Social media can either be highly efficient or a complete waste of time. How organizations are adopting social media strategies in the form of collaborative work flow and communication environments is a ripe opportunity for smart solution providers—and it’s just the tip of the iceberg as more niche players emerge.

All too often I’ve seen organizations throw money at a social media presence such as LinkedIn, Facebook (FB) or Twitter with no real business strategy around it. They create a budget for social media expansion, get an outside “expert” to work with marketing and corporate IT and build out some brand-awareness social presence that really doesn't do much but make them feel cool.

It’s a waste of time, money and resources and there really isn’t a great model for solution providers.

On the other hand, smart companies have embraced social media beyond and have developed plans beyond “page likes” creating a collaborative environment where employees can work and share projects and also include customer interaction and value. Here is where solution providers earn their weight in salt because they need to create specific programs with their customers and work with collaborative vendors to implement the right environment.

But there are many choices—both large and small—to choose from. Where is a solution provider and its customer to start?

Well, thank you Gartner once again. Gartner officially released in Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace, highlighting the leading vendors in this space. Some highlights from the study solution providers should take notice of include:

  • The enterprise social software market is to grow to $1.4 billion by 2016;
  • A rich user experience and cross-platform mobility is essential; and
  • Social analytics is critical.

“The market for social software in the workplace includes vendors whose software products are used primarily to support people working together in teams, communities or networks," Gartner noted. "These products do not specialize in any particular business process or activity, but they are used to support a variety of collaborative activities (that is, they are general purpose). Products in this market are used mainly within enterprises, primarily by employees but also by external customers, suppliers and partners.”

That said, the leaders in this space defined by completeness in vision and the ability to execute are Microsoft (MSFT), IBM (IBM), Salesforce.com (CRM) and Jive, according to Gartner. The up and comers and challengers are VMware (VMW), Tibco Software, NewsGator and Atlassian.

The visionaries that can’t execute as well in the workplace social media space include Google (GOOG), Telligent, SAP (SAP), Cisco Systems (CSCO) and Aquia, according to Gartner. The niche players are OpenText, Huddle, blueKiwi, Igloo Software, Novell and Zyncro.

“Buyers in this market are looking for virtual environments that can engage participants across the whole organization to create, organize and share information, as well as find, connect and interact with each other,” according to Gartner. "Products in this market include both applications, which deliver specific functionality out of the box (such as shared workspaces or communities), or platforms, with capabilities that can be used as a basis for contextual collaborative applications.”

The big takeaway in this emerging area is that the customer wants a big say in development and functionality of the platform and those solution providers that have strong customer relationships will fare well. Solution providers should be getting themselves familiar with every company mentioned here because their customers also may be.

Knock 'em alive!