It seems like 99 out of 100 of the conversations I participate, observe, or read about involving social media is always focused on how we engage others outside of ourselves. I am using the term ‘ourselves’ generically to denote an individual or a firm. The salesperson talks about prospecting leads, the consumer product firm talks about customer service, the politician talks about engaging voters, and the beat goes on. This is all valid, interesting, and applicable. The thing that has been on my mind for quite some time – and admittedly I have been remiss to write about it until now – is the idea of collaboration, communication, and efficiency WITHIN a firm. Anybody interested in that? I suspect I have your attention.
Most of my career has been spent dealing with people outside the walls of any organization I worked for. My current capacity is no exception. There are large firms however that have so many teams and divisions that working internally is not much different from working with outside entities sans the NDA. So why wouldn’t using social technology be applicable in these instances? That was rhetorical, read on.
Some light reading
I was reading over a white paper from back in 2008 by an EMC employee named Chuck Hollis. While some of the information contained therein is obsolete by today’s standard, the principles are still solid and many of the observations are universal. The long and short of the paper is that EMC needed a better way to share information and realize synergies (for lack of a better word) across their organization. Chuck talks about the initial thinking and rationale behind what they wanted to accomplish and the internal research involved to understand their own culture and what they could introduce into it that would be received well enough to get the adoption they needed to measure success. While not the most exciting aspect of social, this work was perhaps the most important to the project.
I then read an article on the very popular Social Media Examiner from 2010 about how IBM is using social to improve internal innovation – a very expensive and sought after result of good employee stock and strong corporate culture . It amazed me how much this article differed from the one I just mentioned. This article was written almost two years to the day. IBM uses Beehive – their own proprietary form of something that resembles Facebook – which, at that time, is pretty amazing. Conversely, EMC chose to use an enhanced version of a wiki just two years prior.
So now what?
Well, in 2008 Clearspace was an optimal solution for EMC and in 2010 Facebook-esque mechanisms were winners for IBM. Since that time there have been a ton of collaboration tools and social media best practices that have been put out there. Some have failed, some have succeeded, and some are yet to be properly evaluated. What that solution TODAY is could easily be determined differently by different organizations with different needs. At first glance, there are critical features that will want to be considered such as search, user experience, integration and controls but figuring out what you need is more important than how to implement it.
The big takeaway from this is that the solution must fit the participants. Culture, technical ability, and propensity to embrace change will determine what the universe of potential solutions are. The rest is marketing and politics, IMO. If you plan on making use of social in an internal capacity you need to keep the following necessary questions in mind:
- What problem are you trying to solve with this magical panacea called social media/business? – cost savings, communication, more agile development cycles
- Who are your stakeholders? – department heads, team members, C-level execs
- What processes/protocols do you have in place that will be affected by this change? – compliance, non-disclosure, cross organizational competition
- Who are the people in your organization that will be making use of this and how will it affect them? – HR, Product, Project, Sale, IT, Facilities
- What level of change will your organization tolerate? – culture, internal harmony issues, propensity for non-transparency, risk tolerance
- Will this be adopted if it’s not fun? – Odds are, it won’t so it most certainly has to be
- How will you measure your success? – shorter development cycles, greater retention, less email, decreased travel, more effective meetings
What does it mean to your business?
Well, if you are a small business and you need an equalizer, then social collaboration will help you. You may have partners in other geographies that you need to work more easily with. You may be looking to avoid real estate costs (at least initially) if you are a startup and these types of social technologies will allow you to create a virtual workspace with members working from anywhere they please.
If you are a large organization like the examples above, the pain point is clearly better communications and collaboration across divisions, offices, and vendors. Your Denver office has to be in lockstep with your Chicago office or your projects drift out of scope and redundant work gets expensive on a grand scale. This thinking applies well for firms with many employees on the road at any given time.
The bottom line is, business has changed while most firms don’t even know to what degree they are being affected by these changes. More importantly, employees have changed and have new skills that you as a firm should be tapping into in order to win the innovation battle. How are you adjusting? What change are you embracing?