It's interesting that, as a general statement, almost all the external efforts for community/social networking do not involve solutions from traditional large enterprise vendors (e.g., IBM, Microsoft). Most of the external technology platforms that support community and social networking efforts are from specialized vendors. It makes you wonder - if these solutions are great for customers, partners, suppliers, alumni and so on - why are employees treated like "cobbler's children"? Why should employees be given sub-optimal or incomplete solutions from status-quo vendors that seem incapable of delivering best-of-breed capabilities in a timely manner? (Yes, there are clearly valid points on risk, costs, complexity, and so on... but mostly I hear these points presented in isolation, without insight on the business value gained in the interim from using tools that sometimes far exceed what existing large vendors offer - and rarely do I find IT groups doing the necessary due diligence to comprehend the social aspects of these systems - most are still stopping at the functional comparison stage.)
In any case, end-of-rant, on the flip-side, the space for white-label solutions is getting crowded so if you do jump-in, make sure you have a contingency plan - at some point, the dance floor will begin to empty:
At our TechCrunch Boston MeetUp, a company is launching called Mzinga that brings white-label social networks to consumer research. Mzinga, which means “beehive” in Swahili, is actually the combination and rebranding of two existing companies: Knowledge Planet (Web-based corporate learning) and Shared Insights (Web communities). Right out of the gate, the company already has a healthy business with $17 million in annual revenues and 100 employees. And CEO Rick Faulk says the company is “nearly profitable.”
Mzinga lets corporations create social networks for their most ardent customers or alumni and retirees. It offers a menu of social modules that companies can add to their sites, including blogs, wikis, surveys, polls, calendars, forums, tag clouds, file uploading tools, individual profile pages, group pages, and idea-management tools with Digg-like voting. Faulk used to be the chief marketing officer at WebEx, and Mziinga already powers the community portion of its site. WebEx’s most hardcore customers can join and give feedback there about future features that WebEx should implementing.
This must be the month that social networks go corporate because last week another white-label social network launched called Networked Insights. Like Mzinga, it lets companies create a place on their sites where customers can hang out and talk about their products. But it uses semantic analysis sand concept matching to extract meaning from all the chatter, and ranks conversations or comments based on how many interactions are associated with it. So a loud, whiny customer who complains a lot about a product in comments, but nobody else is joining in or linking off him, counts less than the quiet customer who only made one insightful post that spurred a torrent of other comments, links, ratings, and invitations to others to join the discussion.