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Using Social Media to Increase Productivity in the Enterprise

What is the business value of social media? That’s the big question. There’s a land rush for control of the Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) space, with promises being made to improve end user engagement and overall collaboration.

Most organizations are chasing after these lofty goals without a strategy, hoping to find that magical answer to their platform adoption woes, unsure of the relationship between the tools they deploy and their impact on productivity. Microsoft is helping with this push for all-things-social with their $1.2 billion acquisition of Yammer, and subsequent roadmap to make Yammer central to its SharePoint, as well as cross-platform, social strategy. SharePoint’s ongoing growth and success aside, some are claiming that Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is dead and that it has failed to drive value because it hasn’t won over the hearts and minds of employees. Social media, it seems, is the latest flavor of the month that will solve all of these problems.

As collaboration solutions rapidly evolve, most of them tend to fall into one of two product categories: structured or unstructured collaboration.

Structured collaboration is your traditional ECM platform, sometimes deployed in a way that mirrors your organizational hierarchy, or product and project management topologies. Organizations that use this model of collaboration require some degree of control over who can access the content internally and how the documents and artifacts are handled, archived, or destroyed. Structured collaboration environments help organizations meet industry and regulatory requirements for security, auditing, and compliance.

Unstructured collaboration, on the other hand, is about the democratization of content and ideas. These tools and platforms are centered around real-time connectivity, discovering content and expertise, and about developing community around topics, interests, and individuals. Think of instant messaging or Web meeting tools. Most social platforms rest comfortably within this unstructured world.

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For the most part, social does have the ability to solve end user engagement and adoption issues, helping organizations (when done right) to more quickly realize benefit from their collaboration investments. But aside from the need to see ROI, social is increasingly the way in which we communicate, slowly displacing email to become the preferred method for internal and external dialog. You need only look to the rising generation  to see this trend. Generation Y and the incoming workforce have grown up in a world of instant communication. They do not think with an email mentality — that kind one-way, asynchronous view of communication is outdated in their view. They are more interested in the synchronous communications that social provides, which fits perfectly into a lifestyle of being constantly “plugged in,” online, and connecting in real-time.

The question stands: what is the connection between social collaboration and business productivity?

There are three facets to social within the enterprise:

  1. Ad hoc collaboration – It is widely accepted that teams who communicate well are much more successful in achieving goals and delivering solutions — and doing it in a more holistic, inclusive way. Social tools, whether they be consumer-based platforms like Facebook and Twitter or business-focused platforms like Yammer or Salesforce Chatter, allow individuals and teams to instantly connect and converse, adding people to the dialog as needed. Many organizations achieve the best results when they provide multiple ways for end users to connect. Social collaboration platforms provide a complementary collaboration method to IM and Web meetings, as well as to more structured document management platforms.
  2. Driving specific behaviors While still a growing category within social, some innovative vendors have begun to develop apps, Web parts, and best practices around gamification — which is the use of rewards, recognition, and games to drive specific behaviors within an enterprise application. These activities are perfectly suited to social platforms. While still a growing area of study, and beyond the short-term needs of most organizations, gamification will become increasingly important to the future of collaboration as organizations seek to drive people to their portals and websites, and keep them engaged once there.
  3. Enhancing metadata (building folksonomies) – This is the key to success with social in the enterprise: folksonomies are user-generated keywords, metadata that provides context and improves findability for that one user — and over time, the entire organization. Every interaction you have generates metadata: you follow someone, you share a document, you Like something, you rate it, you comment, you add keywords to make that content more relevant to you, so that you can more easily find it in the future. These interactions all add context to data, building an intricate Web of data connections. This metadata generates a massive folksonomy, connecting content and data and people in a way that cannot be replicated through automation and machine data.

There are many different features within social platforms, but at the end of the day this third facet has the most direct impact on bridging the gap between your structured collaboration platform and your unstructured social tools. Social generates metadata around content, unlocking your ability to find, organize, and manipulate your data. Search is a powerful productivity tool, but without metadata associated with your content, search is useless. The more rich your metadata, the more searchable (and findable) your content becomes.

At the heart of any business collaboration platform is content. It may not always take the form of a document, but it is content nonetheless: requirements, lists, list items, campaigns, customer records, feedback forms, approval workflows. Within this world of structured and unstructured collaboration, social will play an increasingly important role. Social connects disparate systems together, not through a single vendor or a single platform, but by providing a social layer across many systems. Stronger communication methods always have a positive impact on collaboration. If users are more engaged, they will complete more business activity (document creation, business process management, project management activities). If the platform helps people feel more connected, and in return they can find more relevant content and expertise through social interactions, more people will use the platform. And as more people participate, it helps improve upon every measurement you might have to define collaboration success.

What is the first step toward showing the ROI of social within the enterprise? Understanding that the real value of enterprise social is more than just a communication tool — it is the creation of folksonomies, adding rich contextual data through unstructured collaboration to the various artifacts created within our structured collaboration platform. Folksonomies are the key to unlocking hidden organizational knowledge and breaking down content silos. As organizations begin to see the link between these two sides of collaboration and develop tools and apps to capture and utilize the rich contextual data being created through social, they will be rewarded with increased user productivity.

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