Many managers are reluctant to introduce #SocialComputing in their organization. They see it as futile: something that takes valuable time but delivers no value. But if Social Computing is futile, why is it so popular in our private lives?
The basics of Social Computing
Social Computing is an open communication in a group of people with some common interest. The types of messages in social computing is relatively limited; most conversations are initiated like this:
- ”I’m working on X!”
- “This is what I have done!”
- “Can anyone help me with this?”
- “Where can I find this information?”
- “I have found this, and this may also be useful to you!”
We post these messages because we like (expect?) to get some reaction on them:
- “Like” (sometimes with some additional comment)
- An answer to the question
The following paragraphs explain how and why these basic conversations can bring value to your organization.
Social Communication already exists in your organization, but without the Computing
The basic mechanism of Social Computing already exists in your organization, you just don’t see it. Today people already reach out to others to ask for help, or to communicate what they are doing. It is just that they do that with colleagues in their direct vicinity (who stated that, in an old-school organization, collaboration stops at 150 meters?), and in an unrecorded way.
When you introduce Social Computing in your organization, you make it possible for the hidden ‘social communication’ to surface and become visible to everyone. And by doing that, you make it possible for that type of communication to become location-independent, time-independent, traceable and reusable.
Where is the Business Value of Social Computing?
The potential added value of Social Computing in the Enterprise is: higher efficiency, higher effectiveness, higher quality, more motivated people.
You might say: we don’t need informal communication, we have business processes and procedures to take care of that. Of course you have. But where do people get help when they run into a problem? To whom would they talk when they are confronted with a less common procedure or non-standard situation?
As long as you are not aware of, or don’t acknowledge the informal communication that currently exists in your organization, you will be blind to the potential benefits of Social Computing in the Enterprise.
What if co-workers could post their typical (business related) social statements (“I’m working on this”) and questions (“Can anyone help me on this?”) in a community that reaches further than the 150 meters around them?
What if co-workers would get help and ideas from colleagues they would otherwise never talk to? Or vice versa: what if people in your organization could use their expertise to help people they would otherwise not communicate with?
The value of Social Computing in the enterprise is in the possibilities it offers to enable people to do things more efficiently and with a higher quality because they get help from the right people in a much faster way. Especially in non-standard situations. That is what the business case of Social Computing can be built on.
One thing to remember here is that with Social Computing these communications are pervasive and can surface and be useful at later dates, when a similar situation is encountered. This would never be the case with oral communications, nor with e-mail communication.
A less tangible benefit of social computing is motivation. Not only will many people be more motivated to work for an organization that embraces new organizational initiatives, but they will also feel more involved in their work. (But, I agree, it would be hard to build a business case on that.)
Social Computing in the Enterprise is all about context
The Social Communication you have today in your organization is not futile because it is not (always) about personal interests or small talk; in many cases it is about the business: how should I do this, where can I find that, etc. When you surface that communication in Social Computing, you can make the context visible in which the conversation is held: for which customer do I have to do something, or for which project do I need help, or for which document am I asking for a review, etc. In other words: Social Computing makes communication about things that are happening in our business processes visible in the context in which they appear.
Again, we must all be aware of the fact that, despite of all ERP systems, Document Managements Systems, E-mail platforms, and the like, a lot of information is volatile and unrecorded. (Taking into account that e-mails are not visible to people who are not in To: or CC: list.) By opening up these conversation to larger groups and linking them to the business context, we add an incredible source of information related to a customer, an RFP, etc. Because we not only see the outcome of actions, we also can read how people in the organization came to that outcome. In other words by linking the conversations to your business processes and business objects you can visualize them in their context.
Important remark: the ambition that some organizations had in the past to replace all their e-mail by social conversations has proven to be unrealistic. Your ambition should be to move just the e-mails that, because of their context, may be important to a broader audience from the individual inboxes to a social newsfeed.
Enterprise Social Computing tools: SharePoint 2013 and Yammer
SharePoint 2013 and Yammer are 2 tools with which you can realize tangible benefits of Social Computing in the Enterprise. They not only offer you the features that you find in social computing networks like Facebook, but they offer you additional features to enable that vital integration with your business processes and objects. They allow you f.i. to show conversation feeds in the context to which they refer to: e.g. when you look at the RFP file you see the conversation that was held in the community on that RFP, or when you are working your project site you see the conversations about that project embedded in the site. If you do it right you end up with 1 integrated application in which both worlds (the dynamics to get to a result AND the result itself) are integrated.
Both SharePoint and Yammer also offer you the possibility to manage your communities and moderate what is happening. Because even if Social Computing is about bottom-up value creation, some governance and guidance is necessary: both too little governance and too much governance will kill your Social Computing initiative.
Social Computing needs governance and guidance (but not too much)
In order to obtain the benefits that you designed to get out of the initiative, you must give some directions (more directions will be generated by the participants themselves) and organize some parts of your community.
- Groups (or Communities)
- Tags and taxonomy
- Groups and tags are 2 ways to create context in Social Computing. The big difference between the two is that groups give you more control than tags.
- Groups are often created by the community itself. But sometimes you might prefer to create one for the community. If e.g. in a global organization you would like to create synergies between groups of HR people in geographical distant locations, you may decide (as management) to create a HR community and invite HR people in all subsidiaries to participate.
- Similarly you might facilitate the use of certain tags by creating a taxonomy in which a number of tags or standardized. You might also create a guideline that says that for every project, for every customer, etc. a tag should be constructed in a standardized way.
Enterprise Social Computing can create value for the organization if set goals and then guide the community (gently) in using the Enterprise Social Media to achieve these goals.
- Marc Vanderheyden (firstname.lastname@example.org – @mceev11 )
- Managing Partner Spikes