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Keep Social Collaboration Productive with Policies and Community Management

The champions and managers of social collaboration must take the good that comes from the expectations and training provided by public social networks and filter out the bad. Then, they must set new expectations for productive uses of social collaboration.

This means setting acceptable use policies, which typically includes basics like ruling out profanity, personal attacks, and other objectionable content, as well as detailing what information can and cannot be shared in the system. For example, the internal social network may be ruled an inappropriate system for sharing sensitive information like employee Social Security numbers that should not be shared any more widely than necessary.

Rules imply enforcement, meaning that system administrators and community managers must be empowered to moderate discussions by removing posts and comments as necessary. If employees are trained adequately and understand the company's professional culture, it should not be necessary very often.

Keeping the social network healthy and productive is the job of the community manager or team of community managers. In a large organization, someone is typically in charge of overall community management, plus employees with part-time community management responsibilities and authority for specific communities within the social collaboration system. Usually, they are much more concerned with promoting discussion and engagement than they are with playing the moderator on discussions.

If you take the role of community management, part of your job is to start conversations by posting questions, documents, and media, as well as jumping in to conversations and encouraging other employees to join in. You must model the behavior you want to see others exhibit and lavish praise on those who are using the system effectively.

Social collaboration is a tool for open discussion and transparency within the organization. That is precisely why some executives fear it: They envision an unending complaint session starting as soon as employees are given permission to voice their thoughts. Yes, there is a possibility someone could post a really nasty note on the internal social network, just as an employee could send a Reply All e-mail condemning the company and its management. If it happens at all, this would be the last act of an employee who has decided to burn all bridges on his way out the door (if he hasn't already been fired, it's likely he will be).

On the other hand, the company and its executives need to be prepared to shrug off most milder forms of criticism. Most little gripes in an organization don't last long. What happens if, after all the effort spent on setting up a productive online community, the CEO responds harshly to the first criticism he sees? Game over.

Remember, though, that one of the common aims of social collaboration is to get more employees thinking and contributing ideas about how to make the organization more innovative, productive, and effective. So, an organization that's serious about using social collaboration to perform better must accept that the road to better products and processes is sometimes paved with frank criticism of the current ones. Employees are understandably reluctant to speak their minds if they fear retribution. In fact, they may be skeptical of all reassurances about the company's policy of transparency until they see repeated examples of criticisms offered and accepted gracefully.

In a healthy community, you would expect comments like That's the stupidest idea I've ever seen! to be strongly discouraged. A more constructive criticism may be something like This plan strikes me as unnecessarily expensive. I recommend talking with our procurement folks, who may be able to get us significantly better pricing if you can explain exactly what you're looking for. Polite, specific criticism combined with a suggested alternative is the ideal.

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