Identify Key Features You Need in a Social Collaboration Tool

When searching for a social collaboration network for your organization, you need to look beyond the base level of the tool's main features like content sharing and social networking. Your choice as to which social collaboration platform to get may be driven by other distinguishing features that make one platform more useful than another. Below are some of the other points to consider.

Is the social collaboration platform mobilized?

Workers have been checking e-mail on their phones for many years now, but the latest smartphones and tablets allow them to do much more. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter now see more activity coming from smartphones than PCs.

Social collaboration for business is moving in the same direction, but more slowly. Creating mobile apps that meet those requirements while still satisfying ease-of-use expectations set by consumer products is a challenging software development and user experience design problem.

If mobile access is important enough that you are making it a criterion for choosing a social collaboration tool, think about the following:

  • Availability of apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android, and Windows mobile platforms.

  • Quality of mobile web support: that is, the capability of the app to function in the browser on a phone or tablet.

  • Range of collaboration features available through the mobile app. Is it limited to viewing and posting to the application stream? Does it provide access to all the features? Does it simplify access to the most commonly used functions?

  • Intelligent use of the mobile mode of application access: for example, by taking advantage of GPS tagging of social posts so a salesperson doesn't need to type the name or address of a business he's is calling on, just update his visit with that customer or sales prospect.

  • Offline capabilities, such as synchronization of shared files that can be viewed or edited on the mobile device.

How effective is the platform's search engine?

In any organization, the ability to find people with specific knowledge, expertise, or experience depends on a few things:

  • The quality of the search engine

  • The availability of structured, standardized information about each employee in a social profile

  • The volume of social posts and documents linked back to the employee profile containing relevant clues

    Find the content, and the employee's social profile is just a click away.

Some social platforms will seek the right person to answer a question on your behalf when you can't think of whom to ask. For example, if you post a question to NewsGator Social Sites and classify it with standard tags, the platform will send an alert to everyone who listed that subject as a subject in which they have expertise.

But more than searching for people, your employees will want to search status posts, comments, documents, and discussions. On a busy corporate social network, a search for a frequently discussed topic — say, "expense reimbursement policy" — can easily bring back hundreds of hits other than the official policy document you may be looking for. A good search experience would allow you to narrow your search by content type: for example, only documents about the policy, not status posts and discussions complaining about it.

Limiting a search by date can also be a good tactic for finding current information: say, this year's expense reimbursement policy, not the one from four years ago.

Is it easy to manage content beyond the status post?

A key decision in the selection of a social collaboration platform is whether you will use it as a primary document management and content management platform. The alternative is to limit social collaboration to managing social content, such as status posts and discussion threads. If you have an established, document management system, selecting a social platform that also emphasizes document management could be redundant. At a minimum, it would require you to give users clear guidelines about what to post where, under what circumstances.

Social collaboration tends to emphasize simplicity over sophistication. Requiring users to fill out a form with a description of the document and a dozen check boxes to precisely categorize it may be the ideal for knowledge management — but if the user interface is a hassle, users tend to fall back on the relative simplicity of sending e-mail attachments.

Most, if not all, social collaboration platforms let you post a note with a file attachment, but not all platforms include more sophisticated file management capabilities such as version tracking. Similarly, some platforms support wikis or other tools for creating and editing web-based documents, while in other cases the vendors decide that's not essential. As you look at the different platforms, like Jive, IBM Connections, Yammer, Chatter, and Tibbr), do you research to make sure they have the features your organization needs.

Can you motivate employee behavior with gamification?

Gamification refers to a set of user interface elements, derived from computer games, intended to motivate and reward behaviors. The idea is to take advantage of the same dynamics that make computer games engaging. For example, computer games do a good job of showing new players how the game works, gradually introducing them to more complicated challenges, motivating them to improve their skills, keeping score, and recognizing levels of achievement. Similar techniques can be applied to training employees to use a complicated piece of software by introducing the simplest elements first and progressing to the more complicated features.

A few of the common elements of gamification include:

  • Keeping score: Users are awarded points for desirable behaviors.

  • Badges: Icons associated with a user profile that recognize specific desirable behaviors, such as creating a group or closing a $100,000-plus sale.

  • Leaderboards: A ranked list of the individuals with the highest scores.

  • Guided missions: Users are guided through a series of activities, and they get points for performing well. This can be useful for training activities, where concepts are best learned in a specific order.

Does the social collaboration platform support innovation?

When CEOs and other executive leaders embrace social collaboration, it's often because they hope to make their organizations more innovative. By connecting people across the organization, they hope to spark ideas for new products or process improvements.

There are a few social software features that can occur either in social collaboration platforms or in complementary products that may influence your product choice.

One is to organize idea generation, or ideation, campaigns challenging employees to help solve specific problems within a specific timeframe. You start by gathering as many ideas as possible. Then voting and rating systems make it easier to whittle a long list of ideas down to a manageable number. Overall, this can be a very effective way of focusing on the goal of innovation.

Since good ideas do not always arrive on a schedule, you also can use your collaboration network as a suggestion box where ideas are welcome at any time. Employees can post their ideas to the company-wide stream or share them within the most relevant group for that idea.

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