Forget about the Magic Quadrant for Social CRM or the Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management. It's time to turn our attention inward and check out the best social software for your enterprise -- according to Gartner.

It's fitting that we now take a look at Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace -- that is our editorial theme this month after all (check out current coverage).

This is not, as you know, the first time we've covered this report. And it's not the first time we've seen Microsoft, Jive Software and IBM in the leader's quadrant. It is the first time Salesforce is listed there, but based on all the acquisitions and product updates, maybe it's not so surprising.

The key to making this Gartner Magic Quadrant is that vendors must offer a platform that supports employee collaboration and social interaction, and also be able to extend those capabilities out to partners, suppliers and in some cases external customers. Here we are looking at things like project team collaboration, communities of expertise or interest and knowledge networks (for experts and/or information).

Gartner notes the overlap in vendors between this report and the Social CRM Magic Quadrant but points out the very different use cases. Gartner also lets us know in this report that it will no longer create a separate Magic Quadrant for Externally Facing Social Software -- the two are now combined. What we can expect is a report called: "Critical Capabilities for Enterprise Social Networking" sometime before the end of the year.

Who's on the Social Software MQ?

Here's the quick list:

  • Leaders: Jive Software, IBM, Microsoft, Yammer (Microsoft), Salesforce
  • Challengers: Tibco Software, VMWare, Atlassian
  • Niche Players: OpenText, Saba, Socialtext (Bedford Funding), Huddle, Bluekiwi (Atos), Igloo, Novell, Liferay, Moxie Software
  • Visionaries: Telligent, Cisco, SuccessFactors (SAP), Acquia

You'll notice a few new vendors on the list: Cisco, Huddle, VMWare, Tibco Software and you probably notice a few who have come off the list: MindTouch, Ektron, EPiServer, Mzinga, Cornerstone OnDemand and XWiki. Gartner points to the inability to meet the "qualitative market relevance requirements" for a product specifically packaged and marketed for support teams, communities and networks (by this we mean things like profiles, group spaces, content sharing, discussions, blogs and wikis) as reason for removal.

Maybe that surprises you for vendors like MindTouch and Mzinga, but both are very focused on related but distinct markets (MindTouch -- multichannel product help social publishing and Mzinga for external customer experiences).

Along with all the "qualitative" requirements, there were the usual "quantitative" requirements: minimum of 50 employees worldwide, generating at least US$ 7m in the latest fiscal year, have at least 10 paying customers with active deployments for minimum of 5000 users, a minimum of 150k named users, a presence in at least three geographic locations and a minimum of five partners.

Some notable absents according to Gartner are Box, Google, IntraLinks and Oracle -- but Gartner does recognize them as vendors to watch.

The Market for Social Software

There has been significant growth in the social software market (or social business software as some call it). Along with a range of new vendors vying for top position, we have seen the established vendors -- like Jive, IBM and others -- constantly adding new capabilities. In most cases, we have seen cloud-based solutions arrive, mobile functionality put in place and more interfaces that take on that Facebook like social networking feel.

Learning Opportunities

It's no wonder organizations don't know which way to turn when they finally decide social software is a key tool to support their enterprise strategies.

Gartner points to three types of vendors emerging from all this growth:

  • Specialist social app vendors
  • Enterprise platform vendors
  • Business application vendors

Don't expect to see this market quiet down any time soon though (see Adoption of Social Enterprise Software Is Booming - IDC Report). Yes, you can expect that the Jives, IBMs and Saleforces of the market will  continue to have a leg up -- they have both the finances and the talent and customers to stay on top, but I expect we will continue to see others enter the market, if for no other reason than to be bought by the bigger boys.

Differentiating in a Social Software Market

We aren't going to get into the specific strengths and cautions of each vendor on the list in this article. But that is on its way. Until then, we leave you with Gartner's "five routes to sustainable differentiation." Because if a vendor is going to survive in this market, they better have a unique selling point -- and it's looking pretty clear that functionality isn't going to be it.

So what should you look for according to Gartner?

  1. Solutions that bundle the software with the IT infrastructure services (like directory services, content repositories, unified communications, application and portal services).
  2. "Biz App" bundles that bring social capabilities into business systems.
  3. A horizontal social layer that will become the enterprise social graph, integrating across other repositories and applications.
  4. A focus on underserved activities such as inbox management, rich content creation, task management, idea management and more. These types of activities directly support end users who tend to have the most challenges when required to use new tools.
  5. A focus on the individual and "getting things done," instead of a focus on control and conformity. Key words here include simplicity, instant gratification, "coolness."

Depending on an organization's strategy, they should look to vendors differentiating in one of these areas -- except for the individual focus. That's a pretty important "adoption" strategy to consider in all cases.

Coming up next, a look at the vendors who made the list in detail.