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No signs that Microsoft is killing Yammer October 30, 2012

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Yesterday, Yammer did its first big customer event since being acquired by Microsoft. It pitched the concept of an “enterprise graph,” showed a lot of integration features for third-party software, and even made some room for Microsoft. GigaOM Pro analyst Stowe Boyd isn’t the only observer who likened some of Yammer’s work media API angles to those of Facebook, though Stowe thinks the approach is more like Socialcast’s.

Yammer aims to distribute its functions outside its “site.” I’d hate to call it a Google+ style strategy for social tech APIs, but while Facebook aims to extend its reach, it still soaks up huge amounts of (consumer) user time on its own properties. I don’t think Microsoft would be nearly as happy if Yammer technology shows up next to Salesforce.com apps at the expense of its own Dynamics CRM or SharePoint.

Meanwhile, Yammer is embracing beefed-up security and identity management standards, including various flavors of single sign-on.  All good. Integration is a key differentiator for enterprise collaboration. So even if Microsoft has to grit its teeth a little at the thought of competitors to its own services, it’s still doing the right things with Yammer. It’s not killing freemium pricing, and it might even be learning a little about cloud development.

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Box integrates to differentiate October 10, 2012

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With its flashy CEO, Box probably generates more buzz than its size or importance in the social enterprise space merits. The company is certainly on-trend with its freemium, cloud-based, mobile, somewhat social, user-friendly entry point into enterprise collaboration. At its own event, Box is showing some more social features and an important embeddable interface strategy that could tighten its integration with other tools and potential enterprise partners.

This corner of the social enterprise is getting crowded. Differentiation will come from integration and from suites of customized products geared to different business functions and, eventually, vertical industries. Box has done well early on with integration options. It should start shifting some resources to zero in on the feature-suite approach.

HootSuite should plug in, not replace September 26, 2012

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Not every application should be a communications hub. HootSuite has done a great job positioning itself as the social media marketing dashboard for medium-sized operations or smaller teams at big companies or agencies. And it makes total sense for it to integrate its dashboard with other communications tools. But “getting you out of your mail inbox” into Hootsuite seem overly ambitious. There’s tons of other listening platforms and work media tools it needs to support.

I expect big social communications platforms like Yammer, SocialCast, and Chatter can bolt on to and even become the main thread for other marketing technology effectively. I’m not so sure this is where HootSuite will shine.

Salesforce.com’s next billion-dollar business: marketing tech August 27, 2012

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On its earnings call, Salesforce.com showed 34 percent revenue growth and called marketing its next billion-dollar business. The most vocal proponent of the so-called “social enterprise,” Salesforce has made big bets on social media marketing technology with huge acquisitions (Radian6, Buddy Media). The company is well positioned, but it has a lot of work to do.

Salesforce’s Q2 revenue growth was solid, but at just over $730 million it is much smaller than that of its biggest enterprise software rivals. Oracle’s software business grew only 6 percent, but it’s already $8 billion, and Microsoft’s server, tools and business software sales topped $11 billion. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said on the call that its customer service product line has moved beyond a $500 million yearly run-rate on its way to $1 billion, and he expects that marketing technology would achieve that “not overnight, but not that long, either.”

Grand vision

Salesforce plans to integrate social marketing management with customer service and wrap the whole with social collaboration via its Chatter work media products. Benioff cited Burberry as a customer that had added Radian6 and was deploying Chatter.

The twin pillars of Salesforce’s marketing business are Radian6, a listening platform it acquired a year and a half ago for $326 million, and Buddy Media, its just-closed $689 million acquisition that makes management tools for social media advertising and marketing. But when giving full-year revenue guidance, CFO Graham Smith indicated Salesforce was expecting only $25 million in revenue from Buddy Media. A questioner on the call asked that, while Buddy Media managed 10 percent of the advertising that ran on Facebook, did Salesforce need any more assets in its marketing tech portfolio. Benioff responded that he’d already acquired the biggest players in social media marketing management – not so subtly taking digs at Oracle’s acquisitions in the space.

Slow execution?

Two weeks ago, Salesforce introduced “Communities,” which will enable companies to create private, Chatter-based social networks to collaborate with remote employees, customers, and their supply chain. But smaller competitors like Jive Software and Telligent are well ahead of Salesforce, especially since Salesforce’s product will only go into limited beta this year, with general availability scheduled for the second half of 2013. Salesforce trumpets its ability to combine a social networking platform with business process apps, but the specialists are already packaging up suites of functions for various types of marketing, collaboration, and integration with enterprise applications.

And Salesforce may be, if anything, too focused on social media. Another questioner asked if Saleforce was going to add lead-generation management to its portfolio. Benioff said that he thought lead generation and email marketing were not areas of spending growth. That may be true, but marketers I talk to, especially in retail, still value email marketing as a better conversion tool than social media. Benioff said Salesforce’s marketing dashboard could accommodate direct marketing, but that he might lean on Salesforce’s AppExchange marketplace for third-party tools.

Indeed, most companies have their own preferred email marketing platforms, and Salesforce probably doesn’t need to acquire what might end up as a competitive alternative. Salesforce is collecting the pieces for a full-fledged assault on marketing, but its next $1 billion may take a little longer than Benioff predicts.

 

Question of the week

What else should Salesforce add to its marketing tech portfolio?

Potential Microsoft-Yammer impact June 25, 2012

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There’s still no official declaration by Microsoft – or Yammer – that it would acquire the social work media company for over $1 billion. While some observers labeled the social enterprise acquisition frenzy “lunacy,” others called this potential match-up the “smartest deal of the year.” As with all acquisitions and mergers, it’s all in the details of execution, but this potential combination makes a lot of sense.

What it means

Microsoft’s own SharePoint enterprise collaboration platform is notoriously difficult to deploy. Yammer is just the opposite. And Yammer, like several other freemium, cloud-based collaboration tools, has built integration hooks into its activity stream to pull from and feed back into Microsoft applications, as well as those of Salesforce.com, SAP and other enterprise software offerings. Yammer offers social network-like work media functions including user profiles, project and user “following,” a feed-based user interface, and basic content and file sharing. Yammer, having raised $142 million, claims to have 5 million users at over 200,000 companies, although likely 20 percent or fewer are paid seats.

If the deal goes through, there will be lots of talk of integration. But this is one case where a “bolted on” solution might pay off better for Microsoft than slowing down Yammer’s so-far successful strategy of plugging in to multiple other applications and platforms, including Microsoft’s. And when Microsoft talks integration, it doesn’t necessarily move swiftly. Microsoft spoke warmly about opportunities to connect its Lync unified communications scheme with Skype, with little to show for it so far. A longer-term integration differentiator could lie in searching and connecting the new data silos being created by the proliferation of work media applications.

And which Microsoft product set would benefit most from Yammer integration? SharePoint is the most logical starting point, but Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM suite beckons as does Office and its cloud-based Office 365 variant. Microsoft has been most successful when it builds out horizontal platforms like Windows, Office and SQL Server that third-party developers can leverage for functional (CRM, accounting, HR, manufacturing, etc.) or industry-specific applications. By that reasoning, Yammer fits SharePoint better than Dynamics.

A horizontal approach would keep the door wide open for developers, systems integrators and distributors to take the Yammer/Microsoft combination far and wide. Though some observers think Microsoft will kill Yammer’s freemium business model, it would be wiser to maintain a free entrée point. Microsoft needs to figure out how to exploit this model; freemium is here to stay.

Whom it affects

There is a wide variety – not to say confusing proliferation – of social enterprise players in the market. They tend to fall into types:

Enterprise social networks. Yammer sees companies like Jive Software and Telligent as its main competitors. Those two are ahead of Yammer in adding features and applications to customized their offerings for community marketing, internal and external collaboration and some of those business functions mentioned above. Another player, Atlassian has focused smartly as a platform for software developer collaboration. While Microsoft would add resources to Yammer, those companies are better positioned to compete than is NewsGator, whose current business model depends on adding services to SharePoint.

File-sharing content management and collaboration. Companies like Alfresco and Box have built out far more content management features compared with Dropbox and others that have yet to move far beyond file-sharing. Still, simple collaboration tools have managed to gain ground with line-of-business managers that can’t wait for IT support. If Microsoft doesn’t wreck Yammer, it may be able to wall off enterprise incursions by these companies, and relegate them to small-business and midmarket buyers.

Socialized ERP. Salesforce.com’s Chatter looks a lot like Yammer, and Salesforce can position itself as a credible cloud solution compared with Microsoft. Microsoft must keep Yammer as a horizontal platform play, and resist too much of its own – rather than third-party – application integration. Ironically, Microsoft could play the “open systems” ecosystem card against Salesforce and Oracle’s Webcenter. Oracle pitches Webcenter across all its software, but it’s really its applications-focused cloud computing tactic versus Salesforce.

Socialized enterprise software infrastructure. IBM Connections add social integration to its infrastructure and communications software, much as Tibco employs tibbr. They’re “bolting on” social media to their own offerings, where VMWare is trying to build out a platform with Socialcast. Socialcast, as the more general-purpose offering, is more vulnerable to the Microsoft/Yammer potential.

Key takeaway

Microsoft should focus on keeping Yammer a horizontal platform and learn how to adapt to freemium pricing rather than obsess over deeply integrating Yammer across its product lines. If it does, this could be a powerful combination in work media.

Question of the week

Who’s most at risk from a Microsoft/Yammer combination?

First take: Google Drive April 30, 2012

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Last week, Google introduced its would-be “Dropbox killer” cloud storage service, focusing on fairly aggressive pricing and integration with both its own and third-party services. Google Drive joins a crowded field that’s polarizing between consumer and corporate offerings, even as all the corporate entrants latch on to BYOD and consumerized IT trends as entry points into enterprise collaboration. Google is big enough to try to service both customer bases, but its lack of focus leaves a lot of room for competitors to differentiate.

What it means

Although Google might seem late to cloud storage, we’re still at the early stages of market development. According to our GigaOM Pro 1Q12 consumer survey, only 8 percent of online adults regularly use such services. Likewise, a GigaOM Pro survey of business executives conducted in the fall of 2011 showed that e-mail is still the primary means of sharing business content both within and outside of organizations, with web-based storage services used internally by 27 percent of the survey base and externally by 19 percent. There’s plenty of room for competition and differentiation.

Google is positioning Drive equally for consumers and consumerized enterprise collaboration via its application integration – Google Play for consumers and the Google Docs collection for company functions. Google Play is off to an inauspicious start, with music and books going nowhere and mobile apps and games – which don’t need personal storage anyway – potentially fragmenting. Google Docs is gaining traction in basic business collaboration through file sharing. But Gmail integration is oddly absent from this release. Google is fleshing out an API and developer kit for Drive, and offers some nice features like easy faxing through third party apps.

Don’t focus on price per gigabyte or how much free storage each competitor offers. Even the startups can match current price points. This won’t be battle of sheer storage scale unless a competitor offers near infinite capacity for free. Similarly, a diversity of mobile and desktop OS support is only table stakes. (Google Drive lacks an iOS app.) Consumer cloud storage differentiation will depend on easy to use, seamless synchronization and bundling storage with existing content and media offerings. Google looks weak relative to Apple and Amazon here. The suppliers aiming to power connected work will differentiate via integration with existing collaboration and content management applications, premium customer service, and suites of features geared to specific business functions or vertical markets.

Whom it affects

Dropbox is the most familiar name in the space. It recently added easy-to-use sharing technologies and photo and video support, and responded to Google pricing. Its offerings for corporate collaboration are thin, though its brand recognition and installed base may be enough to fuel a robust third-party ecosystem.

Box is farther along than Dropbox on incorporating support for enterprise features and integrating with existing applications and directory services. Box may rely a little too much on APIs for integration, but it has shown it will build out connectors to enterprise applications like Salesforce and NetSuite as necessary.

Apple has aimed iCloud solely at consumers to-date, and offers industry-leading synchronization features in support of music, video, e-mail and consumer contacts. As usual, Apple plays by its own rules and favors synchronization over cloud storage, but that hasn’t proven to be a limitation yet.

Microsoft is rolling out features for its consumer-oriented SkyDrive service and may at some point connect some dots with SharePoint and its enterprise cloud services. Microsoft might be smart – rather than slow – to distinguish between consumer and enterprise/small business offerings.

Others in the cloud storage space – including Egnyte, Syncplicity, YouSendIt, SugarSync, Citrix and Amazon – should also pick their battles.

Key takeaway

Consumer adoption was a side-door entrance into enterprise collaboration for the early players in cloud storage. That won’t work anymore; differentiation will come from integration, premium services and suites of features.

Disclosure: YouSendIt is backed by Alloy Ventures, which also backs GigaOmni Media, the parent company of GigaOM Pro and GigaOM.

Question of the week

Can Google Drive win over both corporate and consumer customers?

Focusing social platforms for enterprise collaboration September 5, 2011

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Last week Salesforce.com taglined its Dreamforce user conference “Welcome to the social enterprise” and introduced a handful of features for its Chatter social communications tool. Gartner forecasts that spending on social CRM will grow to $820 million worldwide in 2011, up from $625 million in 2010. Companies like Jive Software and Telligent are jockeying with IBM, Microsoft and Cisco for IT spending on social platforms that are used for both employee collaboration and consumer marketing objectives. As competition heats up, vendors must implement more focused strategies on feature sets, packaging, pricing and integration.

Packaging features for corporate customers

Last week I wrote about how to optimize social platform strategies for community marketing. For corporate customers, Jive and Telligent are ahead in the specialization game. Jive offers different configurations for corporate communication, sales support and customer support in addition to social media monitoring. Telligent packages different suites aimed at enterprise collaboration and community marketing. These packages are sometimes only subtly different, but they emphasize employee skills profiles and business intelligence capture, leaving analytics and sentiment measurement for the marketing packages.

Salesforce.com is a little later to specialization, and some of the new Chatter features scheduled to ship in late 2011 are catch-up offerings. But it is building features that will suit collaboration nicely, including real-time elements like presence management and screen-sharing, as well as an approval function that could be used for things like signing off on documents, sales discounts and new hires. Chatter is also adding Microsoft SharePoint integration, but that’s a basic requirement that competitors like Jive, Telligent, Yammer and Box.net have already implemented.

Enterprise strategies

Integration is the key word for differentiating corporate social media from customer- or consumer-facing products. Unlike customer communities, which are relatively new, there’s a huge installed base of legacy enterprise applications and databases that social media must plug into. Besides enterprise software from Oracle, IBM and SAP, social collaboration must be able to access information and insert messages into the dominant enterprise communications tools: Microsoft’s Outlook and Active Directory services. Likewise, social platforms must integrate with corporate management and monitoring tools like those from IBM/Tivoli and Hewlett-Packard. Application deployment and provisioning are especially tricky in environments that mix cloud-hosted and local enterprise resources.

Social platforms aimed at enterprise collaboration must fine-tune their strategies around:

  • Groups. Mainstream social networks take varied approaches to groups. Though it’s not aiming at enterprise collaboration, Facebook’s symmetric approach (people know they’re in a group and must accept an invitation) is better suited to workplace collaboration than the asymmetric style of Twitter or Google+. Invitations and supervisor controls can help with potential security issues, especially if, as Salesforce.com is working on, collaborators want to mingle employees and customers.
  • Message filtering. Message feeds will quickly be overwhelmed without filtering devices. Group and topic tagging is one obvious answer – Jive’s Proximal Labs acquisition filters based on that – and competitors should emulate LinkedIn’s or Google Priority Mail’s data mining and filtering algorithms rather than Facebook’s. That’s because collaboration messages and tasks need to be driven by responsibilities, assignments and skills at least as much as by interaction frequency and self-expressed interest.
  • Partners. One path to enterprise integration is through consulting and services partners. For example, Jive works with several of the big IT consultancies as well as specialists like Dachis Group and Razorfish. Social marketing platforms should seek them out, too, along with more traditional agency partners.
  • Pricing. Social media has used consumerization tactics and freemium pricing as a Trojan horse entrée into enterprises. But IT managers need more familiar enterprise pricing models to be able to compare and budget social technologies alongside legacy IT solutions.

Although Salesforce likes gamification, I’m not convinced that badges and points are crucial for social collaboration. Likewise, marketing features may work as Facebook apps, but even Millennials think public social networks aren’t for corporate communication. If the youth of today sees that kind of distinction, social platform features will likely diverge even more over time.

Question of the week

What other features should enterprise social collaboration platforms employ?

Focusing social platforms for community marketing August 29, 2011

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One of the things social media marketing will need if it’s going to live up to its aggressive $5 billion spending forecast is more differentiation between marketing and collaboration platforms. Companies like Jive Software, which filed for its IPO last week; Lithium, which just hired a new CEO; Mzinga; and Telligent offer social network platforms aimed at both employees and customers. But one-size-fits-all social networking platforms may not be around for much longer, because to succeed, vendors will need to start offering tools and services concentrated specifically on community marketing, distinct from enterprise collaboration or social networks.

Vendors making tools for the space broadly defined as social CRM have arrived from various origins: buzz monitoring, fan site creation, customer service and support, and enterprise social networking. Core social networking technologies and techniques (e.g., social graph relationships and information, friend and group following, real-time information feeds) are common across those. But platforms aimed at marketing to communities will need specialization. Let’s take a look at how a new startup, Napkin Labs, is attempting to differentiate the community-marketing platform that it just took out of beta.

Napkin Labs offers a low-cost web service that companies like beta partners Intuit and Sony can use as an online focus group. The founders of Napkin Labs have brand advertising agency backgrounds, and it shows — occasionally to a fault. For example, they expose perhaps a little too much agency-insider terminology to consumers who, unless they’re avid Mad Men watchers, aren’t going to know or care what a “creative brief” is. CEO Riley Gibson is correct that encouraging and rewarding customer engagement is subtly different than doing the same for employees. So Napkin Labs uses gaming mechanics like challenges and points to encourage participation and rate user influence. Its focus on applications to test product features, advertising and packaging looks smart.

But translating the art of focus group analysis into software and social networking features will be challenging. Understanding how to use feedback from rabid fans versus mainstream customers, muting the impact of blowhard commentators and applying focus group insights to mass-market ad campaigns are more consulting services than products. Napkin Labs is attempting to educate less-savvy customers with templates and blog advice rather than hiring consultants.

But there are a host of other community-marketing features besides focus group analysis that vendors will increasingly use, such as:

  • Consumer network integration. Community-marketing platforms should enable and encourage community members to spread the message beyond the community. So any gaming or rewards systems must extend into other social media, like Twitter and Facebook.
  • Member acquisition. If you’re in the fan page business — or are using social marketing tools for customer acquisition — you need to “fish where the fish are.” Most of the fish today are on Facebook. Napkin Labs has an idea that its offerings might work better as Facebook apps than as a part of a destination site; it’s probably right.
  • Community panels. Some community-marketing platform companies like House Party and CrowdTap bring along their own communities, much like traditional market research panels. There are tradeoffs to this approach — some clients want to control audience and data ownership — but those platforms enable data analysis across different customer and product types. That can lead to valuable marketing insights that might otherwise stay hidden from those clients.

Ultimately, a key role for community marketing platforms will be supporting so-called integrated marketing campaigns — that is, big, cross-media (TV, online, print) initiatives that involve things like product placement, brand sponsorships and physical-world presence. House Party and CrowdTap offer services to manage campaign logistics. That may be more like agency work and consulting than building a software platform with seductive margins and a scalable business model, but that’s what it’s going to take.

Question of the week

How else can collaboration platforms differentiate themselves from social marketing tools?