The impact of social media on enterprise apps

In less than a decade, social media has changed how enterprise apps and the people that use them communicate.
Written by Erin Carson, Contributor

Enterprise software: The big trends and why they matter

Social for the sake of social is seldom a good idea. This is one of the main lessons learned in the past several years as enterprise apps, both internal and external, learn how to effectively integrate social elements into their applications.

The history on this front is relatively limited, but a lot has happened in a short period of time, starting in part with a new set of expectations derived from the consumer-facing social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

But early on, Gartner analyst Mike Gotta said one of the initial problems with adding social elements was that those elements were siloed. They were separate tools.

"You'd pick yourself up and go over to your favorite social tool and you'd build your community or build your team, and share files, and have conversations or discussions on forums, or maybe create a wiki page. It was all disconnected and you'd pick yourself up and say 'Ok, now I'm going to go back to that application'," he said.

According to Sameer Patel, senior vice president and general manager of SAP's Enterprise Social Software division, a few years back things came to a head when users had wrung out just about all the benefit they could out of these siloed social tools.

"You had this watercooler that was more like a ghost town," he said.

Bridging the gap

One of the first and most successful social integrations was Salesforce's Chatter, which launched in 2010. According to Sarah Patterson, vice president of service cloud product marketing, the service solved problems within Salesforce fairly quickly. Whereas a portion of her job had been fielding emails from employees trying to search or share information with the appropriate people, the ability to post questions, or offer expertise via Chatter profile, increased efficiency.

In 2012, Patel joined SAP and the company started thinking about what the next version of social for enterprise apps might look like for their company. They introduced Jam, a social solution and branches over SAP's products.  

Part of the thinking became, "Let's not just try to force-feed social everywhere we can find a hole. If a certain process can get better, we'll infuse it." he said. "If I'm in my finance application, and I want to have a conversation about a collaborative sales budgeting process, that means I need to bring in sales and marketing and supply chain, and inventory, don't make me go to some standalone tool that doesn't know where business is actually happening."

Part of what SAP had introduced is work patterns, or repeatable collaborative business processes. These work patterns incorporate things like 'deal rooms' and social business processes. 

Stumbling blocks

There are challenges and benefits to integrating social into enterprise apps. One stumbling block can be the company's culture.

"If you're not recognizing people's participation, you're not recognizing contributions, employees are not very engaged in the workplace over all, then just because you throw out a social tool, does it magically cause people to go 'Oh wow, I can do this?'" Gotta said. The answer is probably not.

This is where key players like community managers, and senior management can play an important role in planning for any organizational changes — including changes to communications strategies — that need to be made.

"I think there's greater understanding now that you can't just roll out the technology, and even if you integrate it within these business apps, it's not going to remove the need for us to focus on employee engagement and the culture of the workplace," Gotta said. 

And as far as employee engagement goes, Patterson said that as more young people — who grew up with social media — enter the workforce, their expectations regarding workplace communications are heavily influenced by the platforms they know and use. One positive upshot is that because social tools like Chatter are modeled after familiar platforms like Facebook, the need for training is practically non-existent, she said.

Adding social to social

There are also social enterprise apps, to consider, like social CRM.

For one such application, Fanhub, its existence grew out of a need their parent company, BeQuick, had to better support its clients of its product set. The company tried to find a social CRM that met all its needs, but ended up building one on its own.

"It was a specific itch we were trying to scratch," said Fanhub COO Steve McIntosh. "No one person as all the answers. Most problems are solved by teamwork."

Teams can work together, the CRM allows for social walls, the tracking of mentions, comment threads, and notifications. If someone is working with a client, he can see the full history of the case with the client.

"It's real-world work, done faster because we use Fanhub," McIntosh said, and it works because it's within a real context.

Similar to internal enterprise apps, some of the challenges that crop up have less to do with the technology, and more to do with the organization. An example Gartner's Jenny Sussin gave was the battle for who owns the customer and customer data. Players in the organization might not want to share what they know, because it's their trump card, she said.

"What happens there is the customer suffers because now when they call customer service and customer service doesn't know what happened on the marketing end, or when they talk to a salesperson, the salesperson doesn't know what they were promised via a marketing campaign," Sussin said. Everyone needs to start working together, but that goal can be even further complicated by the fact that different parts of an organization might not even be working off of the same applications. "That's the dream but it's not happening," she said.

The flip side is where the benefits to getting everyone talking in the same space really shine. Sussin gave the example of American Express. If a customer expresses a complaint on Twitter, he or she is likely to receive a call soon after.

"They have no idea how difficult this actually is to do on the back end, all they know is it's a great experience for them," she said.

Sussin described other opportunities social can open up for external enterprise apps, including generating additional revenue through identifying prospects, generating leads, reaching out, and engaging people who express discontent or propensity to buy. There are also opportunities to cut costs around customer service call deflection and around traditional market research costs.

Further impact

Going forward, Gotta said the trajectory of the market is to make social more purposeful, and to add context as elements like activity feeds, conversation feeds, or profiles, are embedded into applications in places that make sense.

McIntosh sees one constant that goes to the root of what CRM do: collaboration. In the few years he expects "expansion on being able to collaborate on more things, and with more depth."

For Salesforce1, they've been steadily updating the tool's capabilities for collaboration and communication. Last March, they launched Salesforce 1 as a mobile app that is a customer platform, but also has CRM data and custom apps. One use Patterson noted, could be a technician in the field needing to pose a question and get info from experts within the company.

Salesforce also recently added a feature called SOS, for mobile, which is similar to Amazon's Mayday button, meaning that customer can connect with a live agent.

"The personalized one-to-one touch is more important than ever," Patterson said.  

Machines might also have a role to play here. Gotta said to look out for virtual assistants and smart advisers integrated into enterprise apps that can make recommendations, suggestions, and provide guidance.

In a sense, it doesn't feel too far off considering Philips uses Chatter with its machines — an MRI can ping Chatter to post a message that it needs maintenance or repairs, Patterson said.

Sussin said to look out for data alignment. "It's a consolidation story," she said.

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