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HR Technology Column

http://www.hreonline.com/HRE/images/BillKutik106x106.jpgA New Yelp for HCM Software!

Ironically, just as LinkedIn has crippled the usefulness of groups -- once the best place to get your colleagues' opinions about software you might be selecting -- a start-up called G2 Crowd is using a lot of LinkedIn's business model to become the place to go for enterprise software reviews.

Monday, January 4, 2016
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For a brief moment in time, I helped create the perfect group on LinkedIn -- for the HR Technology® Conference and Exposition.

Of course, definitions of "perfect" vary, but naturally, I use my own. With the incredible energy and mature judgment of "Magnificent Millennial" Christine Shaw (LRP's marketing manager), we built a forum that was essentially a commercial-free zone where people could talk!

This was possible only through monk-like devotion and video-game twitch reflexes to read new discussions and their links almost instantly. And delete them if they included promotions for products, vendors or content offered only in return for your coordinates (lead generation).

True, it was never the one place to learn about everything HCM, just a perfect platform for discussing the issues of the day. With no sludge to swim through, every smart and experienced person in HCM came by to read and comment: analysts, consultants, practitioners and, yes, vendor executives savvy enough to share what they were thinking, not what they were selling.

Breaking news was savagely picked apart. Major community events were heralded, such as the retirement of PeopleSoft's Row Henson after 40 years, attracting nearly 400 comments and testimonials!

And, most importantly, when practitioners wanted advice about software, they posted a discussion, asked for the group's attention and often got a lot of personal user experience in return. Also, admittedly, competing vendors would offer to talk about their need "offline."

Aside from religious devotion, what made it all work was the functionality LinkedIn just eliminated: an ordering algorithm that robotically (to use the current hot category) took discussions from a "recent" pile ordered simply chronologically and moved them into a "discussion" pile ordered by group popularity, determined by the speed and number of comments and "likes."

That way, members could instantly see what others thought was important and decide for themselves.

Well, no more.

For reasons beyond me, LinkedIn recently replaced that functionality with a Facebook-like user experience. Just like your timeline there (only so much less personal and with so many more items), discussions now just pile up in chronological order.

No number of comments or "likes" can move any discussion up in the pile. Arriving members are confronted with one long, undifferentiated scroll of discussions. Hardly one in 20 has a comment, indicating the new user experience has made it almost impossible for members to find what they care about.

Hopefully, LinkedIn will realize the error of its ways.

Now for the good news. There have long been commercial websites promising to help you pick new HCM software -- based mostly on expert opinion or vendor-supplied information.

After two-and-a-half years, start-up G2 Crowd may now be reaching orbital velocity with a service devoted to authenticated user reviews of all enterprise software. With 52,000 reviews ranging across 14 software areas, the site now boasts more than 1,200 reviews of major HCM products, with the largest numbering more than 160 reviews.

Actual end-users write the reviews, which are structured with questions to keep them on track. All reviewers must sign in with LinkedIn credentials; company staff validate their identities on LinkedIn (which has plenty of its own fake people created by spammers); and reviewers are asked to submit a screen shot of the product to verify they actually use it!

With only about 50 employees plus contingents, I can't imagine how the company does all that plus catch and label some reviewers in so many areas as "competitors or partners" of the vendor under scrutiny. But it tries and does, though certainly not perfectly.

The rigor is impressive. As is the model for making money.

Like LinkedIn, everybody starts off getting a lot for free: potential buyers and sellers.

After registering and listing your personal and company coordinates, you can read all 1,200-plus reviews, click on an individual reviewer for basic LinkedIn information (even a full LinkedIn profile), and then request a phone call with the reviewer. Or maybe send an InMail.

In short, with enough poking around, you can likely find someone just like you working for a company just like yours already using the software you're considering!

You can also read any social dialogue prompted by a review and add a comment yourself.

As you surf around, a box constantly pops up (a feature still in beta), asking if you want some guidance. A "yes" will get you a live chat or a phone call with a G2 Crowd person, albeit someone with completely unknown expertise. For the moment, the service is still free.

Another pop-up asks if you want to ask the vendor you're investigating a question. If you do, all your information (previously private) is sent to the company, and you count as the vendor's one free monthly lead. More about that later.

Still on the buyer side, you can see the "G2 Crowd Grid," its version of the Gartner Magic Quadrant, with vendors arrayed along two axes in various HR-product areas. I have tons of arguments with the categorization, criteria and results of the company's HCM grids. So take them only as a suggestion, as you should the real Magic Quadrant, Forrester's Wave, IDC's Marketscape or HfS's Blueprint.

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A list next to the grid shows how many reviews each product has gotten, and you can set up side-by-side comparisons by clicking on the name or the icon on the grid. Or pick among the most popular comparisons already created and listed below it.

These are not rigorous feature/function comparisons (if that's still your cup of tea), and I found the greatest value on the site to be the reviews.

"Free" ends when you want more in-depth data, such as pricing (which few vendors provide, anyway). For that, you'll need an upgraded membership. Or if you want the company's full report on a product area, you'll need to fork over $499.

I was most impressed when digging deeper into Ultimate. A message came back saying I was not an appropriate customer. Why? Because I had listed my company as having one employee. The site was happy to tell me more about BambooHR, certainly a more suitable possibility.

Briefly, on the vendor side, G2 Crowd seeks out companies to list for reviews for free, rather than charging them. The recruiting area, as you might imagine, had an endless scroll of vendors, a third of which I didn't recognize, all pried out of the woodwork by the company's staff.

With lots of HCM vendors to be reviewed, users are incented and gathered for reviewing in a variety of ways, none of which I think skews results. A $5 Amazon gift card keeps peeking out at you on the site, but there are lots more incentives, including all the social nonsense of badges.

Following the money, G2 Crowd offers vendors a "Branding Package" (for $2,500 to $10,000, depending on vendor size), providing a variety of benefits, that include notifications when anyone reviews or comments on one or more of their products.

But the biggest benefit is being able to buy more than that one free lead a month. Instead vendors are delivered full coordinates for anyone who wants to ask them a question: priced from $50 to $200 each, again depending on vendor size.

So end-users get a lot of value for free because the company may sell them as a lead to a vendor. Seems fair, given the control you have over your information. All in all, G2 Crowd is making a smart play, just like LinkedIn. I just hope it doesn't make the same kind of heartbreaking mistake LinkedIn did with groups somewhere down the road.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chair emeritus of the 19th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Expo, back at Chicago's McCormick Place, Oct. 4 through 7, 2016. Listen to the archive of The Bill Kutik Radio Show® with 183 of his provocative interviews with HR thought-leaders. Watch the 12th episode of his video series, Firing Line with Bill Kutik®, to learn why you’re not alone worrying about becoming obsolete on the job.

 

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