Virtualization: Microsoft forms social enterprise alliance

Microsoft on Wednesday announced the creation of the "Social Enterprise Alliance," a partnership centered on the customization and integration of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007.

Two Microsoft Gold Certified partners have added their efforts to this alliance, including Dallas-based Telligent, which provides enterprise-grade social networking solutions, and Costa Mesa, Calif.-based speakTECH, a system integrator and design firm.

Telligent is providing its Community Server product, based on Microsoft's .NET technology. The server includes several built-in applications, such as wikis, blogs, multimedia galleries and messaging, plus business intelligence and reporting tools.

speakTECH specializes in integrating the Microsoft stack for social networking implementations, including MOSS, Silverlight and Microsoft's Surface tabletop computer.

The alliance's formation is something that Microsoft tends to do with its partners, especially in areas in which no one company holds a dominant position, explained B. Robert Helm, managing vice president of research at Directions on Microsoft.

While MOSS itself enables collaboration, Microsoft still depends on partner support for the customization details. Helm pointed to governance issues, such as the need to set up and enforce policies for specific users and software components, as a strong partner play.

"Unlike IBM, Microsoft doesn't have an army of consultants to build social networks that work for specific customers -- it's always going to need partners," Helm explained in an e-mail.

Helm added that MOSS currently lacks the social graph concept that Facebook has. However, that may change as Microsoft rolls out SharePoint Server 2010, which is currently in beta but expected to be available in the first half of next year.

"Microsoft had already demoed a social graph feature (called the Knowledge Network) for SharePoint Server 2007, and I expect something like it in SharePoint Server 2010," Helm said.

Social networking solutions are various Web-based collaborative applications, typically labeled as "Web 2.0" technologies or even "Web 3.0" by some. The use of forums, wikis and blogs is seen as a cheaper way of marketing products by "building communities."

"Companies are finding the return on investment for social media campaigns to be aggressively outpacing traditional marketing strategies," said Aaron Sloman, CEO of speakTECH, in a prepared statement. "It's driving a transformation where traditional marketing departments need to re-tool as interactive marketing agencies."

A Telligent white paper suggests that social networking sites can reduce help desk costs through technical support forums. Wikis, blogs and forums also generate free content and can replace printed marketing materials. The white paper, "Increase the Impact of Your Digital Marketing Spend in a Down Economy," also suggests that social networking solutions boost customer engagement and brand awareness.

Social media spending is expected to grow in the U.S. market over the next five years, from $716 million in 2009 to $3.1 billion plus in 2014, according to an upcoming Forrester Research report. Such growth would represent "a 34 percent compound annual growth rate," which is "a significantly higher rate of growth than the future spending on other interactive marketing channels," Forrester explained in a press release.

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