NewsGator Collective 2013: Survival of the Social

In a time when technology vendors are starting to shun the “social” moniker, it was refreshing to hear the messaging at the NewsGator Collective 2013 Annual User Conference that NewsGator is all about “making social real” in the enterprise. 

If you’re not familiar with NewsGator, it is a leading provider of social technologies, delivering its flagship solution, Social Sites, on top of Microsoft SharePoint (an application in use at more than 70% of businesses today). It has more than 4 million users across hundreds of customers, including Kellogg’s, Mars, JP Morgan Chase, American Family Insurance, Comcast, Unisys, Kraft Foods, Overstock.com, Merck and others.

In all, more than 200 customers (including those named above), partners and thought leaders gathered in Denver for this 3-day event, immersing themselves in social business by sharing best practices and research, engaging in live brainstorming sessions, networking, and even engaging in a live hack-a-thon resulting in four coded customer-driven projects slated for delivery with NewsGator’s next release.

President and CEO Daniel Kraft (newly appointed in August 2012), kicked off the event by sharing his view of how human networks have enabled human success and business progress from one era to another. He described the evolution from a “Network of Hands” (the industrial age) to a “Network of Minds” (the knowledge economy) to today’s environment where emotions and passion are unconstrained by physical location and instead are enabled through social technologies (the “Network of Hearts”).

(source: NewsGator)

Kraft believes this evolution demonstrates “survival of the social,” and cautions that, “if you do not buy into it, somebody else will.” The case studies shared during the conference spoke of increased customer retention, improved sales productivity, reduced turnover of high impact employees and more, demonstrating tangible business benefits from social investments. With over $1 trillion potential value to be unlocked annually, including 20-25% increased productivity of high skilled knowledge workers (according to McKinsey Global Institute)1, it’s hard to argue that Kraft is anything but spot-on with his assertion.

Employee Engagement is not just an HR Responsibility

Heads of Marketing, IT, Learning and Collaboration, Communication and other business units led the conversations around motivating and engaging the workforce, identifying high performers and key contributors, ensuring sustainable adoption, and measuring impact and results.

If these sound like the traditional concerns of HR and Human Capital Management (HCM) technologies, you’re right. Yet the number of attendees representing the HR function at this conference was relatively limited.

For me, this was further evidence of two main trends concerning talent management in an era of social connectivity:

1) HR does not own employee engagement.  Driving organizational performance through employee engagement is not simply a concern of the HR organization; leaders from across the enterprise are stepping up to rethink work and how best to drive sustainable results. Increasingly important to achieving better work and talent management results are the “non-HCM” technologies making their way into the enterprise: social tools and collaboration platforms that help people align, connect and get work done every day.

2) HR is not leading social initiatives.  When social technologies are part of the new thinking (as is increasingly the case), HR is more often the supporting player (if not absent altogether) rather than the driving force behind such initiatives. The risk to HR is being sidelined as an administrative or policing function rather than establishing itself as a strategic business partner that both adds to and creates new value for the organization.

With all the evidence that social enablement facilitates engagement and alignment, and that an engaged and aligned workforce has direct, positive effect of business outcomes, why isn’t every company “doing social”?

The answer, according to Catherine Flax, Chief Marketing Officer for JP Morgan Chase’s Wholesale Business, is complex. “It’s an evolutionary process for many companies,” said Flax during a Future of Work panel at the NewsGator Collective. “With the concerns about compliance…it’s easier for companies to say “No” than to say “Yes” to social.” She added that saying “no” is actually a bigger risk than saying “yes,” given the many benefits of a socially-enabled enterprise.

I refer to this risk as the new ROI of Social: the Risk of Ignoring. If social tools are not part of the fabric of the organization, introduced during the hiring and onboarding process and leveraged throughout the work lifecycle as a natural way to get work done, the risk for disengagement, misalignment and reduced productivity are significant. These are concerns for every leader in the organization, not just HR.

My POV:

Last year, Microsoft dealt NewsGator a one-two punch when it announced its latest release, SharePoint 2013, would deliver social capabilities, followed by its acquisition of Yammer, an enterprise social technology vendor. However, NewsGator has not just rallied but thrived since those announcements. It reported more than 100 new customers in 2012 and many new product innovations including Social Site’s dual compatibility with both SharePoint 2010 and 2013 from a single code base; a new user interfaced dubbed “Lookout”; support for social learning use cases through its new application, NewsGator Enrich; broader analytics capability through its Webtrends partnership; advanced mobile capabilities and more.

NewsGator has also recently announced that it is rearchitecting its Social Sites suite, eliminating its dependency on Microsoft SharePoint and becoming platform agnostic.  This will put NewsGator more squarely in the crosshairs of enterprise social networking (ESN) competitors of all sizes including Jive, IBM, Huddle, Igloo and tens of others.  Its differentiation will come through a vertical focus on specific businsess-driven use cases.  In fact at this month’s Collective conference, NewsGator announced the development of several of these use-case driven applications to drive tangible business results, centered on Corporate Communications, Field Enablement and Innovation.  Development of these and additional use cases will advance its competitiveness in the ESN market beyond SharePoint-based solutions.

Additional investment in analytics beyond usage and adoption would be a welcome investment from NewsGator as well, as companies are increasingly challenged to communicate the impact of their social investments.  At Constellation Research, we are seeing a trend away from traditional technology RFPs to increased scrutiny on business outcomes. More and more companies are reporting real business results with social technologies, and the question of “social” in business is moving from “if” to “when and how”.

Current and prospective NewsGator clients will benefit from its continued investments in social use case innovations, continued integration to the Microsoft stack as well as integration beyond the Microsoft apps to SAP, Salesforce.com Chatter and others. Clients will also benefit from NewsGator’s new Adoption Framework, a methodology focused on helping organizations achieve better results at the intersection of people engagement, business alignment and technology enablement. For many organizations, making SharePoint “work” is a top priority, and in this endeavor, NewsGator currently has the lead position for both cloud and on-premises SharePoint customers (an important fact since Microsoft has announced it will not integrate Yammer to on-premises SharePoint beyond basic connectivity). For companies not betting their enterprise collaboration futures on Microsoft, NewsGator’s move to a platform-agnostic solution and its continued build-out of social applications for targeted use cases will make it a viable alternative as well.

The path to enterprise social collaboration may come from a single technology platform, like NewsGator, or through an aggregation of social-enabled technologies (for example, integrations of social-enabled tools across HCM, CRM and core communications). Either way, making social real in the enterprise – helping organizations unlock the untapped potential of a humanistic approach to business both within and across an enterprise – is a business imperative.

Your POV

What do you think?  Has your company embraced  the concept of “Survival of the Social” or are you still evaluating the business case for social investments? Are you a NewsGator customer with stories to share? Add your comments to the blog or send us a comment at Y (at) ConstellationRG (dot) com.

Please let us know if you need help with your Social Business efforts. Sign up for a Constellation Academy Workshop or let us assist with:

  • Assessing social business readiness
  • Developing your social business engagement strategy
  • Creating a new vision for the future of work
  • Vendor selection
  • Connecting with other pioneers

Note: NewsGator is a client of Constellation Research.

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1 “The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies.” McKinsey Global Institute, July 2012.

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