9 Ways to Make Social Collaboration Pay Off - dummies

9 Ways to Make Social Collaboration Pay Off

By David F. Carr

Every technology initiative is judged by its payoff. But showing return on investment for social collaboration can be challenging. For one thing, when social collaboration is one element of an organizational change process, should the technology be the factor that gets the credit for positive results, or the people who executed the strategy? Here are some things to keep in mind to make sure your social collaboration efforts pay off.

Start with a purpose

Social collaboration software has sometimes been a victim of its own marketing: the dynamic, intuitive technology that “will break down all internal divisions within a company and make everyone work together better.” In those ill-fated cases, the contract is signed, the software is deployed, and nothing very dramatic happens. These examples may be classified as failures although whether they truly failed is hard to tell, given that they never had very specific goals in the first place.

The difference between those examples and the most impressive success stories tends to be focus — or the lack thereof.

Accelerate sales

Every company likes revenue. If you can figure out how to make the cash register ring, not only will you score points for your social collaboration strategy, but you will have accomplished something for the company. But how is an internal use of social technology going to drive sales? Isn’t that more the role of social media marketing?

Social collaboration brings a different value to the sales process. You may use other technologies to increase awareness and generate leads through social media marketing, but internal social collaboration proves most valuable where your goal is to provide a better total solution than your competitors.

For example, social collaboration tools can cut the time required to produce a proposal while increasing the deal-win rate. In a business where every proposal must be tailored to the customer’s needs, you have a real advantage from the ability to leverage relevant experts within the company and find people who have specific knowledge of the target customer.

Social collaboration also provides a better way of assembling a team while eliminating inefficiencies, such as missed e-mail messages and chaotic Reply to All message threads.

Align marketing and sales

Marketing and sales teams never seem to be aligned as well as they could be. In addition to general brand-building activities, marketing generates leads for the sales team. The sales team converts the leads into closed deals. At least, that’s how the process is supposed to work.

Instead, marketing and sales sometimes wind up squabbling over whose fault it is when sales fall short. No technology will magically break down cultural and organizational barriers. However, one step toward better coordination could be making the members of each group more aware of each other’s activities.

The social collaboration mechanism of following people and groups is a way for salespeople to keep tabs on — and give earlier feedback on — marketing initiatives, helping tune them to target the right audience. Marketing teams developing new campaigns can get more insight into the successes and frustrations of the sales team, leading to better targeting of future campaigns. Sure, some of this information gathering and market analysis still needs to come from formal processes, what social collaboration adds is the human dimension — the connection with the person behind the numbers.

Back up customer service

Many customer service and support organizations are fielding their own social communities in which they interact directly with customers. But achieving these external goals also requires internal collaboration. When the call center or contact center gets a question it can’t answer, a collaboration network can be the key to locating the answer, whether it exists in a document or only in the head of a subject matter expert.

Social collaboration can also be useful within the service and support team for exchanging tips on how to answer thorny questions or handle difficult situations, as well as pursuing operational efficiency.

Create new products

In a social business, innovation is everyone’s business, and product creation is part of that. Successful new products are never the work of one person. A hit consumer electronics product may start with one person’s inspired design, but to get it built, that person had to convince others of his brilliance. That team then needed to coordinate with manufacturing, supply chain, sales, and top management to bring the product to market at the right time, at the right price.

If social collaboration makes that process work better and faster, the payoff will be clear.

Boost productivity

Within every business, there are “interaction workers” whose jobs consist of finding, creating, and communicating knowledge. Social collaboration has the potential to save time — but only if it’s used consistently. If 90 percent of the members of a team cling to using e-mail, even for collaborative work where the social tools clearly would be better, the payoff won’t materialize. If sales embraces social collaboration but marketing doesn’t, then coordination between the two will not happen.

Stopping time-wasting activities

If the goal is to make employees more efficient and effective, you ought to be looking at what work they can stop doing. For example, if you introduce social collaboration as an alternative to traditional e-mail mailing lists, but you leave the mailing lists in place, teams may wind up wasting more time navigating back and forth between the two modes of communication. The same is true of document sharing, project planning, and many other activities.

You need to make sure that the social collaboration environment you’re providing really is more productive. Sometimes it may not be. On the other hand, where the old way of working clearly is not as productive, push hard to put a stop to it.

Improve employee engagement

Business research routinely shows that only 25 percent to 30 percent of employees in the average company are actively engaged in their work — meaning that they care about the organization and their contribution to its success and believe they can make a difference. The rest are either going through the motions or actively disengaged: that is, they’ve lost all faith in the organization and would gladly leave at the first opportunity.

Improved engagement is one of the important “soft” benefits of social collaboration because it helps employees see how what they do fits into the greater whole of the organization. Even informal “water cooler” discussion on the social network about sports and kids can build stronger networks, making employees feel more connected with their co-workers.

The work-related content is even more important because it adds to the total knowledge base of the company, but it also pays off for individuals. Given the opportunity to share details about their work and monitor the activity of others, they build awareness of their successes and frustrations while gaining awareness of what others are thinking and doing, including others outside their immediate circle.

Break down silos

In business, silos are organizational units that are isolated from other parts of the organization. Information within silos is shared up and down the organization, but not horizontally. People within different silos may be wrestling with similar problems but never know about each other’s work. Implementing a common social collaboration system can be one way of breaking down those boundaries.