Defining Value in Social Collaboration

In case you missed it, Phil Wainewright posted a great article this morning (Yammer: 3 reasons social can’t prove value in the enterprise, yet) over on diginomica.com on the hype surrounding social media in the enterprise, which was very timely as I wrap up a presentation I’ll be giving in Boston at the Microsoft MTC next Tuesday on the evolution from content management to engagement management imagewithin the enterprise. At the center of the modern organizational collaboration model is social. Everyone seems to be looking for the "killer app" of social computing, because it makes nice marketing copy — but defining the ROI is somehow more elusive. You can wrap your head around one of the leading consumer products, or even a specific feature, but making the case for social can be downright difficult for some people to articulate (its that qualitative versus quantitative benefit discussion).

Stop looking for "the" defining reason to move to social. There will be no big bang. There will be no killer app. No single vendor will "own" the space. And the tools and technologies that will dominate the information worker space for the next couple decades are already here. From Forbes columnist and Evolve! Inc CEO Mark Fidelman, who is one of the leading experts in the are of enterprise social collaboration: "The social business revolution is starting to take hold in companies. These solutions are starting to empower individuals, enabling them to challenge traditional hierarchies and bypass communication road blocks. It is also enabling the knowledge worker to better communicate with suppliers, partners and remote employees."

Back to Wainewright’s 3 reasons, and you have to admit he’s got a point.

  1. The technology is not ready
    While the Yammer teams are enthusiastic and passionate about social, spend any amount of time within community sites around SharePoint and Office365, where Yammer is heavily influencing future product roadmaps, and you’ll hear from the experts and influencers that there is ill fit for many enterprises who still need the structured collaboration and content management features of more mature platforms, like SharePoint. Compounding the problem are poor communication around roadmap, or even how SharePoint and Yammer can work better together today.
  2. The networks aren’t big enough
    What we’ve seen time and time again is that to make collaboration work, people have to participate. Adoption and engagement have been problems for SharePoint (and every one of its competitors, no matter what their marketing may claim), slapping a new social tool or platform on top will not solve what are fundamentally cultural and educational issues. It can take years for an organization to make a new collaboration methodology part of the corporate culture. It’s no surprise then, that much of Yammer’s training and certification focuses not just on how to use their capabilities, but how to work with your management, peers, and employees to adopt the platform.
  3. No one knows how to do it
    There are huge advocates for social within your organization. But for many (most) companies, the social model is something entirely new, and even the influencers in the space are learning in real-time.

Feeling deflated? Don’t be — I really do believe in what Fidelman says up above. People are feeling empowered, and they are subverting process and bypassing confused and out-of-touch decision makers to better communicate and collaborate with customers, suppliers, partners, and each other. That’s how Yammer’s numbers are growing so quickly. All you have to do to start the change within your organization is to sign up and register your company. It’s as easy as submitting your email. As a cloud-based solution, all it requires is connectivity, and your team can access a shared Twitter communication stream (and other features) directly from the browser.

Now, integrating Yammer with other platforms or with your intranet, that’s a different story. It’s just a tad bit more difficult. But there’s a path, and it begins with end users searching for tools that allow them to get better at their jobs.

SharePoint has a similar model, although a much more complex platform. Microsoft was very wise to offer out a very powerful free version. Companies have spent years building and tweaking their intranets, and suddenly, out of nowhere (10 years goes by fast) SharePoint does out of the box what took a team of people months or years to build. Maybe not as powerful in certain verticals (ECM, for example), but powerful enough to grab the attention of every competitor. It’s a multi-billion dollar business for Microsoft — hard to argue with that kind of success. And while many of SharePoint’s features are not considered social features, per se, I am in the camp of collaboration = social. So SharePoint is social by nature. And because SharePoint has enabled teams and end users to break out of the IT bonds and, in many cases, self-serve their collaboration needs, SharePoint is a major mover and shaker in the social revolution.

Over the coming months, I predict we’ll be seeing even more content and ideas about how to get ROI out of social. The tools are here — now it’s just a matter of finding the right ones to fit with our organizational culture and plug them in. Find the pieces that fit, and move forward. Try things out, break some things on the way, and figure out what works for your team, for your customers, for your partners. Pay attention to what is happening within the community, and how others are finding/defining business benefit. As more people use the system, you will undoubtedly discover and be able to articulate the benefits to the business. Just don’t look for all of the answers today — we’re "still working on it."

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.