RIM Gets the Gist (of Social Media)

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The recent acquisition of Gist by BlackBerry developer Research In Motion (RIM) prompted this TEC water cooler information session between TEC's Managing Editor Dave Clark and CRM analyst Gabriel Gheorghiu:

DC: OK, even I’ve heard of RIM. What’s Gist?
GG: The idea behind Gist was essentially to extend the inbox to the Internet and social world by putting together all contacts from different sources (Outlook, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and managing them from a single interface. Most social media monitoring tools are created for one or a few tools—they either allow you to manage Facebook friends, or Twitter followers, or Gmail contacts, and some combinations thereof, but typically not all of them.

DC: So Gist is a hybrid contact management/social monitoring application?
GG: Yes, you could say that, but it’s a little more. Gist gives its users the ability to take a proactive approach, which is the opposite of the traditional way most contact management or customer relationship management (CRM) systems work. Here’s an example: a traditional CRM system will remind you that you have to call a prospect on a certain date. But what if that prospect posts (e.g., on Facebook or LinkedIn) some useful information that radically impacts your chances to turn your prospect into a customer? That’s where Gist can be useful.

DC: But what does Gist do with these social media postings? Does it send an “OH NOES!!1! YR SERVICE IS T3H SUXORZ” message to anyone?
GG: Gist helps obtain the information, and manages the information for you, but it is up to you to decide what you do with it. The main screen in Gist is a dashboard that gives you a general view of what your contacts are saying and doing. The main advantage of the dashboard is that it’s dynamic and can be adjusted in real time according to your needs—this is very good compensation for the one-dashboard limitation. There are several views that you can choose from: recently published news from your contacts, anything from contacts you’re meeting the current week, anything from contacts added the current week, and starred items of favorites. What you see in your dashboard is also controlled by the options you select when you create your contacts. By default, they all show in the list with all their news. You can use a tag for all people imported from Twitter for instance, but you still need to filter further by adding new tags or setting different levels of importance for your contacts.

DC: OK, I get it now. So why has RIM acquired this application?
GG: There are two main reasons, in my opinion. The first is general consolidation in the social media universe—companies and startups that created innovative applications have been acquired by larger companies. Some examples are Jigsaw and Radian6 by salesforce.com, Skype by Microsoft, TweetDeck by Twitter, etc. The second reason is that companies like Apple, HTC, and RIM are offering enterprise/business solutions, and in the war for mobile business applications, RIM will definitely have an important advantage by incorporating products like Gist and Tungle into its offering.

DC: Will this help RIM in its war on the iPad?
GG: RIM definitely has an advantage now, because Gist not only has many users, but also enthusiastic adopters, including CRM and social media experts and professionals. It’s also true that Gist offers in one solution what others can only provide through separate apps. Obviously, users that previously required several different apps to manage contacts will now be happy to use one single solution. But it also depends on how RIM decides to use this advantage. Some people have expressed concerns about Gist’s versions for RIM’s main competitors Android and iPhone.

DC: Wait, wait, what’s this about concerns?
GG: Well, Gist has versions for iOS (the operating system for iPhone) and Android. And people using Gist on those two platforms will probably not move to RIM—and would like to know RIM’s plans for the future of the application they’re using. But RIM recently announced at its annual conference that it will also provide Gist for other platforms.

DC: Why on earth would they do that?
GG: First of all, because any mobile and social software provider cannot afford to impose vendor lock-ins on its customers. Unlike business software, it is very easy to switch from one social or mobile application to another, so if a vendor tries to force customers to use its own platform exclusively, many will simply decide to change providers. This is also a smart marketing move, since RIM shows flexibility, and people using Android or Apple products may remember this when considering BlackBerry in the future.

DC: Do you see Apple/Google making any retaliatory acquisitions?
GG: Google is much more aggressive than Apple when it comes to acquisitions—see these lists of acquisitions by Google and Apple. But except for some payment and price comparison solutions, Google has not focused on business apps when buying other vendors. Both Google and Apple rely on partners for business solutions, usually offered through their applications marketplaces.

DC: So the answer to my question is… no?
GG: Only time will tell what Apple, Google, and RIM will do to address the needs of business customers. An analysis of their strategies for business users… that’s a future blog post.

DC: You tease, you. Are there similarly innovative CRM-related apps out there that would fill existing holes in the leading mobile platforms?
GG: The business solution offerings of vendors like RIM and Apple have lots of holes. These can be filled by letting users creating apps and widgets, by acquiring existing solutions, or simply by partnering with software providers. So the answer is: yes, there are CRM solutions that can be used to fill in those holes, but buying them is not always the best solution.
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