Benefits of social media in the workplace: An employee perspective

Benefits of social media in the workplace

The current post, “Benefits of social media in the workplace – An employee perspective” is an updated and enhanced content version of the earlier post “Benefits of social media at workplace”. The article talks about the visible benefits of social media in the workplace from an authentic employee’s perspective.

The best practices and content is drawn and distilled from world class organizations and research publications (Including the Harvard Business review, HBR working knowledge and MIT Sloan management review) around the world.

In the recent times there has been a lot that has been written about social media collaboration, its usage and its associated technologies as one of the prime trend areas that will shape the future of work.

Understanding and exploring the benefits of social media in the workplace has enormous potential, not just for its designers and proponents but also for the employees who work in the organization.

There was a study that was conducted by an organization called Dynamic markets. It was found that nearly 74% of working population in Europe preferred social networking, social media sites and online communities to solve problems at workplaces. The two biggest benefits mentioned by employees were increase in knowledge for solving problems and secondly, cultivating a collaborative team spirit among employees on a daily basis.

Its impact as a “community building” and “social interaction” tool within the four walls, has social effects within the workplace. These two areas are the two most oft-repeated benefits that are linked to the usage of social media in the workplace. But then, their social effects go beyond these two into other real visible areas.

The positive effects of social media in the workplace is felt by Nerds, Geeks and managers (Who form the typical office crowd) alike within the organization. The term “Social media” is usually interspersed or used synonymously with the word “social media collaboration”, “Corporate social network”, “Enterprise social networking” and “Social collaboration” within an organizational context.

The senior management, would like to the see the word “Collaboration” attached to the word social media for obvious reasons. They understand “Collaboration” can bring in results, productivity and profits.  On the contrary, there is a perception that, employee’s time on community building and social interaction alone, may be unproductive and may not add value.

The below paragraph provides a quick summary of the benefits of social media in the workplace and then we will go into the greater details later in the post.

Please also read our article:Learning from HBR, Making corporate social network successful”.

Consumer social media has its influence on the benefits of social media in the workplace

True. We have already seen that happening. People across the world are more well versed (Particularly, the younger generation millennial) towards the usage, general acceptance and friendliness towards consumer web social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and others.  This has influenced the behavior at workplaces as well. People at workplace, are now more open to ideas, sharing information, being collaborative and creating communities.

Many Fortune 100 companies have opened the doors and have become trailblazers for the adoption of social media in the workplace beneficially within their organizations.

Some of this collaboration, has taken the garb of innovation hubs and idea banks while others have become knowledge sharing platforms.  They all share a common purpose aligned to business goals. With management commitment they are well shaping up to be the future of work. The business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace is obvious.

We are all aware of the recent news that Microsoft has acquired LinkedIn. LinkedIn, is again a social media network tool on the consumer web space for working professionals. The advantages might be many for Microsoft but then the importance of the benefits of social media in the workplace cannot be anymore understated.

Defining social media in the workplace

From a consumer point of view, there are many terms which are used interchangeably with social media, namely web 2.0, social technology, social media collaboration and so on. From a workplace perspective, it is all about ‘social collaboration’ and ‘enterprise social networking’ with specialist tools for chat sessions, community forums, collaboration platforms and tools for employee advocacy.

But at heart,

Social media is an attitude and an evolving culture. At a very basic level, it consists of a set of digital tools to connect, interact and collaborate.

Having said that, there are various tools used for realizing the benefits of social media in the workplace. Let’s have a cursory glance at some of them.

The common Social media tools used

Some of the commonly used social media tools  are :-

  1. Blog: It is a recorded journal of an individual. This journal can be made public for others to see and make comments.
  2. Social Networking Site: It is a website that allows people to interact with each other. Information can be shared and received. The site exists for forming beneficial relationships with others.
  3. Forums: It is a site where people can ask questions and get answers. People can in-turn reply on those answers in a threaded comments fashion.
  4. Wikipedia: It is a website which serves as a good repository of information on any topic. The information is filled in collaboratively by the general public. There are options to add, delete and edit content on the wiki site.
  5. Micro blog:  It is a form of blogging where the content consists of far less words and transmitted quickly. There is usually a notification which goes to all the participants. “Twitter” is a good example of this.
  6. Virtual worlds: A simulated artificial online environment where users take up avatars to participate independently or as groups to communicate and interact with others. There are many Massive multiplayer games of this genre and they usually depict huge ranging worlds of super heroes and science fiction. “Second life” is a good example of this.
  7. Podcasts: Consists of audio sessions that be heard online or shared among the participants.
  8. Web conferencing: Runs on many internet technologies. It allows people in remote locations to meet, interact and collaborate. Webcasts and webinars are some of the examples.

The prime benefits of social media in the workplace

Benefits of social media in the workplace
Employee bonding- One of the prime benefits

The benefits of social media in the workplace are many. Please find the prime visible benefits of social media in the workplace. These benefits have the maximum positive business impact. They are listed below.

  1. Knowledge creation and dissemination.
  2. Successive iteration of ideas for innovation.
  3. Creation of collaborative social capital.
  4. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom.
  5. Providing most valuable “Context” to information.

Let’s look at  them one by one.

1.Knowledge creation and dissemination

The organization creates knowledge all the time. On one hand there is the highly subjective insights, which are valuable and are called the ‘Tacit’ knowledge. Tacit knowledge rests in the minds of the people. On the other hand, there is explicit knowledge, which is available in the organizational procedures and structured processes. Usage of social media captures these valuable tacit knowledge and helps in converting them into explicit knowledge. The context surrounding that information helps in this conversion.

Other forms of social media in the workplace also capture tacit knowledge. For example, formal collaboration platforms within workplaces encourage employees from different business units to share structured information with other employees as well.

Social media in the workplace encourages knowledge sharing

The presence of social media in the workplace, encourages employees to share knowledge. Social media facilitates the quick spreading of information where it is needed. Employees are generally not comfortable with the jargons of market share, ROI and productivity nor with the mission and values of the organization. They are not interested in hard numbers. They are more interested in getting the work done and to be in the good books of their managers.

Employees would like to have a collective sense of identity and a sense of belonging with a community. Such innate needs are fulfilled by employee engagement of social media. Knowledge creation and dissemination occurs naturally through the use of social media in workplaces.

From an employee perspective, through knowledge creation, sharing and dissemination, there is generation of new ideas.  And when we collaborate with our ideas with each other, there is insight and there by innovation.

For example: – Technical support centers across many organizations rely on collaborative wikis, to share knowledge on support resolutions and technical updates. This revised knowledge is frequently updated by the representatives who work on those service lines. The benefits of social media in the workplace is more visible,as there are efficiencies built in  turnaround time and the operations involved.

For further insights, please read our article:Expertise sharing in social networks”.

2.Successive iteration of ideas

For ideas to mature and there by lead to innovation, it has to go through many iterations. We may have a hunch. For the hunch to be developed into a workable idea, it needs others perspective on it as well. Social media as a tool within workplaces has provisions to encourage this desired behavior. Employee collaboration, being one of the prime benefits of social media in the workplace, facilitates successive iteration of ideas and thereby innovation.

There are many definitions of innovation.  The one that I feel right is:

When we reflect on our own experiences and knowledge with others, and their perspectives and existing knowledge, a new insight is born. And then after a series of such successive ideas and insight, innovation takes form by running through the process of design, development and results.

A manager might possess a path breaking idea about a new technology which can be developed in-house. A shop floor worker with years of expertise, might come up with a process innovation. Knowledge from employees will remain only as “Personal knowledge” as long as they are not shared with each other. Once they are shared, they become organization’s knowledge. This knowledge is valuable to the company as a whole.

By using social media in the work places, the employees are interconnected and grow together as one giant organism called the ‘organizational workplace’.

For further insights, please read our article:knowledge brokering

3.Creation of collaborative social capital

Social media is very adept at forming collaborative social capital. This tremendously enhances the positive business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace.

I was quite bewildered to read the sentence “Social capital investment is not for control freaks” highlighted in an article at the Harvard business review working knowledge website. The article reviews a book “In good company: How social capital makes organizations work”. You can view the article here.

Communities grow out of freedom of practice. Employees cannot be pushed by managers, to collaborate in a project because they have to. Employees will still do it, because they have to get the job done but it does not encourage social capital.

Strengthening social capital is good for social media in the workplace

Social capital is formed when employees would want to come together and work out of common activities, mutual intention and like mindedness. Employees do not want to work together just because they are friends.

Social capital is the influence a person has over his or her social network. The social network could be even within a workplace.

“Social capital is always strengthened and nurtured in the context of real work” say the authors.

The authors emphasize that, social capital is formed over long periods of working together and where there is mind share. It cannot be formed by “One shot bonding” for sure.

Social media in the workplace, encourages employees towards such orientation. Frequently, it is advised to have managerial intervention to steer employee engagement and social interaction towards stewardship and nurturing rather management control. Employees should be free enough to talk about their stories of accomplishments and failures.

Such social capital formed, is indispensable and works well for the morale of the employees. Who wouldn’t want such motivated set of employees for their workplace. Social media in the workplace exactly enhances this kind of social capital and clearly is a strong case for visible benefits of social media in the workplace.

We have seen many examples, like in the usage of Wiki. People collaboratively create knowledge. Such collaborative wikis exist at workplaces as well.

For further insights on this subject, please read our article “Designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing

Social media in the workplace: Cisco

At Cisco, social media is part of their company culture. Cisco uses social media within the learning and development function. Employees continuously refresh their knowledge and skills using social media. They collaborate with each other exchanging thoughts and ideas as well as connect with their partners, vendors and communities.

The learning and development function partners with the business to understand learning needs of hardware and design engineers and effectively tailors courses for them. Even geographical distances do not hamper them.  Self-paced and web-based learning courses are being used where instructors cannot reach. Owing to this, they have reduced their travel expenses and very cost effective in meeting their needs.

4. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom

Coming back to our study from Dynamic markets, mentioned quite earlier in our article, the study found that use of social media in the workplace has increased the efficiency in the organization. The study was conducted across 2500 professionals across 5 countries in Europe in 2008. Nearly 46% of the respondents said that the use of social media in workplaces has led to the spark of new ideas and creativity. Collective decision making through the usage of social media solves workplace problems as well.

There is a fine example to illustrate from the TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire” if the main contestant feels uncertain of the response to a question, he or she would choose an audience poll as a lifeline. The audience was always right and nearly as accurate.

This phenomenon is what James Surowiecki has written in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds”. He states that “Large number of individual people with “independent thoughts” will certainly achieve better results than the individual single person alone

The diversity of perspectives, specialized expertise, knowledge and isolated independent inputs makes it unique to tap into this collective wisdom which all pervades in our work environment, our surroundings and the place we live and thrive.

Social media gives us a platform to integrate these collective decisions, encourages and further accelerates the integration and the power of connection among employees. The cumulative effect is obvious as new ideas and wisdom start pouring in, new powerful results start showing up in the form of improved services and products.

Social media in the workplace: Dow chemical

Dow Chemical is a Multinational chemical corporation headquartered in Michigan, USA. A wonderful example of social media at work at Dow. who have truly reaped the benefits of social media at work.

Dow created a website called the “My Dow Network” in 2007. Now it happens to be in the name of “Dow Friends” for retirees. The earlier site was created with the intention to cultivate four communities of its retirees, current employees, alumni and women.

The site gave an opportunity and a window for retirees at Dow to look into what is happening within the company, connect with other retirees and explore job opportunities, if they chose to return. Retirees can lend their experiences, expertise and contribute in newer ways. It gave them a sense of new life and a chance to connect with their peers. It received tremendous response from all quarters.

The business world hailed their efforts. Since then the community kept on growing and added newer and newer connections day by day. Dow had described this experience in a wonderful video in their site. We don’t know if it is still available at their site.

It talks about the missing human element which makes all the difference.  Interaction through social media, connects people and is the element of change.  The sayings in the video,“It gives us the footing to stand fearlessly and face the future” reinforces positive social effects of among the community of employees.

Dow has truly found a way to reach and connect its people.

5.Providing the most valuable “context” to information

We have all been using knowledge management systems in some way or the other. For example, If you want some information, you “Google it”.  Context is important and offers help, when there is a need to apply the information immediately. Also in situations where ‘Know how’ and ‘ Previous experience’ is required, context comes to the rescue.
Social media networks naturally has an advantage here. It can provide the context, the human element to the information.

In age old knowledge management systems, knowledge elicitation, capture and collection was good but it lacked the “Context”. When people are introduced to a context, it is easy to find appropriate information.

With this, the Social media networks are indispensable in work environments. We can tap into the experience and wisdom of others and at the same time satisfy and quench our thirst to share, belong and be social.

An interesting offline example for “context” is the Leadership drive called the OST (Open space Technology). An open philosophy of collaboration and self-organization, usually done at offsite meetings at major corporations across the world on complex issues facing the organization. People are free to air their views and thoughts.

Everybody is welcome. All inputs are valid and taken into account. It heavily rests on the philosophy, that no person alone can solve all the problems at work.The collaborative groups usually self –organize and a context is added appropriately to the situation.

Social media in the workplace: IBM

As a large company, IBM experiments and always launches a number of social media tools internally for its employees. Few of the IBM’s tools include Micro blogger called ‘Blue twit’ and ‘Many eyes’ which allows employees to upload all kinds of data visualize it and launch discussions about it on blogs and social networks.

A more notable one is the ‘bee hive’ which happens to be more from a bottoms up approach where employees can upload their personal and official information. Employees can upload their “top 5” favorite things and share it with others. It builds employee branding and a sense of ownership within the company.

Lastly, the final word

Many global companies are actually asking employees to reach out and create new external networks to tap into valuable ideas. With this, I would like to bring this part of the discussion to an end. I would like to add more corporate real life examples of the benefits of social media in the workplace as well as the positive effects of the business impact.

In the meanwhile, you can always refer further reading resources below:-

  1. Social media is everyone’s business – Forbes
  2. Social media is too important to be left to the marketing department – HBR
  3. Defining Social media: Mass collaboration is its unique value – Anthony, Gartner Blog Network
  4. A brand new game – People spend more time on social media – The Economist

If you like this article, please do share us !


Office Crowd Collaboration: Social media for Nerds, Geeks and Managers

The office crowd collaboration

Office crowd collaboration needs a certain degree of openness and altruism. Everyone has a role to play and everyone plays a part in the grand scheme of things. If we realize this and do our bit, I think the usage of social media is a sure candidate for success in the world of office crowd collaboration.

The internet has become ubiquitous. It would be no harm to say that “life would be difficult without the internet”. It is the single biggest system in the world with billions of transactions, interactions and sharing that happens every single day all over the world.

Just like the internet, the corporate intranet is used to deliver services of collaboration among employees, communication and sometimes even to initiate cultural change within organizations.

Having said that, by collaboration, we mean:

“A common shared understanding among people to accomplish mutual goals”.

Within industry circles and within the context of corporate social network, the word “Social collaboration” or “Enterprise social networking” has been used extensively for the use of social media for crowd collaboration within offices.

The figures tell a story: office crowd collaboration

office crowd collaboration
The office crowd, collaborating with each other

The top management of the organization, likes the word “collaboration” attached to the word “social” for obvious reasons of productivity and profit. But how much has this been adopted and accepted within the organizations, remains to be seen.

Please read our article:  “Making Corporate social network collaboration successful

It is an insights gained, learned as well as a external follow up on the article  “Why no uses the corporate social network” from the Harvard Business review.  Further information can be gained from the study, conducted by Bamboo HR in the United States

A recent study by Bamboo hr in 2016, points that:-

68% of employees feel using social media for personal reasons as appropriate during office breaks.

And at least 50% of them would spend 10 minutes a day surfing social media sites.

A good guess is that percentage would be higher in other parts of the world. It is just not Bamboo HR, there are other monitoring organizations like the “Altimeter group” who said more or less the same.

Now having seen the numbers, perhaps a closer look at  the current trend of social media collaboration and the science behind it would be beneficial.

Social media collaboration in organizations: The science and business behind it  

It would not be a better time than now to borrow an extract from the recent edition of The Economist. 

The Economist, in its Technology quarterly supplement talks about “a new breed of robots  being designed to collaborate with humans, working alongside them to make them more productive”.

Though it may sound a bit advanced and sophisticated, the speed at which such crowd collaboration, associated with social intelligence are being conceived and developed across the world is overwhelming.

Coming back to our very mundane human existence, British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, says that the Neocortex (in the human brain) places a limit on the number of interpersonal relationships we can maintain.

The Dunbar’s number is approximately – 150.

Now the question that looks intriguing, is how a global multinational company, spread over many countries, with tens of thousands of employees, maintains meaningful connections, relationships and harnesses collective intelligence.

Though it is steep, companies will implement smart social media collaboration technologies to make sure those connections work, along with defining and promoting a global corporate culture.

Using social media for collaboration in offices

Having said that, companies are presently using social media collaboration systems or rather crowd collaboration in a variety of ways and thereby encouraging social media in organizations.

They have started initially using social media, as an outlet for marketing,  product information, customer feedback, collecting customer complaints and comments. Also to get the first hand feel of the product or service from the customers.

Beyond this marketing push and knowing about customers, it is interesting to know that these social media networks are spawning into hubs of Collaboration and Innovation.

Perhaps the biggest value comes from the new channels of collaboration and Innovation. The channels have become unique touch points for the employee communities to come together, develop innovative ideas and recruit skillful employees.

These channel networks are tapping into the collaborative mindsets and in ways that continue to evolve.

The benefits are enormous. APQC, a best practice research firm, published its collaborative bench marking study of over 100 organizations.

Organizations use virtual collaboration and social media to bring employees together. The social media outlets encourage ongoing interaction between the leaders and employees.

It also helps, bridge the distances and an opportunity for employees to know one another. And also importantly, bridges the generational gaps within the employees.

In broad strokes, those are the promises of social media collaboration in organizations. A thoughtful and planned approach to social media collaboration or rather office crowd collaboration is needed.

Before we peer into the office crowd collaboration, it is good to pause and understand, what is an office crowd.  As well as the generational, attitudinal and expertise gaps  among employees.

What is an office crowd? Within the context of collaboration

Simply stated, a crowd is any group.

An “Office crowd” is a group of people in an office.

From a sociological perspective, there are some primary differences, in how we categorize them for their collective behavior.

Crowds can occur at random. Sometimes crowds are more organized and structured. Studying the collective behavior and collaboration would be a great challenge if they (crowds) had to form at random.

For example, crowds in offices, celebrations, contests and social movements follow a specific pattern of cultural definition and established procedure guidelines. The individuals who form such crowds, bring in their own personal characteristics and idiosyncrasies into the collective behavior of the crowd.

Understanding and motivating people for collaboration is easier to manage and control and it falls under established guidelines.

The “office crowd working within an organization” falls under the above gamut.

On the other hand, there are crowds which are unpredictable. Crowds that are formed at random. For example, a crowd that forms on the road, after a major road accident or an office crowd at random, watching a building construction outside the office. Under such circumstances, the crowds do not form under established guidelines and are difficult to predict.

For further insight on this subject, please read our article onSocial collective behavior:  How following the crowd benefits us

An entire area of science, computer networks, sociology and cognitive psychology has been reserved, for the study of collective behavior of crowds. It makes more sense in our article to present the case for office crowd collaboration using social media for managers, nerd and geeks. They are a crowd!

Who are the Nerds and Geeks?

An office nerd: Barbie for office crowd collaboration
An office nerd: Barbie

The online dictionary defines a Nerd as,

somebody who is overly intellectual and lacks social skills.

And a Geek as,

somebody who is “unfashionable and socially inept”, intellectually bent and is an expert in a specific technological field, for eg:-a computer geek.

Nerds and geeks, both share the same trait, except that geeks get into microscopic details of daily life and are more interested in the latest brands and technology.

Whereas nerds, are not interested in the daily details, but they are more interested in talking about the scientific discoveries and the future of mankind.

I think, nerds and geeks are highly focused and fascinating people, who gain expertise and abilities in a certain field and shine in them.

During this process of on-going skill and expertise development and maturation, there would be instances, where conformity to social skills and relationship building would take a beating.

Beyond social media for nerds: The history behind the word ‘Nerd’

There is a bit of history behind these terms. It is appreciable. There are multiple claims about the first usage of the word “Nerd”. This is  from the year 1940 onwards.

Some claim it is derived from the word ‘nert‘ (which means, stupid or crazy) and later on, the word “nurd” was also used at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as early as in 1971.  It appears that the word “Nerd’ was also used in 1950, as the name of a creature in Dr Suess book “If I ran the zoo”.

But nevertheless, the word “Nerd” became so popular in our popular culture that is used as a stereotype for overly studious people.

Research from the Wiki and from our own practical life experiences, there is an enormous degree of “Nerd pride” in the United States and elsewhere. The rise of the Silicon Valley is greatly attributed to them.

The nerds are also the inventors and scientists. They are the new billionaires. The rise of “Google” is one fine example. They are ones who write complex computer algorithms.

Having said that, let’s look at how we can motivate them towards office crowd collaboration.

Motivating Nerds, Geeks and Managers for office crowd collaboration.

A typical office crowd has a lot of them and some people are somewhere in the between. Getting them (Nerds and Geeks) to express themselves and share their knowledge and expertise, is a major task in itself.

Unlike managers, who are adept at relationship building and social skills, nerds and geeks are comfortable in their own setting.

The corporate social network and the social media within the intranet have not motivated the office crowd enough.

There are psychological barriers of fear and management command and control.

The nerds and geeks would feel that they would lose out on their knowledge and expertise, if they shared it. Similarly, on the other side, the management feels loss of management control and hierarchical structure, if much is left open through social media interaction among employees.

Managers, nerds and geeks within an organization need to overcome these psychological barriers.  It has always said that,  social media within an organization or the outside of it, is great at mobilizing crowds and social movements temporarily.

People login to social media networks on intranets or assemble as flash mob within the network only at certain organizational events or under obligation.

For long term sustainable business change, we need to mobilize crowds at office with a more motivational perspective.

One possible solution is through introducing suitable incentive programs and relational triggers into structure of the social media platforms for collaboration. Both private information and direct benefits work wonders for motivating Nerds and Geeks for office crowd collaboration.

For insight into this aspect, please read our article on “Social collective behavior:  How following the crowd benefits us

Whether you are a manager, a nerd or a geek everybody has a role and a part to play in the grand scheme of things with an organization.

A brief history of Social media and Web 2.0

The term “Social media” raises eyebrows in many to the casual usage of time by using the services  of Facebook and Twitter in organizations.

This continues to draw a line between the casual usage and  a more structured and systematic  usage of social media for social media collaboration. The figures and data presented much earlier in this article points to this.

Social media collaboration enables organization to connect and engage  with the employees in a productive manner.

It all started in early 2000 with the Internet Innovators, who started to connect, users of applications with other users to express themselves.

This led to a growth of social networking sites like My space, Facebook, the Social wiki: all utilizing the collective behavior of the crowds. But there was not much crowd collaboration then. Even now, I would like to point out that there is no much focus in this area within the industry.

The first global Web 2.0 conference in the year 2004, promoted that the internet is just not a place for static Web pages but a participatory and interactive platform, where people can exchange thoughts. The consumer led, so called Web 2.0 technologies, is the new social media.

The value of connected workplace, is now a integral part of new business thinking.

They key word is collaboration, which happens when employees share their ideas, perspectives and work together to achieve a common set of goals.

It is interesting to note that the Economic intelligence unit, in its survey in 2007, which had interviewed top executives from 405 organizations, sees huge potential in social media collaboration across various industry sectors.

Web 2.0 is social media. Social media is Web 2.0 (Technically!)

The sharing and collaboration on Web 2.0 technologies will impact all the functions of the business.

Many large multinational companies see social media collaboration using web 2.0 as to way increase revenue and/or margins.

To quote from, Harvey Koeppel, CIO and Sr VP of Citigroup:

The usage of Web 2.0 technologies is not the ‘bleeding edge” it is now the “new leading edge”.

The table below gives a brief about the various Web 2.0 social media collaboration technology used.

Blog Personal and online corporate journal that offers reporting and opinion about people.
Enterprise 2.0 The use of web 2.0 type software and applications in Enterprise. Coined by Andrew Mcfee from the Harvard Business School
Mash-up An application that pulls and displays information from multiple sources in response to queries
Network effect A situation where the product or service is more valuable when people start to use it
RSS Real simple syndication, which lets consumers and corporate users which allows corporate users to deliver multiple sources of information
Tagging Online labeling for identifying content
Web 2.0 Web 2.0 is the network as a platform connecting all devices
WIKI A collaborative website, where users can upload without special programming skills. Wiki is the Hawaiian term for quick.

Challenges of crowd collaboration: social media for nerds, geeks and mangers

The challenges are very many that come between the effective implementation and usage of social media collaboration and thereby improving office crowd collaboration.

A finding from, Gartner, a leading research firm, in its book the “Social organization” says that, after having thousands of conversations and workshops with hundreds of organizations implementing social media, it is striking to know that the social media initiatives for crowd collaboration within offices fail.

There are various reasons for this failure. Absence of clear business value is one and the others include, wasting employee time, risk to privacy and IP protection.

It is good to use social media collaboration networks as another marketing channel.

Awareness and the generational gap is an impediment for sharing and collaborating in organizations. This presents itself as the number one collaboration challenge. More so, in cases where there are hierarchical structures.

Resistance to change and integrating Social media collaboration to business processes are the other challenges. There is also resistance to the perspective, that the “use of social media in organizations brings in change”.

Crowd collaboration best practices : Social media for nerds, Geeks and Managers

Make room for collaboration best practices
Pic credit: Pixabay

Below, is a list of  measures, improvements and best practices. Use of social media in organizations, would enhance crowd collaboration and  requires much needed support and commitment from the top management.

1.Having a clear business case:

Build a case where the benefits reinforce collaborative behavior.  Where the efforts and benefits outweigh the costs and risks undertaken. It is essential for assessing the ROI for making practical decisions.

2. Integrating with existing business processes:

It is good to integrate social media collaboration systems with existing processes. Email integration is critical as well.

3.Engaging in education and support:

It is good to encourage collaborative groups and give adequate training to the employees. This includes mentoring and coaching as well. It is good to learn from others who are already running collaborative groups. Create awareness and importance among groups.

4. Applying best practices:

Look around and see that other companies are doing in the same practice. See if we can apply any of them.

5.Aligning with the goals of the company:

Align with the goals of the company and create a convincing and compelling reason for collaboration. Achieve common goals.

6.Applying social media collaboration to business challenges:

Apply crowd collaboration to business challenges where risks are minimal. Promote and endorse successes and quick wins

7. Using of Social analytics:

It is good to use analytics for social discussion groups and improve on the existing features. Analytics complement existing crowd collaboration and sharing across all parts of the organization.

8. Being open and culture:

This requires support from senior managers. The network effects need to happen to gain sufficient traction. This turns the office crowd collaboration into an asset.

Crowd collaboration across best practice companies – Few examples

There have been many cases where collaboration using Social media technologies have taken off in a good way.

Gold corp:

A Toronto based gold Mining Corporation, has not been doing well as their property emptied. They had high labor costs, production costs and debt. They set up an innovation network to source ideas. Every piece of property information (Mines) was uploaded on the internet through their website. Employees from 50 countries poured in with ideas and identifying over 110 property targets. An estimated revenue of 3 billion USD was realized from the time the project started to roll out.

Asian paints:

One of the largest paint manufacturing companies in the world. They have rolled out a collaborative platform for employees to engage and collaborate across functions. Suppliers and customers in the areas of product development, supply chain and manufacturing have also joined this initiative.


A web community startup, and an open innovation company, with an aim to bring solvers and seekers together. Solvers and seekers will collaborate to solve the challenges, faced by the R&D organizations across the world. They have also introduced reward programs for the solvers.

Organizations like Du-Pont, Eli lily,  BASF and Proctor and Gamble have in-house reward programs for people volunteering in innovation networks.

Shared values and co-creation: A culture for crowd collaboration

The future global corporations will look at tapping the multi-cultural workforce, bring in localized management, more diversity and soft skills says the Economic Intelligence unit in its report “Global firms in 2020”, the next decade of change for Organization and Workers.

Collaboration is key within employees, customers and partners.

Collaboration programs, as currently followed in Google will aim to make employees “Think like owners” rather than assuming “Other people will take care of things”.

The new generation of millennials, have adopted to the collaboration mindset. They have started to act as if it as their own.

The old ways of solving the problems, developing solutions and services within the four walls will go sooner than later. This is  giving way to a shared value, co-creation and cultures of crowd collaboration.  In addition to this, building a sense of community within the organization makes employees feel connected.

The final word: What I would like to say to the Nerds, Geeks and Managers

It is a good  to keep employees fully engaged in their jobs by bringing them together regardless of their distance. It touches employees at all levels and tap into their creativity, experience and passion.

As Gary Hammel, the management consultant says, individuals choose each day whether or not to bring these gifts.

It is the trust and faith of the employees and  their interaction through social media collaboration in offices, enables them to bring their gift to work.

I would say, the“Network Effects” will take time to adapt and  settle down, to get a foothold among employees. The Dunbar’s number will not be increasing in the future.  What we need to do is to learn and collaborate in the right manner.

Consequently, a  quip from the article in ‘The Economist says, “They are developing collaborative humanoid robots which are no larger than a six year old, with large eyes”. It is no wonder that they should not catch on us.

Fostering a culture of crowd collaboration in offices, needs a good degree of openness and info-culture mindset. It takes time to evolve. As it happens in Google, the employee ownership, owning the problems, collaborating with each other should be second nature in offices. Social media collaboration in organizations will always enable this.

Finally, For further reading resources on this subject, the below links will help

  1. The requirements of a truly innovative company – By Gary Hammel in HBR
  2. The next tech revolution – Busting bureaucracy  – By Gary Hammel in Fortune

If you like this article do please share us!


Successful Brainstorming tips: Being spontaneous and passionate helps


In my opinion, the ability to see fresh beneficial opportunities from challenges and deep entanglements, is one of the proven and established benefits of brainstorming.

But how much of it, is realized by working professionals is left to be seen. Perhaps, delving a bit into this activity and highlighting few tips would help.

It was interesting to read about an Arthur Anderson Survey that more than 70% of business professionals brainstorm and they do it at-least once in a month.

That is a good number.

But then, there is a general notion among professionals that “they have seen it all” and they don’t care much about brainstorming.

The good part is brainstorming facilitates, better collaboration and better innovation.  There is no lone genius. Good ideas and insight are produced through successive iteration of ideas. It happens over a period of time  through collaboration and group think among team members.

Brainstorming is all about exercising your mental muscles and keeping it sharp. Each and every time, again and again.

Just as we exercise to keep ourselves fit and healthy, it is good to regularly brainstorm.

Is there a right way to stimulate brainstorming and make it engaging and result bound not only for us but also for others?

The answer is – Yes!

Is there an online environment yet?  Probably not.

We haven’t seen it much happening on online social media collaboration platforms on the consumer side. There isn’t much focus either.

So what is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is an opportunity and an activity for the team to produce new ideas spontaneously to solve a difficult problem.

There are two key words in the above statement, which emphasizes and plays a critical role in making brainstorming very successful. They are: 1. Team 2. Spontaneously. We will try to explore on them.

Useful note:  Brainstorming as a term was popularized by Alex. F. Osborn in the 1953 book “Applied imagination”. Even earlier, Osborn, conducted many group thinking sessions and outlined his approach in his 1948 book, “Your creative power”. He wrote with clarity in his book, on how to organize a team to produce great ideas.

There are many approaches and methods to brainstorming. We will pick and choose some of the best practices around the world. It is nevertheless a challenge, to apply it within a social media collaboration context.

IDEO, an international design firm for the past 20 years have been at the forefront for spreading best practices in brainstorming, organizing and bringing together motivated teams for the same. There is ‘Brain Trust’ sessions from Pixar, to learn from as well. Pixar is the celebrated movie production and animation company, loved by people all over the world. Pixar conducts brainstorming sessions among its senior leadership team and other team members.

As we discussed earlier, two critical factors play a big role namely: Being spontaneous and motivated teams.

Here are some simple practical tips, which could help you cultivate these vital areas for successful brainstorming.

Being spontaneous and passionate for brainstorming

Brainstorming in progress
Brainstorming session in progress

Focus:  Before getting into the meeting with your team members, it is important that everyone comes in with a clear mind. A clear mind with no distractions aids in airing the right ideas on the table without bias and misconceptions. Clarity in the mind on the problem would naturally help in bring in spontaneous ideas.

One way to go about this, is to ask the team to spend about 30 minutes to an hour outside the office, before the session. Probably, a good walk in the park or around the office building would do.  The focus should be on critiquing the ideas and not the people. It is good to set aside the top-down hierarchy and go along with the dynamics of the group for initial idea building.

A good takeaway from the “Brain Trust” meeting session from Pixar is that, the group would always consist of senior people who are experts in their field. They would work individually on their ideas, at their desks and then gather for brainstorming. During the brainstorming session, the experts would air their ideas and problems openly and ask for feedback. Their ideas would be critiqued, suggestions would be offered and problems are seen from a fresh perspective.

Build and Jump: It is encouraged to build as many ideas as possible. There is no limit. As long as the team finds enough possible ideas, they would go at it. But then, when they reach a point, where they cannot go any further on a topic, it is advised to branch out and start building again.

Go for quantity:  It is always encouraged to have as many wild ideas as possible. There are no good ideas or bad ideas. All ideas are good. Go for the quantity. It is only on the successive iteration of ideas that new insight happens.

Physically think through objects: A good takeaway from IDEO is that, they always encourage their employees to bring in physical objects during the brainstorming session. Props help in looking at the problem from a different perspective. It allows team members to build fresh ideas on flaws of earlier designs. It also allows the team to talk about a problem or a great design in one object, relative to another.

Put it in writing: It is a good idea to put all the ideas in writing. When you write, you will remember and come back to it later. It is a good idea to put all the ideas on a post-it slip and stick it on the wall for everyone to see.

Build trust: Trust is one of the very important factors. Only when there is trust, will people in the team open up. It is important for the leadership team to foster a culture of trust in the organization. It is good to give everyone a free hand in the contribution process. When team members feel and see that their ideas are valued, it builds trust.

Bring in diversity: It is good to have a diverse set of team members in the brainstorming session. Diversity in subject matter expertise, experiences and gender allows to look at problems from a fresh perspective and brings in Wisdom. The ability to see fresh opportunities in long held challenges is one of the greatest benefit of having a diverse brainstorming team.

Hope you liked reading the article. Please do share us !