How to Choose a Social Collaboration System

It’s easy to imagine a small business owner choosing a cloud-based, social collaboration product on the advice of a friend, creating accounts for himself and a dozen employees, and never looking back — or casually switching, a year later, to a product he likes better.

Larger enterprises would never select a collaboration system that casually, nor should they. When you offer social collaboration to hundreds or thousands of employees, you are asking them to adopt a new way of working and communicating with each other. You want to make a good choice and one you can stick with. Smaller firms, too, can benefit from picking right the first time.

Here are some guidelines for organizing the selection process.

  • Set a cut-off date for looking at new products. If your selection process takes more than a few weeks, don’t be surprised if some exciting new social software startup appears in the news or another vendor starts banging on your door, claiming to have the perfect solution to your needs.

    And maybe it makes sense to stop everything and look at a new option. But in general, it makes more sense to keep to a disciplined schedule. Do the best review of the options on the market that you can, but set a cutoff date after which you will move on to the next stage — narrowing your list of choices, rather than adding to it.

  • Define must-have requirements. Before making a product selection, be sure to not only identify your requirements but prioritize them. Which features can you simply not live without?

    For example, if your organization makes heavy use of SharePoint for project management, document sharing, and other forms of collaboration, SharePoint integration is mandatory. In fact, the quality of the SharePoint integration offered by a particular social platform will likely be a deciding factor.

    If your organization absolutely, positively will not consider doing business collaboration in the cloud, the ability to deploy the collaboration software into your own data center is a must-have requirement.

  • Outline nice-to-have features. Many other social collaboration features may be attractive but optional.

    For example, your organization may value a social platform that integrates with the company information systems for human resources and corporate training, automatically enriching employee social profiles with a digital org chart and data on an individual's professional certifications. Maybe having that would be nice, but not essential. A product that had that feature would enjoy a slight boost in your ranking of the products but not enough to overcome shortcomings in essential features.

  • Narrow the choices. Even though the number of software and cloud providers who claim to hold the keys to productive social collaboration can seem a little overwhelming, you can probably eliminate some of them right away. If yours is a small organization with simple needs, you can cross complex and expensive products off the list. Goodbye, IBM and Jive. If yours is a multinational corporation, you probably won’t consider Podio as your company-wide social platform (although it may have a role to play as a productivity tool for smaller teams within the organization).

    The process of elimination should leave you with a more manageable list of choices deserving a closer look.

  • Examine the candidates. After compiling a list of vendors to contact, you want those vendors to provide analyst and reference customer contacts, preferably including references from organizations similar to your own.

  • Choose your pilot project or projects. Large organizations typically venture into social collaboration with a pilot project before embracing it on a grand scale. Still, this project must be large enough and serious enough to both exercise the capabilities of the software and have a chance to show business results.

  • Make your choice and go for it. All of the above advice is for naught if you don’t get started.

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