Social Software: Here Come The CMS Vendors

I’m in the unique position that I get to speak to enterprise brands, white label vendors, and now CMS vendors on a regular basis, here’s what I’m seeing:

It’s now quarter 3, and I start research on the big report, the Forrester Wave (learn about the reports) on the Community Platforms (White Label Social Networks) the Vendor Catalog of this space will be published for clients in the coming days. The process, which has been completed for many other markets, is detailed, granular, and will take me over 10 weeks to complete. The results will yield a report that indicate the strength and weaknesses of those vendors for enterprise class interactive marketers.

[Trend watch: Enterprise CMS Vendors to enter the White Label Social Networking Space and offer Community Features and Platforms]

Social Features a Commodity
As I’ve mentioned time and time again, it’s a crowded space in the white label social network space due to low barriers to entry, and commodity features, in fact with 80+ vendors (could be 120+ if I counted insight vendors and collaboration vendors), there’s no shortage of those who will throw their hat into the ring.

Overview: Enterprise Content Management Systems
I’ve started to notice more of the ‘traditional’ CMS and Portal players that already have deep footprints into the corporate web teams that are inching into this space. First, let’s take a historical view, many of these vendors appeared in the late 90s, they offer easy ways to publish online for corporations, often including advanced review workflows, templates, and staging and dev sites. I’ve been on the teams (I’m a former corporate web guy) that have had to implement, manage, or train stakeholders to use these. Next, in the early 2000-2002 we started to see acquisitions into this space by large ERP players: Microsoft acquired CMS which eventually evolved into Sharepoint, EMC acquired Documentum, and other ERP players such as Interwoven, Vignette, Stellent, IBM’s Filenet and LotusNotes, edDot CMS, Xerox’s Docushare, and Saperion started to extend their KM products for public websites. There’s a great list of these vendors from CMS watch.

CMS Vendors sniffing the social space
Fast forward to 2008. With the demand and buzz for social network features, or community offerings, these established CMS/Portal vendors recognize the demand, and see opportunity dollars falling through the cracks. I’ve started conversations with several of the big players to gauge where they are headed. Of course, the conversations don’t end up on this blog (unless they give me permission, or publish first) but it’s quite obvious where things are headed. In fact, see my predictions referenced in a recent Techcrunch article. They won’t be the only ones, we’re starting to get glimmers of social platforms tying to CRM systems too –integration afoot.

Three Options for CMS Vendors
There are at least three ways these large CMS vendors can head:

1) Develop the features and roll out community suites. Acquire new staff to understand this new world (it’s a different skill set than CMS rollout and management). This will involve client side training, consulting, development/design, new metrics packages, and series of recurring support revenue streams.

2) Acquire the successful white social networking vendors that complement their existing offerings. Find a player that digs deep within Fortune 5000 that offers 100k revenues on first year from a solution sell, and 50k for ongoing support and services. Or either find and easy to use vendor that offers few but broad features, and attached advertising streams and develop a media network.

3) Do nothing. Some CMS vendors may be content with their current product offerings to client, and don’t want to jump into a crowded pool and may choose to avoid offering social features to clients. With third party developers offering widgets and embeddable applications, they actually may not have to.

Four Options for White Label Social Networks
Some of these enterprise class vendors (I’ll know more when wave report comes out), it’s likely they will do a few of these, it’s not exclusive, and will have a strong stance to do the following:

1) Stay independent. I could call this ‘do nothing’ but it’s not the case. Like the CMS/Portal space in late 90s, some of these vendors will continue to grow and be stand alone companies, who knows, some may actually become publicly traded companies.

2) Start partnerships. We’re already seeing some of these companies band together such as Mzinga/Prospero, and now Awareness ties data to Sharepoint, this nods to a direction of working with others, or at least having interoperability.

3) Design for acquisition. Some white label vendors have thought this through, and are building their software in the platform or language of another traditional CMS company and are making themselves ripe fruits for acquisitions.

4) Develop flexible architectures. The future of the web is amorphous, therefore some white label vendors will heavily depend on open APIs, Data, and develop or work with widget vendors to let social content be shared and ‘fly’ around the web. Eventually, some of these widget features could easily be embedded into CMS systems, even if they don’t offer these features.

Four Options for Brands
In our recent forecast report, we predicted that the largest growth spend at the enterprise level for social services and products will be social networks. Brands have a few options:

1) Develop their own social software features. I know a few brands (despite me suggesting they buy) are extending their home grown CMS systems to add on social features. For those with large web development teams it makes sense. For others wanting to be fast and flexible, it’s often not an efficient path.

2) Work with a White Label Vendor. Many are choosing to rope in these vendors to develop, train, design, and manage these communities, in most cases they sit ‘off to the side’ of the corporate website and are not integrated with product pages. Of course, this whole discussion excludes marketing efforts on organic social sites like Facebook, MySpace, etc.

3) Wait for CMS vendors. Many brands are just toe-dippin’ into the social space, they are not offering community features, don’t see the point, or have other objectives to fulfill. As a result, they may just wait a few quarters till CMS vendors offer this ability within their existing platforms. Of course, this comes with risk from deploying too late, or not offering features that meet the needs of community members

4) Do nothing. In the end, some brands will choose not to engage customers in community sites, for a variety of reasons such as products or services that are sold to resellers and rebranded, deep technology components that are mainly a b2b sell, or lack of vision to embrace customers.

Watch this emerging trend
Where are we now? We’re at the very beginnings of this journey, with most white labels being around for just a few years, and the established CMS vendors starting to sniff this sector and gather requirements (many are coming to me) we’re clearly at the R&D stage, with some banding development teams to enter this space.

Questions that will be need to be answered by this space:

  • Will CMS vendors be able to adapt to social features into their legacy systems?
  • Is the demand from client side strong enough for CMS vendors assert flexibility?
  • How will these commodity social features be monetized, with everyone having them, how will you differentiate?
  • Will CMS vendors build, buy, or ignore social features?
  • When will we see existing internal knowledge management systems integrate these features?
  • Will the small white label vendors start to get friendly with the CMS space and start to develop an exit strategy?
  • Are white label vendors building their products for easy integration into CMS vendors?
  • I’ve been thinking about developing a ‘show and tell’ event where both of these vendors can come together for a meet and greet, if I did, would you attend?

    Chime in, love to hear you answer these questions I posed above.

    Update: Larry Dignan from Zdnet throws in his hat and predicts, in his opinion, the most logical options.