External Social Collaboration and Communication in Business

The practice of communication by written documents carried by an intermediary from one person or place to another almost certainly dates back nearly to the invention of writing. However, development of formal postal systems occurred much later. The first documented use of an organized courier service for the diffusion of written documents is in Egypt, where Pharaohs used couriers for the dissemination of their decrees in the territory of the State (2400 BC).

Evolution in Communication

Apart from the introduction of the postage stamp and intercontinental postage services, nothing much changed until 1837 with the invention of the telegraph allowing messages to be conveyed long distances without the need for physical media. In 1876 the telephone was born followed by the radio in 1910. Since then, the rate of technological innovation in communications has accelerated fuelled by the human desire to interact with each other in ever more immediate and intimate ways.

As new technologies and mediums for communication become available, so the access to them and the rate of adoption increases at an exponential rate. Contrast the time taken for radio to reach its first 50 million users compared to Twitter.  Of course access to high speed internet has caused this acceleration and with the exception of cellular telephony, all contemporary communications are dependent upon it.

If we consider the most recent additions to the range of communication mediums available to us; Instant Messaging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, blogging, wiki’s it’s clear that they can all be described as social communication channels. They inherently facilitate social or “many-to-many” communication as opposed to older forms of communication. Early adoption was among the younger members of society but the demographic of social media users has changed dramatically in the last few years.

Those of us over the age of 30 who do most of our communicating for business or during the working day experienced our communication revolution in the 90’s and 00’s with the advent of cell phones and email and we’ve been stubbornly hanging onto them ever since. Look how we have engineered our cell phones to become perfect tools for sending and receiving emails! But email is as its name suggests little more than a means of sending one-to-one or one-to-few correspondence. It is not social and it’s certainly not collaborative. Email has also long been hijacked by the spammers forcing us to adopt ever more creative ways of filtering our daily communication. Regardless, we business people have become slaves to our email – the first application we open in the morning and the last we close at night and the one we spend endless hours poring over all day.

This has prompted many individuals and some companies to envision a world in which email is eradicated in favor of social communication and productivity is enhanced as a consequence.

After two decades of inexorable increases in global email usage, email is finally beginning its unavoidable demise.  This decline in popularity will accelerate as a new generation enters the workplace. And from personal experience, I can tell you that this new generation simply don’t understand the purpose or merit of email and have no interest in using it.

The Rise of Social Technologies

Social technology adoption among consumers still far outpaces social technology adoption among employees but this is because business themselves have been slower to adopt them. Until recently, many executives viewed social technologies with suspicion. They focused on their domestic usage and feared that they would cause employees to waste time rather than improve their productivity. But after a slow start, software companies including Jive Software, Yammer (now owned by Microsoft) and Salesforce.com with Chatter have made significant inroads into large enterprises since around 2009.Here are some more interesting statistics in rapid succession. The hi-tech and telecoms industries lead the way in social technology adoption and they are showing the same enthusiasm for social technologies as they did for resource planning and relationship management technologies in the last decade or so. Other industries lag far behind.

But this is understandable for a number of reasons.  Firstly, looking at the mix of employee types and job roles we can see that sales and marketing, IT and R&D combined with management, technical and frontline staff, are the biggest users.And secondly, there is a dependency on how well networked those employees are and this again comes down largely to the industry and the nature of the workforce.

Given these statistics, it is easy to see why in a recent report, McKinsey concluded that among commercial enterprises those engaged in software, internet and professional services markets had both the most to gain by using social technologies and that they would find it extremely easy to capture the added value potential offered by them.

The largest source of value that they identified is using social technologies for interactions within and between enterprises. McKinsey went on to estimate that social technologies, when accompanied by significant management, process and cultural transformation could improve the productivity of interaction workers by 20-25%. And we’re only just beginning this journey.
Let us consider the importance of this conclusion for the reader of this white paper. You are probably reading this because you market, sell and support your products through an ecosystem of interaction workers – people whose work requires complex interactions with other people, yet because they work independently from your company their work also requires independent judgment. This group includes sales people, marketers, technical personnel managers and a range of other knowledge workers.

Summary

Imagine the impact on your enterprise of implementing social and collaborative technologies that could complement or replace outdated communication technologies and experiencing a 20-25% improvement in productivity.

Now imagine the impact of extending that productivity gain beyond the enterprise; to each and every member of your demand-side ecosystem. And imagine the impact upon those individuals of experiencing these productivity gains when working only with those business partners who help facilitate this transformation; namely those employing business social collaboration and communication technologies.