IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Social Collaboration Tools and the SMB Workplace

How the latest phase in social media website development targets SMBs, providing exclusive collaboration forums for limited private groups. By Geoffrey Oldmixon

Facebook’s features provide millions of North American users with an easy-to-use, visually driven correspondence hub for social networks. Facebook makes it easy for individuals, businesses, and groups to post links, share content, and exchange comments.

But it hasn’t really worked that well for inter-office communications.

Facebook pages enable businesses to broadcast news to fans and connect with market opinions. Twitter enables businesses to rub elbows with potential partners or media professionals. Flickr enables businesses to post event photos for download. While each social media site seems to propose a reasonable benefit to SMBs, few work well for inter-office communications.

That’s where new platforms like Yammer and Postwire come in.

THE SOCIALLY AWKWARD OFFICE

Often when SMBs talk about online forums for their small office workgroups, they often refer to project management tools (Basecamp, Workfront (formerly @Task)*, Intervals, Bugzilla, etc.). These, however, are more support tools than social platforms. They’re better for managing breaks and fixes than collaboration.

Sometimes, businesses will refer to Google Docs, Dropbox, or SkyDrive. Again, while these online tools do facilitate collaboration, they’re hardly social platforms. Rather, they are document-sharing solutions.

Some businesses do attempt to use mainstream social media products as their inter-office collaboration forum. Undoubtedly, however, those businesses quickly learn that each mainstream solution has its shortcomings. For example:

  • FACEBOOK -- While businesses can, theoretically, establish a closed Facebook group for collaborative discussion, each member in that group is required to use a personal profile to access the group. Let’s face it: No one wants to do that. There is just something unsettling about linking the same profile one uses to complain about one’s boss to a group in which that boss will participate.
  • GOOGLE -- Google+ suffers from the same user reservations surrounding account linking plaguing Facebook. Moreover, users are able to extend their networks at will, risking greater exposure should privacy settings fail or “Circles” become interconnected.
  • POSTING SITES -- While content- and link-sharing sites, like Pinterest, enable the general public to find and access content, they’re not great for delivering targeted documents, links, or communications to specialized (or private) audiences.

NEW PRODUCTS FOR A SOCIAL OFFICE

It’s obvious, then, that no one social media platform has a foothold in the inter-office collaboration market. But that may soon change.

When Microsoft acquired Yammer this past summer for $1.2 billion, it was clear that that Microsoft Corp. was acknowledging two things: 1) there was a need in its portfolio for a better collaboration tool, and 2) there was room in the market for an inter-office, collaborative social media platform.

Yammer “brings the power of social media to your business,” according to its website. It’s essentially a closed-membership version of the Facebook platform (though it does offer more robust document sharing capabilities than Facebook).

Another recent launch adds further fuel to the “social collaboration” fire. From business communications developer VisibleGains comes Postwire, a visually-driven document sharing tool for business groups. VisibleGains launched its Postwire platform at TechCrunch in May of 2012.

If Yammer is the Facebook platform for collaborative office groups, then Postwire is the Pinterest for that same market -- the differentiator, again, being its robust ability to share documents.

SOCIAL START-UP FORECAST

According to Phil Terry, CEO of digital consulting firm Creative Good, the development of Google+ cost the search giant roughly $585 million (though he admits this is a “guesstimate”). Yet, at the same time, there remains a perception that the social media site has largely underperformed since its 2011 general launch.

Consider that Microsoft paid more than twice that amount to acquire Yammer, and one thing is clear: all eyes will be on the social collaboration platform market. It will be interesting to see which platforms come out the other side of this social collaboration dust storm.

*Update 11/17/2016: @Task has been rebranded as Workfront. The text and link in the story has been updated accordingly. The thumbnail for this story has not been modified.

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