Social software growing - but are companies making the most of it?



taginlineimportSome enterprises might want to ignore social media, but the signs are that it isn't going away. Garter recently released figures suggesting that worldwide social software revenue reached $664 million in 2010, up 15% on the previous year and is likely to grow 15% again this year.


And this doesn't take into account the huge growth in online social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook, which drive awareness and demand for such service among consumers (who are also employees).


The report, entitled Market Trends: Convergence Restructuring the Enterprise Social Software Market, Worldwide, 2010, finds that companies are using social software to craft new types of collaborative relationship between employees.


According to Tom Eid, research vice president at Gartner, this category of software helps people to find new ways to encourage and challenge their peers, capture tacit knowledge, and find the best people to work on projects with.


This software can also have far-reaching effects across organizational boundaries. Gartner speaks of 'customer intimacy' as an example, in which companies can reach out and interact with both existing and potential customers via social media channels. Tweeting someone who has had a bad experience with their luggage on an airline, for example, and offering them a free upgrade on their next flight, could help a company to retain a valuable customer.


But that's the thing about social software in the enterprise. While its healthy growth is promising, the relatively low market value indicates that it still has a long way to go before it can be considered a mature market. For example, CRM firm Salesforce made twice the 2010 market value of the entire enterprise social software market during 2009.


Maturity involves knowing what to do with the software for maximum effect. Depending on who you're targeting with social software, that could involve more sophisticated integration with back-end systems that you're used to. If you're targeting customers, for example, it would make sense to integrate the software into back-end CRM systems, so that you can tell which customers are the most valuable. If Fred, who spends $10,000 per year travelling with your airline, loses his baggage, it might be worth offering him a free upgrade if he tweets about it.


The same holds true for social software that targets internal employees. Think about how it could be hooked into back-end HR systems, for example, so that you can track how helpful employees are being, how much they are participating in team activities, and how well they're doing at creating a niche of expertise for themselves in the company. All of this can be useful in terms of evaluating their overall worth as employees. A company could even take a stab at folding social media participation into a performance review.

Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.