, social business is the application of social networking tools to culture and outcomes. ‘Social business is a competitive differentiator,’ he explained to the audience of 5,000. ‘It is not just deployment of new tools – it is a complete reinvention of the systems of the core in which businesses operate.’

One hour into the conference – following a speech by surprise guest Michael J. Fox – a demo of the re-designed IBM Connections productivity suite was delivered. More than a makeover of its Lotus Notes product, the experience offers completely integrated email, calendar, document management, and social updates delivered via an Activity Stream interface that integrates the basic set of productivity functions.

Finally, I thought: A technology company with the resources to invest in social media gets it.

Social Business, or Social Media?
But IBM Connections looks a lot like Facebook or Google+, and no discussion of consumer social networks and how they might add value to the social enterprise was presented. While external applications such as a Twitter feed can be brought in to IBM Connections, the conference hardly touched upon the use cases of social media for marketing, communications, branding, or increasingly, for sales and customer service.

As LinkedIn is considered the largest social network for business and professional use, with over 135 million users worldwide, it would have been valuable to hear from LinkedIn on how corporations can make themselves more social, ultimately driving overall value.

Perhaps I was a bit different than the other analysts in attendance at Lotusphere: it was my first time at the event, and I do not cover the traditional unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) space. I cover social media primarily as it relates to marketing, measurement, and monitoring brand, and also am a social media practitioner: I manage Frost & Sullivan’s social media identities and train teams on effective use of social networking for our various business units.

However, while UC&C has been around for quite some time – again, not my specialty – it is a rather interesting dynamic to see that industry and its set of tools adopting widespread social media elements into its platforms. I guess we can all thank Facebook for ‘consumerizing’ – and presenting in a novel, exciting, and compelling way – essentially what has been inside corporations for years.

Huge Opportunity
Yet the absence of consumer-facing social media and networks at Lotusphere should be viewed less of an indictment on IBM Software and other collaboration providers and more on the consumer social networks’ refusal to develop products and services that improve collaboration and productivity in the workplace.

With social networks, including almighty Twitter, struggling to develop viable business models, why haven’t they considered building enterprise applications?

I recall that LinkedIn once had an enterprise product, LinkedIn for Business, as recently as 2009, but information and banner ads for the product disappeared from the network close to 4 years ago.

Twitter could also easily develop an enterprise product, in which a company can buy a version that presents all the tweets sent by employees and partners, that would include robust analytics – but it hasn’t, instead relying on Promoted Accounts, Tweets, and Trends, to make money.

(Look for research from my group at Frost & Sullivan on social media business models later on this year.)

As such, IBM might emerge the leader in the social media game.

Tinkering Around
IBM Connections was actually borne out of IBM’s own internal research labs, which intrigued me. I was fortunate enough to meet the IBM Connections Senior Product Manager Suzanne Livingston, who started out as a researcher of social technologies for enterprise business purposes nine years ago, and was part of the team that brought this product to light.

This impressed me: from the lab to the client.

Also, I had a chance to have a walk-through of a makeshift version of IBM Research’s Center for Social Business.   While I’m not at liberty to divulge the names of the products they are developing (Irene Greif, the Center Director, informed the press and analysts that no photography or recording was allowed at any time inside the room), I fully expect that at least half will make their way to users’ desktops and mobile devices within the next two years.

For innovation in social, I’m watching IBM, and so should you.

View Jake Wengroff's blog

Comments (1)

By  Elka Popova
Program Director, Internal

26 Jan 2012 10:30

Great post, Jake. Thank you.

I think companies should (and do) pick business models that best fit their expertise and core competencies. I don't think it is necessarily a good idea for a Twitter, for example, to re-invent itself as a business tool or otherwise diversify into that space. Business applications require higher degrees of security, realiability, etc., which in turn require investment in R&D. Tech support is also key in the enterprise space. Think of the huge investment required in contact center capabilities and support staff if you want to be considered a trusted vendor in the business space. Also, consumer and enterprise vendors have completely different marketing and sales approaches.

So I think the fact that Twitter and Facebook have not developed business versions of their platforms is great news for IBM, Yammer, SocialText and the others that have chosen to focus on this market.

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