A social business platform can be a differentiating force in your company to leverage employee knowledge and promote a culture of openness and transparency.
One of the hotter topics these days is business collaboration, which is known to many as social business. The easy description is often “Facebook for business,” but this is misleading as a social business platform is far more than that and can play a major role in how a company shares knowledge and information with widely dispersed teams.
McKinsey performed an in-depth study, The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies, last year that highlighted how companies are incorporating social platforms into their business. One of the key statistics in the report was knowledge workers spend 28 hours each week writing emails, searching for information and collaborating internally. The workforce is evolving as incoming employees, who utilize social networks in their daily lives, want the same experience with their employer. Employees want more collaboration, less email and faster access to information.
Social business platforms typically take one (or both) of these paths in a company:
- A social intranet combining knowledge management, collaboration, discussions, activity streams, software integration, etc. for the enterprise. One of Centric’s clients, Millward Brown, made this transition 18 months ago and it has been a tremendous success. Read more about their transformation here.
- An external customer-focused community to provide interaction both with and between customers. Apple’s Support Community is a great example of where users can ask questions, search for information, and leverage the knowledge of the global Apple community.
One of the key benefits of a social collaboration platform is the ability to tap into the “tribal knowledge” within a company. That is, the collective wisdom of the organization that resides with people and not in a particular document.
As an example, consider an employee who has a question and emails the ten colleagues she thinks may have the answer. She might get a few good responses back and move on. What she didn’t get was the best answer from the company expert…who she doesn’t even know! In a social environment, the question is posted and everyone can be made aware of it. In this example, the expert can chime in with in-depth insight that elevates everyone’s knowledge.
The Knowledge Spiral
In every organization, there is explicit and structured “known” knowledge that is documented and accessible to employees. There is also unstructured and undocumented knowledge housed in people’s heads and in various email conversations. This structured and unstructured knowledge collectively constitutes the “Knowledge Spiral.” Social collaboration platforms facilitate and make accessible these knowledge spirals.
1 Nonaka and Takeuchi, The Knowledge-Creating Company, Oxford University Press, 1994
Where Do We Start?
When embarking on the path of social business, there are several key business and technology elements to consider:
- What are the core Use Cases for your company? Identify key business scenarios to validate with a social platform.
- What are your integration needs? Determine the needed level of social platform integration with the following systems:
Mobile devices (iOS and Android)
Custom internal applications
- How much customization versus configuration? Leading social business platforms are highly configurable. The more customizations built into your deployment, the more costly the implementation will be, as well as future platform upgrades and maintenance.
- How will you manage business transformation and technology deployment? Do not underestimate the change management component of a social platform rollout. It is a very different way of working and there needs to be a focused effort around the changes in order to drive successful adoption. For example, getting users to post a business question to a group in the collaboration platform versus sending an email to their standard email distribution list. It takes time to gain the comfort level needed to post a response to questions in a forum that is very transparent.
Key Features to Consider
A myriad of features are available in social business collaboration platforms. Here are several we have found critical to most companies:
- Search Capability: A Google-like search capability allowing you to easily find relevant people, content, and groups. In addition, a recommendation engine which surfaces related items of interest is a key component. (e.g. You searched for X, you might be interested in Y)
- Minimal Dependence on IT: The flexibility for users to create and manage their own groups without requiring Information Technology involvement. (e.g. A new client project). This allows for rapid expansion as teams can self-organize immediately and be configured by the user.
- Mobile Capabilities: The ability to access your community at any time and from anywhere using your mobile device. This drives adoption and is critical for a dispersed workforce.
- Gamification: This is beneficial in driving adoption across the platform. Gamification platforms reward users (using points, badges, status, progression bars, etc.) by encouraging participation which in turn drives adoption.
As your company considers becoming a social business, here are a number of best practices to consider:
Social collaboration can be a differentiating force in your company if the strategy, technology and execution are aligned. Some benefits of social collaboration platforms include:
- It leverages the knowledge of all your employees, allowing you to tap into your company’s tribal knowledge
- It promotes a culture of openness and transparency, breaking down internal barriers
- It allows you to find the right people and content in shortened time frames, providing you (and your company) the ability to contribute and deliver at higher performance levels
Ultimately, social platforms can drive breakthrough business results and lead to a more engaged workforce!