Social Business, 2014-18-August-For-Sale.jpgRemember the glory days of Enterprise Social software? When startups were acquired and innovations were exciting? When we all believed that social technology could help us change the way we worked for good? Death to email!

The ESN crickets have been chirping for some time, because corporate social networking software is now a commodity, not a community. Disappearing are the days of hoping for ideation, serendipitous discovery, executive dialogue with worker-bees, and earning millions of dollars from new product ideas gleaned from conversations. The enterprise is tired of the hype; companies who have not seen success are ready to give up. With myriad ESN vendors, the proliferation of social features across productivity, storage and project management products, and an inability to prove that standalone enterprise social software has ROI, the commoditization will continue and eventually bury the industry as we know it. Think it’s not possible? I beg to differ for two reasons.

1. Microsoft is Committing Social Software Suicide

Like a passionate lover with a broken heart, Microsoft is poisoning its own social software efforts toward an untimely and unfortunate death. After courting its social Juliet with a $1.2 billion engagement ring and then watching her slow demise (after she threw herself a $1.4 million engagement party to celebrate her impending betrothal to the most desirable software silver fox of the Silicon Valley), Microsoft is tearing apart its social products and creating chaos in the enterprise social industry. Microsoft is attempting to fix its Yammer adoption problem by integrating Yammer and Office 365 in both features and pricing bundles. You’ve got Microsoft? You’re getting social features, like them or not.

Here’s why they’re doing this. Enterprise social software licenses for cloud-based products are not major revenue generators when compared to products like SharePoint. Salespeople are reluctant to sell social software because it’s hard to explain to the C-Suite and the intensive education effort isn’t worth it when a multi-million-dollar SharePoint deal is at stake.

Professional adoption and strategy services are even harder to sell on top of software that is supposed to be as easy to use as Facebook. As employees cling to email and other entrenched products that don’t require special adoption efforts, it’s become clear that selling Yammer licenses -- for actual money -- isn’t worth it. Therefore, the strategy is now to cut up the once finely-tuned Yammer community platform and parse out its features across Microsoft’s suite of well-used products.

There are several problems with this strategy, all of which are contributing to the commoditization of enterprise social software.

  • The Rise of “Minimum Viable Social": As “like” buttons pop up everywhere in the absence of a dedicated, standalone network, the concept of a cooperative and collaborative community is dying. The most successful enterprise social networks today began as standalone destinations for dialogue, relationship-building and knowledge-sharing. If Yammer is no longer a managed, cultivated destination, users will just take what they can get and accept the most basic features of social technology as good-enough. When a “like” is just a “like” and it doesn’t carry a greater meaning within the context of a robust community, social features will diminish in value.

  • Problematic On-Premises Islands: Is Jive in trouble? Yes, but they’re not going to be alone. Other vendors like Tibco’s tibbr, VMware’s Socialcast and Sitrion that offer on-premises social communities are also going to suffer from social commoditization. In the short term, customers who refuse to move to the cloud may continue to pay for the security of social networks behind the firewall. But don’t expect that to last for long.

    Once Microsoft figures out how to appease these customers with free minimum viable social features inside SharePoint, Outlook and Office, standalone social vendors will have to make tough choices. Do they continue to pay engineering teams to innovate on behind-the-firewall deployments already launched to some of their biggest customers? Do they have to slash pricing to compete? Or do they divest of on-premises social networking products and cut their losses?
  • Yet Another Enterprise Social Startup Syndrome: Need to track to-do lists? There’s an app for that! Want to calculate the cost of running a meeting? Download the app now. Do you want to message your team securely via iOS devices? Measure your goals? Meet up with runners at your company?

    As centralized enterprise social networking software lacks the human-centric value that it once boasted, startups are launching purpose-built enterprise social apps to manage distinct business needs one at a time. Employees are picking and choosing which social apps they use in the absence of an official single social network, resulting in the creation of more silos and the idea that social is unmanageable enterprise-wide.