How to Share Files and Media in a Social Collaboration

By David F. Carr

One of the distinguishing features of social collaboration systems for business is the ability to share files. Most public social networks will let you share a photo or a video but not a PowerPoint or Word file. They make it easy to share multimedia experiences but not to collaborate on a proposal. Social collaboration systems offer the photo- and video-sharing tools that you would find in social media, along with the file sharing tools that you need for business.

Share files and documents

In social collaboration, a document or file can appear as an attachment to a post in the social stream of an individual or group. Most systems also allow you to view the stream of comments associated with any given file.

Sharing a file on the social collaboration network rather than sending a copy of it to multiple users by e-mail saves network bandwidth and storage and offers these additional advantages:

  • Comments in the activity stream: Document collaboration takes on a different flavor when combined with a social feed. Instead of collaborating on the document itself by editing it or adding comments, you may want to page through it using a web-based viewer and add a simple comment like Looks good to me! or Can you add some more realistic examples for Chapter 4?

  • Version control: Online document collaboration also avoids the confusion that can arise when different versions of a spreadsheet or proposal are being e-mailed around, and no one is quite sure which is the most current version. Sure, multiple versions of a document will wind up being passed around the social network, but at least the most recent one is likely to be associated with more recent messages in the news feed.

Common file sharing capabilities include the ability to upload and download files and preview standard file formats within the browser. The linked or attached resources are often rendered as a preview of the web page, document, image, or video. In the case of a web page, the preview can be generated based on the HTML title and description tags for that page, plus any rich media information that can be extracted about images or videos embedded in the page.

More advanced features, present on some social platforms and not others, include document management features, such as the capability to check in and check out documents (to prevent multiple people from editing them simultaneously), web-based document editing, and version tracking.

Work with collaborators on a business record

Beyond the main company activity stream and various group streams or feeds, many business applications are sprouting activity streams. For example, an accounting system may have a stream showing unpaid client invoices, with comments on the status of collection efforts.

Enterprise software products of all sorts increasingly incorporate the notion of the social feed as another user interface element. Meanwhile, social collaboration platforms compete to show how they can function as a “social layer” that can be embedded in, or wrapped around, any other web-based business application.

Part of the point of the feed format is to make it easy to see the most recent activity within the system. Meanwhile, the social network can provide the means to work around gaps in transactional systems.

Where these features are available, take advantage of the opportunity to build social collaboration into the flow of work.

Share images and video

Sharing images and video in the social network or feed is just as big of an attention-getter on a private social network as on a public one. When users are scanning an activity stream, posts with multimedia content stand out more.

Ideally, this content should be useful, but there’s no reason it can’t be fun. If customers are lined up around the block for your company’s new product, photos of the crowd will be exciting news to everyone involved. If some photos feature cute kids in the crowd or people making funny faces, that’s okay. Posting random photos of cute kids absent the business content, however, would be less appropriate for a business social network. When you post a photo or other image, the interface then displays a preview of that image in the activity stream. Video handling is a little more variable. When you post a link to a YouTube video on Yammer, it’s displayed in the feed as a thumbnail image, and viewers can play the video without ever leaving the feed. In other words, it works much like posting a YouTube video on Facebook. Some other collaboration systems display a link to YouTube content as a link but not as embedded media content.

A few platforms offer more elaborate functionality. For example, NewsGator offers an add-on module with which you can set up your own “private YouTube,” with software to convert between video formats and stream video from your own servers. Enterprise platform players like Cisco, IBM, and Microsoft with video capture, videoconferencing, video streaming, and web conferencing products in their portfolios can embed those multimedia experiences in the social stream — if you have licensed the right assortment of products or cloud services from them, that is.