Welcome to the Year of the Social Business App.  

A swarm of new business tools coming to phones and desktops near you promise to boost efficiency and streamline collaboration by borrowing social features from the likes of Facebook and Twitter. But do they really work?  As CEO of HootSuite, I preview hundreds of social business apps--from virtual rolodexes to group notepads. And, to be honest, lots of these apps are more trouble than they’re worth.  They’re pretty to look at but end up wasting time. They complicate things better done in person (like getting an actual coffee in an actual cafe). And they solve problems real businesses don’t have (Does the world really need more virtual blackboards?).  

But the best of the bunch really do make life easier.  These six road-tested social business apps should help office warriors connect better, share more and save time in 2013 (For an unabridged list, you can also check out the HootSuite app directory).  

Here on Biz

Perfect for: Meeting your LinkedIn contacts offline

Here on Biz bridges the gulf between the virtual world and the non-virtual one we call real life.  The app alerts users when their LinkedIn contacts (and other people on LinkedIn running the app) are physically nearby.  Say you’re at a conference.  Check in with Here on Biz and you’ll get a list of other users who have checked in, grouped by “local professionals,” “visiting professionals” and “event attendees.”  A handy chat feature allows for making an instant connection and - ideally - setting up those face-to-face meetings that get real results.  


Perfect for: Making conference calls slightly less unbearable

Ah, the dreaded conference call: a half-dozen anonymous voices droning out from tinny little speakers.  Half the time, you don’t even know who’s talking.  There’s got to be a better way.  And there is.  UberConference brings a visual element to audio calls.  The on-screen display shows instant profiles of all participants, with names, photos and other info pulled in from your address book and social networks.  The person speaking is always displayed prominently on the top of the screen, and slick features allow you to mute, “earmuff” or hang-up individual callers, as well as record the whole conversation as an mp3.  

Evernote Business

Perfect for: Social notetaking

For years now, Evernote has been an indispensable little vacuum cleaner for sucking up everything from notes and web clips to photos and docs and storing them all on the cloud for easy, searchable access.  The recent release of Evernote Business, which lets colleagues create shareable notebooks,  makes the app even more handy.  Team members working on a project can now throw all of their notes, drafts and research - even audio clips and photos - into one big notebook, accessible and editable by anyone given permissions.  The new app also boasts an intuitive search feature: Start typing in one notebook and relevant content from other colleagues’ notebooks pops up in a sidebar automatically.  

Perfect for: A salesperson’s best friend

Social media has shaken up the world of sales, with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter offering new ways to hound leads and unprecedented insights into clients.  The problem is keeping track of it all.  Nimble’s web-based dash consolidates all of a potential customer’s social activity - Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. - into one stream for easy monitoring.  Meanwhile, shared social  connections between you and the client show up automatically, paving the way for personal introductions.  All past correspondence is catalogued for reference, while team functionality makes it easy to loop in co-workers for an assist.  


Perfect for: Social gifting

Boss get you another jelly-of-the-month club subscription this holiday season?  Tell her to check out Kiind.  This new app puts a needed spin on stodgy old corporate gifting.  Instead of wooing clients or rewarding employees with crap they neither want nor use, you choose from a carefully curated list of premium services and boutiques in select North American cities.  Recipients get a special digital gift code, and you only pay if and when they redeem it.  Kiind’s nifty web-based interface enables gifters to track when codes are cashed in - helping companies get a better handle on the ROI of their generosity.   


Perfect for: Social media made easy

Yes, this is my company. So, no, I may not be exactly objective.  But, in my humble opinion, HootSuite is just an incredibly useful business app.  A single, web-based dashboard lets you track and post to all of your company’s social profiles - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. - in one place.  Analytics show which messages are actually getting viewed, clicked on and generating real ROI.  But I’ll pipe down and let the pros do the talking.  Like Forbes: “Before you waste any more time on different social media sites, sign up for Hootsuite.”  And Mashable: “[HootSuite is] the premier dashboard for companies looking to get analysis of their social media efforts.”

Sadly, there’s still no app for turning Mondays into Fridays.  In the meantime, these social business apps might be the next best thing for simplifying your job in 2013.  

Published on: Jan 21, 2013
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.