A Look Back: Social Business Trends from 2013

Social business tools, enterprise social networks, portals and intranets are helping companies break down the internal silos that keep workers from the information they need at their fingertips. In 2013, it was a big year for many players in this space, including Microsoft and Salesforce. Both the Yammer and Chatter social networks took dramatic new shapes this year.

As we enter 2014, we took a look back at the 2013 social business trends that drove the industry.

Collaborate in New Ways

What is social business? We use it to describe the various internal tools companies use to collaborate on projects or work together remotely, including enterprise social networks (ESN), portals and intranets. What it does not include is email. Email is not social. It is the opposite of social. In fact, the rise in popularity of ESNs and tools like Yammer is part due to how poor email adapts to collaboration.

Obviously, email is still very popular, and social business tools are very often tied directly to email accounts But the point is information and documents can be shared and worked on in more centralized ways. Take the Telligent buy of Zimbra from VMWare back in July. Telligent liked Zimbra so much it not only bought the company but decided to take the Zimbra name as its own.

Smart companies want to give workers the best tools to be productive. Merging email (Zimbra) with Telligent's collaboration tools is one way to do that. In fact, opening up of collaboration systems to other applications was a major theme in 2013, according to Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester analyst.

"The social business landscape matured in 2013," he told CMSWire.

Microsoft's buy of Yammer was a big validation of the success of social, Koplowitz added. Companies are really seeing the benefits social business tools have in terms of extracting internal expertise and information. Yammer, for example, has a bevvy of applications that connect to it, and that indeed helps break down information barriers. But for now, unlocking that siloed information remains a cultural and technological challenge.

IBM established itself in the social business space in 2013, Koplowitz noted. Big Blue was named as a leader in Gartner's 2013 MQ for Workplace Social Software. Just recently, IBM recently announced it has integrated its Connections social network with the HootSuite social media dashboard.

Some of the details have yet to be worked out with this integration because it was just announced, but it could be ready to go in early 2014 for enterprise customers of both HootSuite and IBM. Having a more open ESN is one way companies can differentiate themselves from their competitors in the industry. This is key. As Gartner noted, it's becoming harder to tell products apart by features. Almost all of them have activity streams, profiles, embedded messages and dynamic profiles, for example.

IDCEnterprise Social Software 2012.jpg

Analysts at IDC expect social software to become a $2.7 billion market by 2017. This is IDC's breakdown of social software revenue by country.

Blending Standalone Networks, Enterprise Apps

Because the power of social can be found in those activity streams, profiles and embedded messages, it's no wonder that folding those tools into other apps was a major 2013 trend. As mentioned in the introduction, both Yammer and Chatter have taken new directions in 2013. Yammer merged into SharePoint and Chatter is now the basis of the Salesforce1 system that was announced at Dreamforce 2013 in San Francisco.

"Enterprise social platforms are moving from standalone to embedded, and this merges the network into the workflow instead of simply having a social layer," Vanessa Thompson, a research manager at IDC said in an interview.

Yammer is now the social feed within SharePoint (and soon to be Office 365 and Office Web Apps), and Chatter is the framework for Salesforce1, a tool built to allow companies to use Salesforce more fully on mobile devices. It is just another way social tools are blending into other digital domains is on the customer facing extranets side.

Learning Opportunities

Customer portals and communities are powerful ways of capturing the voice of the customer and offering customer service, Koplowitz said. In fact, Microsoft is already doing some of this with Yammer, and more companies are likely to follow suit in 2014 and beyond.

Not only are social networks changing customer facing channels, they are changing how companies use the data they collect there, Thompson said. Product development is one area where the social stream has an impact in this way. Companies can use social to source market requirements and feedback.

On this point, Koplowitz was in agreement. "Companies will eventually be able to allow workers to have deep, structured conversations with customers about what they want," he said.

In other words, the social part of social business will eventually be one of the default ways companies interact with customers.

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Box (Box edit sharing and commenting pictured) and other file storage systems have gotten into the document collaboration space in 2013.

Don't Forget Documents

One area where ESNs stumble is document collaboration. These tools were built as social activity centers, and while documents are becoming increasingly important to them, another industry is moving in the same direction. Online file sharing and storage services like Dropbox and Box branched out into the collaboration front in 2013, a big trend that got plenty of our attention.

Forrester released its first ever File Sync and Share Wave in 2013, a nod to the increasingly competitive space. Box, IBM and EMC made the top of the list, and their document collaboration capabilities are tops for now in this fast moving area. Whether in the cloud or on premise, document collaboration will likely continue to be a thorny issue for many organizations because of the security issues involved.

It really seems like companies on both the ESN and file storage sides are moving toward the collaboration side of things, so 2014 could be a fun year to watch. It's too early to tell who will be the leaders in this, but Google, Salesforce, Microsoft and Box appear to be positioned well.

What to Expect

It's easy to assume these trends will only accelerate in 2014, but things move slow in the world of big business. The smaller, agile companies will likely do the innovating while the enterprise players roll out more social business tools in already proven use cases.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on what's been the most important trends in social business. Leave us a comment below or check in with us on Twitter and LinkedIn to share your boldest takes and predictions.