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What Is Social Collaboration?

Social collaboration comprises social networking and social media for the purpose of getting work done in a business or enterprise setting. The collaboration part is just as important as the social part. In this context, collaboration is about getting work done with teams of people, working together toward a common goal — which is essential to any business.

Used properly, social collaboration widens exposure to corporate knowledge, streamlines the flow of ideas, and gets everyone thinking about how to improve processes, products, and services.

Social collaboration is also known as enterprise social networking, and the products to support it are often branded enterprise social networks (ESNs). However, you don’t have to be running a huge enterprise to benefit from social collaboration because the same sorts of tools can be used by small businesses and nonprofit groups. You may also hear the term collaboration networks, used as shorthand for private social networks (as opposed to public ones).

You’ve probably heard the maxim “people do business with people they know, like, and trust.” Many local Chambers of Commerce give this as a reason why salespeople and small business owners should attend their networking breakfasts and other events. And it’s true: Successful salespeople tend to be talented networkers. In the same way, people within organizations who have all the right connections often can accomplish tasks that others cannot — or at least not as quickly. When a company’s standard formal processes break down, the employee with a strong network knows who’s who and what’s what and how to get the job done anyway.

Social collaboration is nothing new, in that sense. What is new is the digitization of the social network and the transformation of what used to be dry, impersonal corporate collaboration tools into friendly places filled with smiling faces. Online social networking has become famous for reconnecting long-lost lovers and sparking friendships between people who never would have met in the offline world. In a business or enterprise setting, social networking can be just as effective at connecting employees with other employees who share a common interest, or skill, or have the answers to each other’s questions, even though they might be in offices in different states or on opposite sides of the world.

The collaboration element comes into play when employees use a social network to share their progress on a common project and work together on digital artifacts of that project, such as a sales proposal or a presentation to management.

Social collaboration initiatives have many fathers and mothers. Often, though, the impetus doesn’t come from the IT department but from a particular project team that experiments with the technology and finds it worthwhile. Other drivers could be

  • A CEO wanting a way to unite business units that have come in through acquisition.

  • The head of HR wanting to promote a more collaborative workplace.

  • A sales leader wanting to speed sharing leads, production of proposals, and closing of deals.

  • An early adopter of new technologies anywhere within the company.

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