blueKiwi : the good use of conversations

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The last “Virtual Enterpise 2.0 conference” was  a good opportunity to visit some vendor’s booth to know what to expect from them in 2010. I finally had a look at  blueKiwi to see what was new at our European leader.

[Disclaimer..: I joined blueKiwi at the versy beginning of the company and left in last décember. I don’t have any kind of  stake in the company anymore]

Since of my most important rules is “never trust a sales guy” I quickly left the tchat to start a skype conversation with CEO Carlos Diaz (sometimes being an alumni helps…).  A good way to know more about the news, share some thoughts and try to guess what was not offically announced.

• New positionning

You may rember my last post about conversations, their potential and their limits in a business context. Carlos intuitively got the distinction and aligned his strategy with the product’s DNA : conversations and communities.

If I had to define the “new blueKiwi” I’d say it’s a “space for engagement and sourcing”. It addresses the need to get the most of what employees can give beyond their assignments and, most of all, the need to gather an ecosystem that includes clients either in B2B or B2C. A space that’s not dedicated to execution activities but to conversations that makes tomorrow’s proudcts and business models emerge while strengthening the relationship between the enterprise and the ecosystem for a long term value creation.

This distinction is more than words. In my opinion there’s no “one and only enterprise 2.0”, each need, each business line may need a specific approach in terms of tools, methodology in order to harness the full potential of the ecosystem. And a clear positionning is needed to achieve that.

So let’s check how the discourse impacts the facts.

• The product

First notable evidence of the B2C positionning : people can now create an account from their Facebook, linkedIn or Twitter profile. Fundamentals remain the same with the ability to create external, internel or hybrid groups and communities with different rights for employees and guests. These “social spaces” do not differ from the previous version but the new positionning makes them clearer : a protean space where many kinds of interactions are possible may disconcert a manager who’s focused on production and delivery and should put a lot of human discipline to frame the usages but it’s the community manager’s paradise. As a latter of fact, the latter needs lots of possibilities with few constraints to make his social space evolve, grow, change according to the community’s lifecycle, identity and culture.

I also liked the editor that can be used directly from the activity stream page that allows to easily create and share anything, anywhere without having to load a new page.

Since I’ve been used to use this tool a lot in the past, I find that a significant effort has been made to make things more simple, clear, accessible and fast.

But the more interesting things are those that may come very soon.

• Promising future evolutions ?

I can see an obvious barrier to make people use this kind of tool (blueKiwi or any other). Employees have to deal with a lot of business tools, social or not. External users, as for them, have to deal with many social networks, communities… and at the tend tend to forger some because of lack of time, coherence, practicality.

Example : consider a company where every employee has his email client. There is also a global platform for internal communities or social networks, as for work groups (which have their own needs), generally powered by either Lotus or Microsoft. The innovation or marketing department chose blueKiwi for external and hybrid communities to have a secured platform, out of their IT system, with a look and feel that’s more fun and “branded” than their corporate internal tool. People working at these departments may potentially be involved in both platforms.

“Members”, as for them, are interested in the company’s product, talk about them on twitter and into Facebook groups, most of these groups being owned and managed by users and not by the company itself..

No need to go further to understand that the best way to describe the situation is…confusion.

I’m convinced of two things :

• Users want a “hub” to manager everything without scattering themselves. If they are not provided with such a thing, the risk of loosing them is obvious/

• “Community members” customers don’t only go where businesses opened a space for them (that’s forthe most passionate ones), but expect businesses to join them where they are.

What means : propose an integraiton with the tools that everybody use. The integration of Twitter, viadeo, tungle etc…into Lotus Notes or Facebook into outlook is a good example.

That also means that community managers should be able, from a single tool (blueKiwi in this case) to address communties that are not hosted by the company, on twitter, linkedin etc… and allow the conversation to go on either on these platforms or on the “corporate” one that should be just one click away. After all, tools like ping.fm already makes it possible so there’s no reason for an enterprise platform not to do so. Relaying what’s being said elsewhere into an enterprise tool to monitor and react is a good thing but it’s far from being enough. Businesses now need to be able to engage cross-platforms conversations what is an essential and poorly addressed need at this time.

What follows is only calculations…but something tells me that blueKiwi users may see such features coming in a very near future.

In my opinion that’s what will make the difference and will be the most valuable in the offer. Conversations and engagement don’t have frontiers and the necessary centralization of the corporate voice  will have to articulate with the plurality of conversational spaces.

• blueKiwi, a social CRM platform ?

Social CRM is a transverse approach that goes much beyond conversations. Carlos Diaz has a clear discours and it’s easy to asses that beyond the necessary marketing dimension which is only a beginning, his vision takes the product lifecycle and the value chain into account. Not everybody has this understanding and that’s a point worth being highlighted.

If tools like blueKiwi start to integrate into a global chain, things will become really valuable and blueKiwi may become the essential link to such approaches in a near future. Even a central link since it’s the place where internal and external discussions meet. The look that links small streams to create the big river that will power the “ideas plant”.

• Freemium ?

blueKiwi now have a freemium version, that’s to say free with some limitations that allows a comfortable minimal use. It may be enough for small organizations and projects and would help larger businesses to try and discover before starting more ambitious things. I’ll soon write something about the freemium model applied to enterprise software but there’s no need to elaborate more here since it’s more a marketing model than a busineess model or a product concept.

• My conclusion

That’s a tool that’s well conceived for the market segment it wants to address. It completes many existing things more than competing with them. It deserves a B+ grade and I’m waiting to see to what extent blueKiwi will integrate with other platforms to turn it into a A+.

If you want to know more, the full new release will be unveiled at the next Web 2.0 expo in San Francisco in may.