Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Arguments for and against deploying a collaborative social network

Here's the debate:  

  • Must we have a social network for collaboration at work?  
  • How about with your customers?

On one hand we want everyone’s opinion.  We appreciate that our employees and our customers have information we should collect and synthesize.  But naysayers will always point out why this premise either won’t work or that the information is unreliable.

There are always those folks within a company who are steadfastly against encouraging the use of a social network within a company.  They think their employees should be paying attention to their “day jobs”, not frittering away their time surfing the web.  It’s not that they can’t see the benefit of having workers talk to each other or with customers…they just believe this time is misspent. 

This is not a new notion.  That same complaint used to be made about coffee houses even though great ideas came out of these meeting places.  In the 1600’s Anthony Wood, an Oxford academic noted, “Why doth solid and serious learning decline, and few or none follow it now in the University?” he asked. “Answer: Because of Coffea Houses, where they spend all their time.”  

The smartest people of the time congregated at coffee houses to extend the discussions began at meetings of the Members of the Royal Society, England’s pioneering scientific society.  So too can collaborative social networks provide a place for ongoing collaboration in between episodic events.  You can have a big meeting, and then continue the discussion via a social setting.

Like coffee houses of the past, social networks can provide a lively social and intellectual environment, giving rise to a stream of innovations that can shape the world. We still consider coffee as the official drink of collaboration and networking (at least before 5PM).

The path of using a social network to collaborate at work requires our brains to work differently.  Some studies have shown it will take you 23 minutes to get back on track after posting a status line on either twitter or Facebook and that a social media interruption occurs every 10.5 minutes on average, and people waste 41% of that time on Facebook. Yet, a study published in 2012 by McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, found that the use of social networking within companies increased the productivity of “knowledge workers” by 20 to 25 percent.

The notion of workers collaborating on line might be inevitable.  A survey by virtual office staffing agency Intelligent Office finds that more and more employees are choosing where they want to work, rather than being assigned a standard workplace location. Specifically, 70% of the employees surveyed work from alternate locations on a regular basis.  You can’t have all your meetings at work if everyone works someplace different.
Here’s another reason why a social network dedicated to collaboration is inevitable.   Most employees spend about a quarter of their time managing e-mail.  They spend about one day of the work week looking for internal information or tracking down the right people. With internal social networks, the message IS the content.  You can find the co-worker you need easily (even if you’ve never met). 
If you can have a central repository of information; of content, employees’ time (spent looking for the information they need) can be cut by a third.

And adoption might be inevitable also because it appears the speed and scale of adoption exceeds other technologies.

One danger the collaborative social network presents is when one voice is worth more than others.  The idea to encourage democracy is a constant challenge.   Just like in ancient Rome, when someone important recommended a book (and had the resources to have scribes make copies), executives today can approve content and tacitly encourage support for any given idea.

The initial promise of social media was to help ideas succeed on their own.  It was thought these open forums would remove the old gatekeepers.  In fact social media is not especially democratic. The most powerful people and institutions have the most Facebook fans and Twitter followers which means that content that serves their interests is much more likely to show up in your newsfeed.

The conclusions to be drawn?  Social networks dedicated to collaborative ideation appear to be inevitable.  Methods to keep the process democratic must be part of the deployment strategy.  It takes more than just rolling out a new social network ideation tool…a strategy for nurturing a culture ripe for collaboration must be encouraged.

TOM STANDAGE,  NY Times, June 22, 2013
Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2,000 Years By TOM STANDAGE

Ron Shulkin blogs researches and writes about enterprise technology focused on social media, innovation, voice of the customer, marketing automation and enterprise feedback management.  You can learn more about Ron at his biography web You can follow him Twitter. You can follow his blogs at this Facebook group.  You can connect with Ron on LinkedIn.  
Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation ecosystem. CogniStreamer serves as a Knowledge Management System, Idea Management System and Social Network for Innovation. You can learn more about CogniStreamer here . Ron manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (JoinHere).

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