10 Biggest Social Business Cloud Stories Of 2011

Grazed from The BrainYard.  Author: David F. Carr.

Before I try to rank social business stories, let me explain what I'm talking about.

Someone asked me to define "social business" the other day, and my take is that it's broader than just "enterprise social networking" (social media applied inside the firewall) but still ought to be construed to mean serious business applications of social media, beyond publishing, advertising, and marketing. Naturally, the consumer applications of social media are serious business for companies such as Facebook and LinkedIn, but I'm more interested in social collaboration technologies and techniques that can be applied to any business--the enterprise 2.0 stuff...

Nevertheless, I've made room to discuss Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ on the list below because these public social networks are part of the environment in which we do business. Social business is enough of a rubber term that it can mean pretty much whatever I want it to. As a search term, "social business" also suffers from confusion with social enterprises meant to improve society or help the poor, rather than merely get work done. Presumably, that kind of social business could use my kind of social business, too.

Here is a countdown of my top 10 social business stories of 2011. These are grouped thematically more than they are ranked, and I'll deal with the public social networking examples first.

10. Facebook developer platform changes. Because Facebook is by far the largest social network, any significant change it makes shakes the landscape for businesses who see it as a channel to reach consumers--and Facebook made a lot of big changes this year. Early in the year, it followed through on previously announced plans to phase out its Facebook Markup Language application model, where applications were proxied through Facebook's servers, in favor of using HTML iFrames to integrate content served from other websites. This meant essentially any Web application using any standard programming technique could now be embedded within Facebook. This introduced some security concerns and made it challenging for developers to keep up with ongoing changes that rolled out over the next several months.

Still, Facebook blew the doors off the limitations on what you could do inside the social network, while also making it possible for embedded applications to function in much the same way as applications on external websites that integrate with the Facebook platform.

9. The LinkedIn IPO. Like Facebook, LinkedIn is a consumer social network that anyone can sign up for, but LinkedIn has always been the most businesslike of the social networks--not so much social as professional, burdened with a reputation for being a boring place except for recruiters and job seekers. However, once the LinkedIn IPO proved to be one of the most successful public offerings of the year, LinkedIn didn't look so boring anymore.

As a social business story, the LinkedIn IPO was important because it showed the power of social networking and business, combined.

8. Google+. By the time Google+ arrived this summer, Google had failed so many times at capturing the attention of the social media world that everyone was surprised at how compelling this version was and how fast it caught up. Judging from some of the shortcomings in the initial version, such as the failure to support Google Apps users or even offer a decent search feature, the engineers at Google were as surprised as anyone. They were left scrambling to improve the platform fast enough to satisfy an enthusiastic but demanding early user base.

Although Google+ still is an imperfect beta-quality product, it arrived with a distinctive take on the social media model and how to form connections and subscriptions around circles of interest. Boasting unique features such as Hangouts for video chat, Google+ also shows potential to develop into a business collaboration tool for both internal and external conversations.

7. The Jive IPO. Last week's Jive Software IPO reflected the company's determination to capitalize on its position as a leader in social software, including both enterprise social networking and social communities. Jive has the distinction of being classified as a leader in three different Gartner Magic Quadrant vendor charts, and is also on Forrester Research's list of the top four enterprise social networking vendors.

So far, investors also seem to have a strong favorable opinion of Jive, having bid up its stock to a price that's holding steady at about $15 per share. Beyond what that means for Jive, it says good things about the future of the social software category.

6. VMware buys Socialcast. This acquisition and the next one on my list also were part of Rob Preston's Top 10 Tech Acquisitions of 2011. VMware's acquisition of Socialcast was as much about building out a suite of cloud computing applications for business as it was about social networking. VMware also had acquired several point applications such as SlideRocket. Still, Socialcast took a place at the center of that strategy, as the application with the potential to tie all the others together, and Socialcast CEO Tim Young became VMware's vice president of social software.

5. Salesforce.com buys Radian6. When Salesforce.com bought Radian6, a social media monitoring firm, it signaled that the CRM giant was ready to address social media as an important marketing channel--too important for Salesforce to waste any time trying to replicate the kind of social media and blog data gathering and analysis operation Radian6 already had created. Radian6 competes in a market where dozens of companies are tracking brand mentions and trying to automatically flag positive and negative sentiment in posts. Its strongest advantage today is integration with Salesforce.com apps for sales and service and its incorporation into the Salesforce Social Marketing Cloud.

4. OpenSocial goes 2.0. As a suite of specifications that also tries to encompass popular standards such as OAuth, OpenSocial 2.0 could prove significant in 2012, when IBM, Jive Software, and others will adopt it as a common way of integrating social software. OpenSocial 2.0 is not universally loved or accepted, but it has great potential.

3. Gamification. As jargon, it's truly awful, but gamification was one of the most talked about social software phenomena of 2011. Through a combination of psychology and technology, social application developers are exploring game-like feedback mechanisms that make online experiences compelling, or even addictive. In the consumer world, Foursquare is often cited for using badges awarded for checking in at specific locations as a gamification technique that drives usage. Business social software firms such as Rypple, which was just acquired by Salesforce.com, have applied gamification to driving employee performance.

Social software is supposed to be more fun and engaging than regular software, and gamification is one of the things that makes it that way.

2. Social redefines project management. Social collaboration is redefining, or maybe extending and broadening, the category of software used for managing projects and tasks. In some incarnations, this means dispensing with formal project plans in favor of collaboration-centric coordination of tasks through team members sharing their progress on a status line. I've been hearing a lot of talk about new labels such as "enterprise work management" as a broader vision of how enterprises can manage and coordinate work that never fit the traditional model of project management, geared toward engineering and software development efforts with distinct phases. Alternatively, traditional project managers can encourage social chatter as a way of getting more frequent updates from project participants than they would see without the social component.

This could be one of the ways social software earns an enduring place in business: as a better way of getting projects, and work in general, done.

1. All collaboration Is now "social". Every software or Web-service product that allows people to connect or collaborate in any way is now likely to be branded "social," just so its makers can associate themselves with the hype and the growth of social software. I don't mean to take it as an article of faith that the more social product will always win. Sometimes, adding social qualities to an application might distract users from the work they are supposed to be accomplishing with it. But one of my goals for 2012 will be to distinguish between the products that have merely branded themselves social, or used social features in a gratuitous and meaningless way, and those that use social networking to let people connect and communicate in a more productive way.