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One of the most hotly debated questions among marketers and company executives is "How does my organization become a truly social business?" With more pressure than ever to "engage" with customers, user-groups, influencers, etc. this question is bubbling to the top of most executives' and technologists list. In my opinion, the biggest obstacle for businesses is finding the right blend of content and community in order to get true context and added value. Until now, the answer (and solutions) to the "social business" question have offered limited options: use traditional proprietary software with legacy licensing models, or rely on unwieldy white label community management solutions that are often too disconnected to help businesses meet their engagement objectives. In this article I'll make a case for a third option: open source social publishing. Not only a cost alternative but an innovation alternative to these other models, open source is emerging as the viable answer to an organization's social business quandary.

Meeting the Social Business Imperative:

Whether you are a product company introducing a new consumer packaged goods offering, a media publisher introducing a new artist or author, or a government agency trying to improve citizen engagement, you must support this broad new range of dynamic online interactions: you must become a "social publisher." Furthermore, you must be able to respond to changes within your market quickly: your social publishing platform must not impose technical barriers to the introduction of new products, the launch of new micro sites, or the delivery of key information to your users, customers, constituents, or competitors.

After a period of experimentation with a multitude of technologies and approaches to social publishing, businesses are looking to one of three dominant approaches:

1. proprietary products, with perpetual license charges and maintenance fees or per-user pricing models;

2. "white label" community platforms, where an organization decides to outsource the development and ongoing management of their community to a third-party agency; or

3. Open source solutions.

Businesses approaching the social business question from either of the first two angles are going to find themselves falling short. On one hand, enterprises are driven to create authoritative "groomed" or "controlled" content- about their products, services, etc- in order to drive engagement. They are investing in content management systems to track, manage and monitor everything flowing through the repository. However, the downside is that these large (often clunky systems) are designed with a command and control, workflow mentality. They not designed to foster social interaction and cannot quickly evolve to meet new social business needs. In order to counter this, business turn to option #2- building third party communities such social networks, forums, etc- to serve as social, user-driven channels. However these communities are built around connections and networking rather than content, leaving visitors with more "friends," but very little value for their time spent on the community site. Additionally, these services are silos of interactivity, disconnected from a business' core content or website.


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