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Cheat Sheet

Social Collaboration For Dummies

From Social Collaboration For Dummies by David F. Carr

Social collaboration networks put the power of social networks to work with a company, making the organization more agile, innovative, and productive. Here are the essentials of how social collaboration networks work and how to use them effectively.

10 Uses for Social Collaboration

Here are ten productive things you can do with a social collaboration network. Each one of these items is more difficult to do without social collaboration.

  • Share information everyone should know (or be able to find out).

    Publish information, making it available to all employees without clogging their e-mail inboxes. Let members of the network filter for the information most relevant to them and their roles within the organization. Make information searchable, tagging or categorizing it so employees can find it when they really need it.

  • Humanize the workplace.

    Replace faceless e-mail correspondence with a communications and collaboration environment where people can see each other's faces and easily find out more about each other.

  • Improve project planning and coordination.

    Some social collaboration platforms include explicit support for organizing projects as well as everyday work activities. Even outside of social task management tools, social communication and collaboration provides a means of discussing potential projects, setting goals, sharing plans, and letting project team members who fall behind schedule let others know what is hampering their progress and ask for help.

  • Broaden executive communication and invite feedback.

    For the CEO and other leaders, an internal blog post is an opportunity to detail organizational strategy in an informal and personal way that invites feedback — something that is particularly useful when the leader sincerely wants to hear what others think. Employees who might not be brave enough to reply to a company-wide email from the CEO are often more willing to share their thoughts in the comments on a blog, particularly if they see their peers doing so. In the process, the leader gets insight into what those on the front lines of the organization think — input that might otherwise be filtered out by the layers of management in between.

  • Get everyone thinking and sharing their ideas.

    Social collaboration allows an organization to pull people together and actively brainstorm ways of overcoming challenges and exploiting opportunities.

  • Collaborate on sales to close more deals.

    Sales organizations benefit not only from collaboration within the sales team but improved connections to those in other parts of the organization, such as project managers who can answer customer questions or finance managers who can approve discounts.

  • Find experts.

    When there is a key question to be answered or problem to be solved, a social collaboration network makes it easier to find the people within the organization who have relevant expertise. Where a static directory would quickly become outdated, a healthy collaboration network is continually refreshed by contextual clues like documents members have posted and questions they have answered.

  • Connect people with shared interests, expertise, or challenges.

    Groups and sub-communities within a social collaboration network provide a gathering place for people who share expertise or are trying to learn more about a subject, whether technical or managerial. In large organizations with pockets of expertise that may be distributed regionally or globally, an online group may be the only place people have the opportunity to meet.

  • Reach across geographies and time zones.

    People who work in different offices, home offices, or on the road can carry on extended group discussions or actively collaborate to get work done, without the need to coordinate their schedules as they would for an in person or synchronous online meeting.

  • Make the organization more adaptable by encouraging personal and professional networking.

    An online social network introduces members to people who know people. Sharing contacts and making introductions makes employees more effective at navigating an organization's internal complexities — and better able to find workarounds when formal business processes break down.

Guidelines for Selecting a Social Collaboration Platform

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.

How to Launch a Social Collaboration Site

Launch day is an important moment in the life of a social collaboration network. A launch is different from a pilot project, which by definition is more tentative and experimental. Here are some of the keys to a successful launch.

  • Pick your launch strategy. Will you launch globally, to all employees everywhere, or is your organization large enough that you will be more successful enrolling users one geography or business unit at a time? Some organizations also choose to do a "soft launch" where the software is available to everyone and officially supported but not aggressively promoted, allowing the most enthusiastic and proactive users to start using it first.

  • Line up advocates. Before you promote the social collaboration network aggressively, it helps to line up people throughout the organization who will advocate for its use. These may be people who participated in a pilot project or signed up during a soft launch phase. Or they may simply have an urgent business need for the tools the collaboration network provides, making them motivated to help make it a success.

  • Have a story to tell. Clearly articulate the relevance of social collaboration to your business, using stories based on early experience with the tools or examples from organizations similar to your own.

  • Seed the network with content, groups, and discussion starters. You want the social collaboration network to look like a vibrant and useful environment on launch day. That means getting things started ahead of time, with the help of your project team members and network advocates.

  • Make it easy to get started. Do whatever you can to simplify account creation and profile setup. This may mean pre-populating profiles with data pulled from human resources information systems and automatically creating some network connections, for example by making employees follow posts and updates from their boss by default.

  • Spread the word. Announce the social collaboration network with email broadcasts, at company meetings, with signage in the office or in the elevators.

  • Celebrate the early wins. When a project managed with help from the network comes in ahead of schedule or a sales team collaborates to win a big deal, make some noise about that success. Recognize the people, not the software — the software is nothing without people who know how to use it effectively.

  • Expand use and frequency of use. As success stories accumulate, use them to bring the collaboration network to parts of the company that have not yet adopted it (or not in any serious way). Promote additional ways members of the collaboration network can take advantage of the platform.

5 Items to Include on Your Social Media Profile Page

The ability to look up people and follow or connect with them online is what puts the social in social collaboration. When others look you up, what will they see? Here is what you want them to see.

  • Name and title: If you are better known by a nickname or a shortened version of your name, make sure that your nickname is displayed in quotation marks, along with the name associated with your account. For instance, Bob Brown’s profile name might be Robert "Bob" Brown. Similarly, your title should be complete, descriptive, and up to date. If you change positions, remember to update your profile.

  • Professional photo: Whether this should be a formal portrait taken while you’re wearing a suit and tie or a more relaxed portrait in which you’re wearing a T-shirt depends to some extent on the nature, culture, and professional standards of your organization. That said, you want to look like someone people will respect and want to get to know.

    Your profile photo ought to be a recognizable picture of you. That means no cartoon avatars or dark sunglasses. If you've been collaborating online with someone you've met in person, you should recognize each other from your profile pictures if you cross paths in the hallway or at an event.

  • Correct and complete contact information: Tell people where you work and the best way to get in touch with you. If the information changes, be sure to update it.

  • "About me" blurb: Tell people a little about yourself. Some platforms display this autobiographical information more prominently than others. You don't have to write a book, but even if not many people read this information you want it to be there for the collaboration network's search engine to index. For example, detailing your employment history might mean you will show up in search when a colleague is trying to recruit someone from one of your former employers or arrange a business deal with that company.

  • Highlighted expertise: In what areas are you an expert or building your expertise? Mention those details in your profile. Again, some platforms highlight this information more than others. NewsGator provides a system for tagging profiles and matching those tags to questions posed on a given topic. If there's no other place for this information, squeeze it into your "about me" blurb.

Social Collaboration and E-Mail

A successful social collaboration network ought to replace some of the communication and collaboration that takes place via e-mail, particularly in the form of e-mail lists used to manage ongoing discussions and reply-to-all e-mail threads. E-mail habits are so ingrained that change often comes slowly, but here are things to try:

  • Tackle mailing lists first. E-mail was never designed as a medium for long-running discussions with lots of participants and quoted text from each other's messages. Mailing list participants ought to appreciate the value of threaded discussions on a social collaboration network that are easier to follow and more accommodating to links and multimedia content. When you make a one-to-one swap of a mailing list for a social group, you also provide collaborators with other tools for document sharing and other productive modes of collaboration.

  • Encourage social collaboration for team conversations. Any e-mail message with more than one recipient could be a good candidate for a post on a social collaboration network. Reply-to-all e-mail threads too often become snarled and confused as recipients are added to a discussion or dropped from it. Mailing lists avoid some of this confusion by setting the default "Reply-to" e-mail header to the list address. But in an ad hoc collaboration, some e-mail recipients inevitably click "Reply" instead of "Reply To All," sending a reply to one person rather than the group.

  • Recognize where e-mail still makes sense. E-mail remains effective for one-to-one communications and has to be understood as the superior solution for most communications that extend outside the organization. You may be able to invite close external collaborators into a collaboration group within your network, but by definition an enterprise social network is private and cannot include everyone.

  • Consider e-mail integration. Try e-mail plugins like Jive for Outlook or Harmon.ie for Outlook.

    Jive for Outlook makes it possible to take a message received by e-mail and convert it to a Jive discussion, posting your answer there.

    Harmon.ie's tool brings integrates networked collaboration, conversation, and document sharing into the e-mail user interface, linking to Microsoft's SharePoint, Yammer, and Office 365 collaboration environments. Outlook users can interact with discussions or shared files hosted in SharePoint (on premises or in the cloud version that's part of Office 365). To minimize version confusion, the plugin also encourages users to share files on the collaboration platform, rather than transmitting them as file attachments. Harmon.ie now also provides similar integration with Yammer and SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud service for file sharing.

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