Enterprise social media software: User experience is not a pretty UI

As I was going through the painful migration of my wordpress.com blog to my very own and admittedly geeky sapountz.is URL this past weekend, I could not help but think about enterprise software and the transformation this industry has undergone during the past 40 years.

In my current role I get to see, play with, and use what is for sure the newest (and hottest) space in enterprise software:  Enterprise Social Media/Social CRM.  Whether it is social listening / analytics (e.g., radian6, Visible Technologies, Nielsen BuzzMetrics), campaign management (e.g., CoTweet, Sprinklr, objectivemarketer) or community platforms (e.g., jive, Yammer, Salesforce.com’s Chatter), this market is still very young (at best 4-5 yrs old), and I already don’t like what I am seeing.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

George Santayana, 1905

While I do not want to pick on any specific vendor, I believe the entire market is repeating some of the same mistakes we have collectively made in our industry before:

  1. The customer is not always right:  In a space as new and immature as this, we, the users, in most cases don’t know what we need, but the vendors are invariably eager to please us and add yet one more feature against the competition.  Challenge us before saying yes to our next feature request.
  2. Think roles:  While organizational models within the enterprise are evolving, you still have different requirements depending whether you are in PR, marketing, sales, community management, or support.  Think hard about the types of problems your users are trying to solve.
  3. Design around use cases: While the vendors are fighting the feature / function war, we are struggling to figure out how to use your solutions, even for simple use cases like the one I mentioned in a previous post – how to ‘social-enable’ physical events (I plan to cover this one in more depth in an upcoming post).  Work with your customers and understand what the problem they are trying to solve is.

This market is rapidly evolving and many of the ‘established’ vendors have already started to acquire smaller competitors aspiring to be end-to-end social platforms (e.g., Lithium’s acquisition of Scout Labs, Jive’s acquisition of Filtrbox).  While I don’t doubt scale is key (and I expect to see established enterprise vendors entering the space this year), I believe that the vendors that pay attention to these three points will ultimately be the winners.

What do you think?  I ‘d love to hear from enterprise software veterans and social media software vendors in particular.  I look forward to your feedback.

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13 Responses to Enterprise social media software: User experience is not a pretty UI

  1. Karl January 20, 2011 at 11:03 #

    At BlueCamroo (Social CRM software) we do try to be very responsive to customer feature requests. But feature creep can be a problem. Also, one of the real challenges of a cloud application is designing a feature that doesn’t suffer from the “death by a thousand clicks”.

    What feature set do you go with? One challenge is trying to determine what I call “deal killers”. Think of the greatest word processor in the world that lacks a spell checker. A deal killer. Sometimes features are “aspirational”. I remember once I bought a digital camera that had a stop animation option. That made me buy it over the competitor. But I never actually used the stop animation option.

    • Ted Sapountzis January 21, 2011 at 12:52 #


      Thank you for your comment, my point is exactly what you mention, before you build a a feature, do you understand who the person using your solution is, and what is the problem (aka use case) they are trying to solve? I believe you need that before you design which features to build.

      Your example re: the camera is a great one, do you think they actually researched whether this was a feature people were looking for? It may have driven you to purchase their camera, but what did this do to their costs, and how likely are you now to purchase the same brand, given this was a feature you didn’t really need?

  2. Satya Krishnaswamy January 20, 2011 at 11:04 #


    Could not agree more. I believe that most startups try extra hard to please their customers and are scared to say ‘No’ to the ‘add just this one more feature and we will buy your software’ request that pops up from prospects. (BTW, this willingness to please swings to the other end of the spectrum once the company is established and has thousands of customers 🙂 )

    As the head of a startup in the Social CRM/Mobility space, I know that it is difficult and scary to say “No” but we need to cultivate the discipline to do so. Else, each our offerings will end up being a spaghetti mash of features and functions with no clear focus on use cases (to your second and third points which I think are highly co-related). This leads to a total lack of planned interaction design which is as critical a part of ‘design’ as visual design is.

    We have taken the path of sitting with the prospects and really understanding specific use cases and validating our initial designs before jumping into coding – it is a longer and much more painful process but hopefully it will result in more satisfied customers/users and lesser support costs for us in the long run.



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