VMware is reintroducing the enterprise social networking platform Socialcast June 6 with what the virtualization company considers a competitive pricing system. Specifically, VMware customers will get a full-featured version of the product free for up to 50 users.

With this new offering, VMware is looking to compete in the expanding field of enterprise social networks, where Salesforce.com and other smaller companies already have a presence, but where bigger players such as Oracle and SAP are looking to put their stamp.

In order to compete, VMware is looking to offer a full-feature collaboration service for free. VMware claims that its competitors will offer a free social networking tool, but that free version won’t have the advanced features of the paid version, forcing customers to move up to the paid version without getting to see how it works.

“You can sign up for free, but you get just a slice of the functionality, a scaled-back version of it,” said Chuck Dietrich, vice president of VMware Apps, referring to competitors. “What they try to do is say, ‘Look, if you want everything, you’re going to have to pay and we’ll get a rep talking to you and we’re going to sell you hard and you can’t see what’s behind the curtains until you buy.’”

In this case, VMware is targeting small businesses. The company’s executives believe that even if small and midsized businesses (SMBs) get Socialcast for free by having fewer than 50 users, they’ll evangelize the service by word-of-mouth to partners, suppliers or customers who may be big enough to need the paid service, which costs $5 per user, per month, said Dietrich.

While primarily offered as a cloud service, Socialcast can be purchased as an on-premise solution, running in a virtual machine in a data center.

Enterprise social networking is increasingly being offered to improve communication within an organization the same way social media works for consumers through sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Enterprises would use it to share information with employees, get input on ideas and collaborate on projects.

Salesforce.com offers a social media platform called Chatter that is used for internal collaboration and to receive customer feedback. Moxie Software offers a social media platform called Social Media Spaces that listens to customer feedback, monitors their sentiments about products or services, and engages them in conversation with the company. And Jive Software, which went public in December 2011, offers social media platforms for work teams, customer service and sales and marketing campaigns.

The research firm The Radicati Group also lists Atlassian, IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, Socialtext and Telligent as players in the enterprise social networking space. While Radicati did not estimate the value of the social networking market in dollars, it estimated that the number of social media accounts will reach 3.9 billion globally by 2015, from 2.4 billion in 2011, but it counted enterprise and consumer social media accounts together. It forecast the number of total actual users globally to hit 1.2 billion in 2015, from 798 million in 2011, noting that many people have multiple accounts.

The features that Socialcast users will get, even under the free plan, include security features and a management tool allowing administrators to control who can use the network, restrict comments if necessary and protect sensitive business information from being shared. It will also offer a Socialcast Mobile version of the product that will run on Apple iPads and iPhones, Google Android devices and BlackBerry smartphones and tablets.

Socialcast also interoperates with enterprise collaboration tools such as Microsoft Lync and SharePoint as well as cloud-based software offerings by companies such as Salesforce.com, said Dietrich.

Source: EWeek

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