When to Ditch E-Mail for Social Collaboration

If you can provide easy-to-access information to everyone in your organization who may need it, you’re doing everyone a favor. Many people say they can’t possibly use social communication for the majority of their work because e-mail habits are too deeply rooted in their organizations. But when you’re answering a question from a colleague, think twice about whether the person asking the question is the only one who would be interested in the answer.

If you find yourself writing a detailed e-mail reply packed with lots of information, chances are that you’re creating organizational knowledge that will wind up stranded in one person’s inbox — but shouldn’t.

Solution: Put your reply in a blog post, wiki document, or post to a discussion group on the collaboration network. E-mail back a link to that resource, inviting your colleague to add his thoughts in a space where others can also comment and build on your ideas.

If you get an e-mail request for something and reply to a link with a post on the internal network, who knows what might happen? Maybe the next day, a colleague in Europe will edit the page to add more information. Maybe your list of 9 resources will eventually grow to a list of 30. When a similar question comes up as part of a conference call with another group of employees, you'll be able to refer them to that document, getting more mileage out of previous work.

Just be careful not to shift conversations from e-mail to social collaboration where there is a risk of disclosing information your correspondent may deem sensitive. When in doubt, ask permission to share your answer more openly, rather than with an e-mail reply.

Think about your own work life and the questions you find yourself answering over and over. If you’re in a situation where e-mailing back just a link feels too terse or rude, another strategy is to give a short version of the answer in the body of the e-mail, followed by a link to a document providing more details.

Persuading others to change their habits is at least half the battle. You might start what you hope will be a productive online discussion on your collaboration network that gets foiled when one of the other participants copies and pastes the message into a multi-recipient e-mail. Thereafter, the conversation will continue half on your social collaboration platform and half in e-mail, with different participants tuned in to each fork. Worst of both worlds!

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