SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Employers want their employees to be more productive. They want to be able to identify talent and put it to its best use.

Employees have ideas and want to contribute, but they're shuttling from meeting to meeting, digging out from under e-mails, lost in the cubicle farm.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Jive Software is among the companies that see a solution: using the tools of social media - blogs, online discussion groups and wiki documents among them - to change how businesses communicate and work.

And now Jive, a $30 million firm and a leader in social media software for business, has partnered with Sacramento social media marketing and consulting firm C7 Group.

The partnership with Jive is a huge step for C7 Group co-founders Jeff Marmins and Mark Bean. Their three-person company - the two founders and marketer Robert Mees - is based in the Urban Hive co-working space in the city's midtown.

Marmins built a reputation in Sacramento as an expert in social business with his firm Social Media Path and his blog of the same name before launching C7 Group. His new company caught the attention of top Jive officials earlier this year.

"C7 has a lot of what we look for in a company," said Christopher Lochhead, chief executive officer of Jive Software. "They can educate executives on social business and where they can get the biggest bang. Social business impacts every employee in a company and C7 clearly gets this stuff."

C7 Group is hitching its wagon to Jive's star and is one of a number of start-ups trying to tap the potential in an emerging social business market expected to reach $5 billion in three years.

"Social business is taking off in a big way. It's a big thing in terms of business applications," said Chris Fletcher, a research director at Gartner Inc. The Connecticut-based research firm has tracked the information technology industry since 1979.

Though still a market for early adopters, "there's a lot of energy here," Fletcher said. "It's an exciting time."

More than 90 social business firms crowd the market, according to IT industry research firm Forrester Research Inc., led by Jive, Dallas-based Telligent Systems, Emeryville, Calif.-based Lithium Technologies and New York-based KickApps.

Gartner recently identified social computing as one of four broad trends that will change the face of IT and business in the next 10 years.

C7 Group's job is "to put the Lego blocks together," said co-founder Bean, consulting with businesses on how to integrate Jive software into their workplaces.

"The lessons about why Facebook has worked, why it has 500 million users, why we link and tweet - it's translating that into a business culture," said Marmins.

That's the key to social business, Jive's Lochhead said, incorporating the social media technology that has become commonplace outside the office to help companies work and communicate more efficiently and talk more directly with customers.

"Whether it's fun things or transactional things, whether it's happened in our personal lives or not, it's extraordinary," Lochhead said. "If you think about all of these things, why is it so fun and effective to live online, but back at work, it (stinks)?"

With social business software, employees from across the company can team up on projects and share information via online discussion groups and wiki documents; tap into in-house experts who are posting personal profiles and blogs; and do it in a secure environment protected from competitors.

Companies can also use the tools to create online communities of customers to get feedback on new products and services, enlist their help on technical and customer service issues, even to help develop marketing campaigns.

However businesses use the technology, "it's a game-changer," Marmins said. "We've always been social as a people. We've always done well when we're connected together. This is the transition into the social business environment."

(c) 2010, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).

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