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How to use social networking CMS to create social media sites

Whether a company uses its own social CMS or a vendor's platform to create a social media site, it offers more features to users than mainstream social media platforms.

While businesses may prefer using mainstream social media platforms for both customer engagement and in-house communication, social CMS offers more features and benefits to users by piggybacking off a business's content management system.

A social content management system (CMS) is a platform that enables organizations to create and publish their own social media sites. It enables content consumers -- whether in-house or in the customer base -- to engage in dialogue with the organization and one another. It also serves to surface content in ways that improve its utility and attract users into the community. Social CMS brings content and conversation together by appending the discussion to the content itself.

Advantages of social CMS

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are already prevalent for engagement, causing businesses to wonder why they would go to the trouble and expense of developing and deploying an in-house version.

The answer is that many -- if not most -- companies do use those social media platforms to engage customers, and often set up private groups for in-house people. However, social CMS offers some benefits that Facebook and the others can't match:

Customization. Vendors of social CMS software recognize that customizability is very important to businesses. Most CMSes enable considerable flexibility in the configuration and deployment of new social networks, enabling businesses to fine-tune the user experience and presentation of content as needed. Many social CMS platforms are open source.

Social CMS is the introduction of social networking into enterprise content management, with the option of extending that networking to customers.

Immediacy. When Microsoft embedded Yammer in SharePoint, one of the key conveniences was the user's ability to initiate and participate in engagement over content from wherever the content resided, rather than exiting one app and starting another. This is equally convenient in the other direction, as users don't need to haul content over to an external platform to be exposed on social media.

Integration. When employees and customers engage with content in a social CMS platform, their activity and responses are easier to collect and integrate with business intelligence and analytics applications that use the data than they would be otherwise, as there is no need to set up channels to import data. When the content and the user data are in the same place with built-in analytics -- which is often the case in social CMS platforms -- it's one-stop shopping. But even when the data must go elsewhere, most social CMS platforms offer easy-to-use APIs.

Administrative freedom. A homegrown social media platform is free of the constraints that users often encounter on the major public channels. There are no rules or administrative limitations that users must work around to accommodate organization participants.

Social CMS platform vendors

Social CMSes come in many shapes and sizes. Here is a selection of popular platform options:

Plikli. This platform is ideal not only for surfacing content but also collaboratively creating it. It's an easy-to-use open source product that facilitates collaborative deployments of all kinds -- not just social media, but team platforms and other applications that enable people to work together -- and offers an array of templates from which businesses can begin to build a network. There are also many plugins and extensions. This style of social CMS is ideal for marketing content that has many contributors.

Another feature is built-in data collection at both the beginning and end of a user engagement, including capturing customer details and gathering comments and ratings after a user reviews some content.

Dolphin. This system has sophisticated features not commonly found in enterprise social CMSes, including video chat and user-specific RSS feeds. It is highly modular -- a mix-and-match, building blocks-type product -- making it easy to configure, deploy and modify. There is also a deep catalog of third-party modules that are Dolphin-compatible, extending the range of its look-and-feel potential; businesses can fine-tune the user experience with these add-ons. The more social the environment, the more suitable Dolphin will be.

The platform offers many templates, as well as direct Facebook integration, site statistics functionality and a built-in mass mailing feature.

Social Engine. This is perhaps the most popular social CMS, as it openly mimics some of the best features of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It is convenient for customers to invite friends and enables users to post their own thoughts and content alongside enterprise content. It is designed to serve as a marketing tool. This platform is ideal with a company that wants to capitalize on users to whom social media is not just second nature, but a passion -- those most likely to share content that grabs their attention with their friends.

Social Engine stands out among social CMS platforms in that its development tools enable developers to quickly modify the site per user requests and demands, including a layout editor that gives full HTML access. The platform runs on Amazon Web Services. Security and anti-spam are built in, and it comes with analytics tools.

Oxwall. This tool focuses on flexible content management as much as social networking features, with tools that enable content modification and distribution. It can rapidly scale from small to large numbers of users and is built on PHP and MySQL, making it a strong open source choice.

Some of Oxwall's plugins enable personalization, as well as photo and video-sharing, and user blogging. Users can also share files peer-to-peer.

BuddyPress. This platform piggybacks on WordPress, making all of the WordPress' features available for social site development. This includes features such as private messaging and personal profile capture. It is open source and includes plugins and extensions.

Elgg. This open source system is suitable for all types of engagement, not just social community. The World Bank website, for example, is entirely built on Elgg. Like Oxwall, Elgg is built on PHP and MySQL. Elgg is one of the oldest social CMSes and has a deep collection of plugins and extensions. It is perhaps the most developer-friendly, and therefore the most customizable social CMS platform available. It's an ideal choice for businesses that want social CMS functionality in a non-social CMS application.

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