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HootSuite announced this morning that it is partnering with IBM to integrate with big blue’s Connections product suite, which IBM calls “a leading social software platform” which makes “everything social.”

On first glance it looks like a competitor — as if Hubspot was integrated with Marketo, or Google and Bing announced a partnership.

First glances are often deceiving.

ibm-kenexa“When we look at Connections, IBM uses the word social a lot, but they mean internal,” HootSuite’s Kevin Zellmer, a company director, told me this afternoon. “They’ve done a good job inside the organization, but they haven’t done a lot to share that externally … and they haven’t given a lot of consideration to how my internal world at work and my external world of social blend.”

In other words, IBM Connections is an enterprise social platform that helps people inside big companies get social with each other, not with others. It’s internal social, not external — and not both at the same time.

This integration is only a first step, Zellmer says. Currently, HootSuite will help bring content from the external world into Connections — social content that could be useful for customer service, for marketing, for analytics, and for product development. This content will be displayed side-by-side with internal social data from Connections, and should give enterprises a good view of what’s happening both internally and externally, and where the company culture might be misaligned with the wider social media culture.

But there’s more work to do: Taking internal content and publishing it externally. That’s a ways away.

“It’s fundamentally easy — we know how to do it — but tying it into the larger picture becomes a bigger question,” Zellmer says. “I’m being more protective of that than even IBM, even though they say they want to do this, because if mistakes get made, it’ll be me that gets yelled at.”

The full integration, in which content from outside comes in and content from inside goes out, is schedule for Q1 delivery in 2014.

“Then it changes everything, because it’s a two-way communication process, not one way,” Zellmer said.

If you have a lot of time and you really care about enterprise social, here’s a 10-minute HootSuite video on the integration:


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