Gartner has recently released a whole bunch of  "Cool" Vendors reports that look at all aspects of the IT industry. One of the more useful ones of the bunch, given the importance of both social media and customer relationship management, looks at Cool Vendors in the Social CRM space.

Let’s get the dull bit out of the way first. Gartner, as it does with Magic Quadrants, says that the list of vendors it analyzed does not constitute an exhaustive list in any technology area, but is designed to highlight “interesting, new and innovative vendors, products and services.”

It also says that potential buyers need to shop around and not just depend on these kinds of reports. Enterprises need to work out what they need, and then find a vendor that fulfils those needs regardless of the lists they appear in.

It is probably a good idea to keep both these points in mind -- particularly the first one -- as Gartner, in this report, does not give a general, generic description of what a "Cool" vendor might be. Instead, for each of the vendors it offers a specific reason why it thinks that vendor is cool.

Social Media, Business Processes

That out of the way, Gartner says that, while social media and its use in the enterprise is at an all-time high in terms of hype, its use in the enterprise is beginning to change, or mature might be a better word.

Companies are no longer obsessed with doing social just because they can, or because they feel they should; rather, they are grounding social strategies firmly within a business context such as local marketing or developing leads, rather than deploying social applications and trying to find a use for them afterwards.

The result is that for the purposes of this paper Gartner is evaluating Social CRM applications for their ability to help companies understand customer intentions and feeding that information into specific business processes like marketing or customer’s service.

This year, four companies made it onto the Gartner Cool Social CRM Vendors list. They include:


Why Cool: Social CRM only works when people want to participate and engage and where there are obvious rewards for participating. Badgeville, which was created in 2010, offers badges, leader boards and real-time activity feeds to reward users, which encourages online engagement.

The Badgeville platform, as a result, enables companies to track users and can integrate with content management and commenting systems.

Challenges: The market for solutions like this is not well developed yet and many of the vendors involved are small in terms of size and revenues. Competition is also tough from traditional marketing automation vendors and community vendors, which are able to incorporate many of the above functions into their products.

Who Cares? Marketing and customer service department’s community managements and brands that are searching for greater customer engagement.

Hearsay Social

Why Cool: Many companies need to take an active role on social media sites such as Facebook to facilitate true CRM. Hearsay Social provides companies with a way to access employees, agents and other enterprise visitors, to engage them, to engage possible customers and promote products and services on social media sites while monitoring conversations for issues such as compliance.

Challenges: Competition in this space is beginning to heat up, especially for brand managers, and it will start to face increasing competition from traditional marketing automation vendors that are also beginning to engage in Facebook-marketing kind of activity.

Who Cares: Companies with strong corporate brands and with many local branches such as banks, or franchisers.

Peer Squared (Smart Rewards)

Why Cool: Peer Squared’s Smart Rewards encourages engagement by offering a social sweepstakes that rewards users through promotions or contests. End users connect with Smart Rewards on an organization’s website by  a Twitter, Facebook or foursquare connection. 

Organizations establish the rules for rewards and everything is automated from there. This rewards system also operates in real time and communicates with users as soon as they engage with the systems.

Challenges: Gartner says the product is still a bit indecisive in its own branding. Smart Rewards is currently gaining traction in the studio entertainment industry and starting to work in pharmaceuticals but has yet to penetrate the broader market, which is being penetrated by its competitor, Wildfire Interactive.

Another concern with Smart Rewards is its ability to scale under the current pricing model with the majority of its customers using the free version when there are fewer than 100 shares per month.

Who Cares? Marketing and e-commerce professionals in the studio entertainment, pharmaceutical, consumer packaged goods and retail industries.


Why Cool: Vivastream automates the process of connection members of a social media network while they are physically at an event. It is accessible via traditional Web, or mobile, including Blackberry, iPhone and Android applications and the site is built using HTML 5 so it is accessible by tablets too.

Challenges: Even exhibitors can also promise their content through targeted sponsorship in the margins of the dashboard, and it is built around topic graphs rather than social graphs, connecting people by their interests rather than people they know.

Who cares? Marketing managers and event managers, particularly those who anticipate working with large numbers of social-savvy attendees.

And that’s this year’s Cool Vendors list in Social CRM  for 2012. In all cases we see small companies with good ideas and all of them playing in relatively niche markets.

However, with the scope of Social CRM expanding all the time, these markets are likely to become less niche, and… well, who knows where they may end up next year; there’s always budgets for good products!