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Guidelines for Selecting a Social Collaboration Platform

Part of the Social Collaboration For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Choosing the right software (or cloud service) will not guarantee the success of a social collaboration network, which depends as much or more on factors like leadership and community management. However, choosing the wrong platform certainly limits your chance of success. Making the right choice is complicated by the fact that there are so many choices, with new products still being introduced by those who think they have a better idea about how to do social collaboration right.

Here are some tips on making your pick among social collaboration platforms:

  • Decide what to exclude. If one of your requirements is that you want a solution you can run on your own equipment, right away you can cross off Yammer, Chatter, and other products offered exclusively as cloud services. Similarly, if you are seriously interested in only those products from major enterprise systems vendors, you can rule out a plethora of startups.

  • Size up your requirements. If yours is a global organization, you probably want a vendor that has successfully addressed the collaboration needs of other global organizations. If yours is a small business, you may want to avoid the complexities of a large enterprise solution. On the other hand, a fast-growing startup will want to project from what it needs today to the requirements of a year or five years from now, when its requirements will be more complex.

  • Create a short list. Pick five to ten solutions that look like a plausible match for your needs to investigate further, based on online research and analyst reports.

  • Listen to the pitch and see the demo. Get your key questions answered and decide whether the software looks like a good match for your requirements.

  • Shorten your short list. Pick the products that are worthy of further investigation.

  • Try the software. If you haven't already done so, get access to a "freemium" or trial account for the products you are most serious about so you can experiment with using them. Even if you are not serious enough about any one product yet to ask employees to create accounts on it, you should have your product selection team test it.

  • Talk with other customers. Find out what they like about the social collaboration environment. Press them for details about their frustrations and complaints. What range of collaboration scenarios does the product address and where do they find themselves supplementing it with other tools?

  • Pick your pilot. If your research so far has pointed you to one particular product, test it at the level of a department, a team, or a cross-functional group of volunteers to get a better understanding of how it works in practice. If you have identified a small number of products that are closely tied in your evaluation, consider running a "bake off" competition between them, challenging the vendors to help prove that their product is the best at meeting your business requirements.

  • Make course corrections, if necessary. Like a scientific experiment, a pilot project is intended to confirm a hypothesis about what will work for your organization. If the results were positive, move on to the next step. If the results were negative, you should be prepared to reexamine your assumptions and start over.

  • Move past the pilot, sooner rather than later. Understand that a small-scale pilot project will only hint at how well social collaboration will work for the overall organization. By definition, the social networking possibilities will be much more limited when only a small number of people have accounts. Also, if you are asking people to use a social collaboration platform to collaborate on serious work, you need to tell them whether you are committed to it or likely to make a change.

    If you are serious about social collaboration, you have to make it broadly available. Even if for practical logistical reasons you decide to open it up a department, business unit, or region at a time, your goal should be to get the entire organization on one social collaboration network.

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