Social media collaboration – A synergy in the making at workplaces

Social media collaboration

Social media collaboration-The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines ‘Collaboration’ as  “the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing”. Collaboration is a core human behavior and has always existed since ancient days and it can be attributed to the statement: “Humans are social animals”. We have a social brain and as such collaboration is a social activity.

Focus and intention:

In recent years, the term “Social collaboration” has been used for collaborative activities conducted by employees within the organization. This is also referred to as ESN (Enterprise social networking).

However, through Social media collaboration, we are referring to collaborative activities that can be conducted through consumer focused social media sites. The nearest example, that can be given to this is “Linkedin groups”.

We will be more interested in how social media can lead and help in collaborative activities? And to the relevance of the word “Social media collaboration”.

Whether you know it or not, Social media collaboration is interdisciplinary. It involves sociology, computer science, mathematics, ethnography and cognitive psychology to name a few.  I would include philosophy and a good measure of collective intelligence as well.

There are serendipitous discoveries that happen all the time through conversations, through idea exchanges and sharing content on social media, inside and outside the workplaces. None need to be ignored. There is no cacophony. Everything is precious for the astute observer and the listener.

We will discuss about the two articles from two prominent publications, Economist and the Harvard Business Review in a little while from now. The titles on the articles, mention, collaboration as a “Curse” and an “Overload”.

We would like to say, Collaboration is Synergy: and Synergy is best represented by the statement from Aristotle “The whole is greater than sum of its parts”.

Social media has found its place:

In a recent study conducted in the year, 2015 by Bamboo HR in the United States:

“68% of employees feel using social media for personal reasons as a break from work tasks as appropriate”

Added to this is the fact that 40 % of them like spending 10-30 minutes and 50 % of them would spend at least 10 minutes surfing social media, every day at work.

The inference is that the percentage, would be more or less similar, if not higher in European and Asian countries considering the work culture.

With all these facts and figures, fundamentally, social media has penetrated well into the work world.

The widespread usage of the internet, the increased digitization of the world and technological developments has led to the ease of human interaction which in turn has led to the facilitation of collaborative activities.

Social media is a very recent phenomenon.

Social media is “an attitude“. It is the medium through which people talk, have conversations, interact and share content.

The development of web 2.0 technologies, has made the cost of communication so cheap that social media has now become ubiquitous. It is also popularly known as social networking.

Technology is only an enabler. Essentially, there is an underlying social network embedded inside the social media, which regulates the structure, the relationships or ties and the behavior of the members. The workings of the social network, can break or make and thereby can take any social media to worldly acceptance and success.


Collaborative network


This leads to our discussion on why the future of work is: social media collaboration. Be it with respect to, solving complex problems at work, forging strong relationships among capable doers and thinkers and Innovation in its truest sense is social media collaboration.

A symphony of sorts- Social media collaboration

The word “Collaboration”, is often if not all the time used in organized work based environments where results, ROI and productivity are paramount and should be, the direct by-product of collaborative activities among employees.  Perhaps, it is understandable, that collaborative activities need leadership, an element of control and organized in teams so that they can be steered in certain direction for desired outcomes.

Social media conversation
Social media conversation

The popular perception of the word “Social media”: is currently all about non-serious casual conversations and interactions for sharing entertaining videos, jokes and pictures. This does not carry weight nor lean into results driven, profit oriented and goals achieving culture of corporate work place environments as well as working professionals in other environments, scientists and academicians. Well that can change pretty soon. Well, at least, partly.

Well, according to this post, Social media in all its glory, transforms into meaningful social exchanges, when used it is used  in the right context. The context here is: Collaboration.  It just like that proverbial sword, you better know how to make use of both the edges.

But as I said earlier, nothing is a wasteful time spent for an astute discerning listener.  The notion behind this is a simple thought that, ideas and insight are available everywhere. They are all around us. They are present in our immediate surroundings, our homes and in our work environments.  We just need to be open and sensible enough to grab them.

Conversations and interactions on social media are a natural precursor to collaboration. The word “social media collaboration’ is synergistic.

Social media collaboration is a process where a group of individuals share openly information and ideas to achieve common goals using social media.

Further we can say, with social media collaboration, a group of individuals working on a problem, will be able to solve it much faster and better than a single person working on it alone. The beautiful adage, “The whole is greater than sum of its parts” forms the foundation for ‘social media collaboration’.

The internet and the social media with its wide spread usage, fosters open collaborative environments, where there is quick processing and spreading of information.

Social media collaboration, promotes interactive communication which is synchronous and so this builds engagement and relationship among members quickly. With social media collaboration, the relationships only become stronger to form strong bonds and members will be able solve complex tasks and meet challenges in an environment which promotes camaraderie and brotherhood.

A critical factor here is that, people from all walks of life, from different cultures, backgrounds can participate and contribute. Diversity works here. No single person is required to have all the knowledge and expertise in the world to solve the problems or contribute towards the solution.

Social exchanges are essential and are very much part of collaboration

I would like to present an analogy. In this day and age, have you seen anybody or a couple, who have not met or spoken to each other before marriage?  Collaboration, is also very much akin to how marriages happen in our lives. Some degree of courtship is required before marriage.

The way we plant seeds of love, trust, understanding, cooperation, nurturing each other for mutual growth and development (as in a real  courtship leading to successful marriage), the same is with social exchanges in collaboration as well.  By the way, successful marriages require ongoing courtship to sustain in the long run and so is with collaboration.

Even though initial social exchanges might not give you the leads and insight to collaborate, but in its entirety, it is all part of collaboration.

We all know that, only through successive iteration of ideas, insight happens and there by innovation.

We exchange emails, social conversations on company intranet, share sites, sharing content on MSN messenger and even casual business conversations on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. All these can lead to successive iteration of ideas and serendipitous discoveries.

Collaborations are lifelong:

In so many cases and in so many instances, we draw upon the previously held conversations to cross check for references or to take an alternate route. This happens even in the middle of mutually approved collaborative project spread out across global teams. Where the global teams work together to achieve a common goal.

Social exchanges are part of collaboration
Social exchanges are part of collaboration

There is no starting or ending point for the social exchanges. They are all harmoniously blended together as collaboration for the successful outcome of the shared goal or project.  This is a case for social media collaboration. There are many cases where people within organizations, innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, academicians, students were lifelong collaborators.

There are numerous examples in history to illustrate this fact. Right throughout history, scientists and inventors have collaborated in the same fashion. Great inventions were not the result of an overnight effort.

Please read our blog post onIdea Collaboration: Learning from scientists and inventors

Great inventions are the result of collaboration among many scientists, where ideas build on each other. Successive iteration of ideas happen, till the final break through and Eureka moment. We have seen it happening through history. Only thing is that social media wasn’t there at that point in time but there were social exchanges.

Criticisms about collaboration at work:

In the recent years and months, couple of articles and posts from the Harvard Business Review and Economist came up with the main theme of Collaboration. The content no doubt was thorough and well researched on facts and figures, but somewhere I felt it was unpalatable and unsettling.

The post from Economist titled “Collaboration curse” talks about employees spending a lot of wasteful time on collaborative exchanges in emails, meetings and on company intranet. Such activities are difficult to measure.  It further argues that, more isolated and focused work gets hampered through these collaborative activities.

Similarly, there was an article from the famed Harvard Business Review titled “Collaborative overload” early last year, it states that “Up to a third of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees” and further says that 20 % of star knowledge workers are not willing to share or help others. Even within the leaders, there is disengagement and dissatisfaction at work, even though they are recognized as knowledgeable colleagues.

Clearly something is not in the desired direction. I would like to bring to the attention of the below blog post.

Please read our blog post “Collaboration of ideas through: Knowledge brokering”

The post is a summary of the 1997 published article from Harvard Business Review on Innovation and collaboration as the main theme.

Ironically, the above article from Economist, has cited the facts and figures from HBR and has been built on the ideas of the latter. Clearly, a collaboration of sorts. There has been an exchange of information and ideas.

I would always like to mention examples from one my favorite (Great companies of the world) company. Examples of best practices on Innovation, creativity and collaboration within a company and outside of it.  A company which is loved world over and has produced great memorable movies. It is none other than “Pixar”.

Please do read out blog post ” Six lessons for nurturing creativity from Pixar”

This brings our discussion to identify and explore some of the conditions for social media collaboration and what makes social media collaboration successful.

Soft practices for successful social media collaboration

Please find below, some of the soft practices.  We will briefly cover some of the topics below, but look at it in greater detail in our upcoming blog posts, very soon.

  1. Inculcating a good degree of altruism.
  2. Understanding that innovation happens over time.
  3. Understanding group flow.
  4. Understanding, innovative ideas emerge spontaneously from bottom up.
  5. Bringing in Diversity for collaboration.
  6. Building dense networks.
  7. The diffusion of innovation.
  8. Building “What is in it for me” and the culture of reciprocity.
  9. Practicing deep listening before, during and after collaboration.
  10. Brainstorming the right way.

We will look at Altruism in this blog post. I will cover the others in future posts.

Inculcating a good measure of altruism

The Cambridge English dictionary defines “Altruism” as:

“The attitude of caring about others and doing acts that help them although you do not get anything by doing those acts”

It is important to be altruistic. For all practical purposes, at least in the beginning.

A genuine entrepreneur with limited resources, is a good example of being altruistic.

The entrepreneur goes on for many months, sometimes even for a couple of years, without adequate income, returns and encouragement. He sacrifices his wants and needs, not only for his family (to build a bright future for them) but also for the society at large. He wants to give. This is important. He wants to give and contribute with his capabilities to build a better world and to make the world a better place.

Now, what we need to understand from the above is word ‘Give’. It is simple, by giving, you receive.

Adam Grant, in his excellent best seller, ‘Give and take’ through various examples, anecdotes and real life stories, talks to us about the importance of “giving”.  Adam Grant, is the professor of management at the Wharton school of business. If you happen to read that book, he says, even spending 5 minutes in a day at your office or at your workplace to give: that means, to do something useful to somebody, without any expectation, goes a long way in shaping up things for the good. It is good karma.  A random act of kindness does wonders.

His ‘Art of five-minute favor” has been received well among the industry circles and ever since, his talks on the same has been published many times. You can watch a quick video of Adam Grant explaining it, here below.

Altruism builds collaboration and shared goals :

This brings us to the space that within the context of social media collaboration, altruism builds collaboration and shared goals. How many times, have we seen that a blog post or a post on any of the social network, remains empty on the comments section.

Anybody can spam or casually fill the comment, but it is only with the first altruistic commenter, with his genuine comment on the post, that others follow suit. People would like to follow or comment on something which is uplifting. The inclination towards reciprocity increases when people see good behavior.

When people work together on a shared goal in a collaborative environment, kindness and altruism promotes cooperation and builds shared understanding among them. This is essential for successful collaboration.

Influence of Altruism on the social network:

Within a social media collaboration context, an altruistic behavior has about 3 degrees of influence down the network. That means any gift of information spreads by about 3 degrees (You friend, friend’s friend and friend’s friend’s friend). We may not realize that the information we have posted might influence a large of number, people we may not know but it has profound impact on others’ lives.

Shared understandings in social media, leading to collaboration or rather social media collaboration is further enhanced by a simple altruistic behavior like “liking” somebody’s post.

Facebook has the famed “Facebook LIKE’.  Finding a common ground and sharing similarities promotes altruistic behavior.  Research says that, such altruistic action can alleviate enemity and unruly behavior among members and can avoid conflict even in the midst of war.

Research also says that, volunteering, not only helps you feel good, but also helps to build an altruistic community. Collaboration becomes easier in these cases.

This brings us to the very end of this post.

It would be helpful for the audience when we discuss each of the conditions for successful social media collaboration in separate blog posts.  That way, I would be able to cover greater details on each one of them.

One thing that remains unsettling are the posts and articles from Economist and Harvard Business Review. Though there were lot of discussions with facts and figures about how collaboration was hampering regular solitary work, they however, did not mention scenarios, where collaboration and in our case social media collaboration can be leveraged for the best results.  The next section discusses briefly on this aspect.

When to use and not to use social media collaboration

We know for sure, during the course of our work, the tasks we take up are sometimes transactional, routine, and/or additive and sometimes there are tasks which require critical thinking and are complex and need to be improvised.  For example: making a routine sales presentation or operational transactional entry fall under the transactional routine tasks. Designing a new product or service or improvements fall under the ambit of complex tasks.

So what do we do now?

Use Social media collaboration for complex and critical thinking tasks which needs improvisation.

Social media collaboration for critical thinking
Social media collaboration for critical thinking

Alternate group behavior and solitary behavior:

Such tasks, as a general thumb rule constitutes to about 30 -40 % of the employee’s / professional’s time, depending upon the grade and job role of the employee. This is on a conservative estimate. However, I will gather more accurate data on this.

Interestingly, coming back to the survey details in the beginning of this post, it states that about 69% of employees in the United States would like to take a break from work and feel it is appropriate to surf social media sites for personal reasons. The study was conducted in Oct, 2015 and I am sure the percentage would be higher in 2017. I strongly feel, the figures would be similar in European and Asian countries as well.

Further, in another study conducted in 2014 by the management software developer “Attask” (Now called, WorkFront) and “Harris interactive” , it was found that only 45 % of the time in a day, is actually used to perform primary work duties. We know this all along and now these two firms have actually surveyed across enterprises and have established these findings.  Interestingly, the figures are across both junior workers and senior management.

We need to encourage people to alternate between group behavior and solitary activity as deemed appropriate. But then, this requires fostering a culture and a change in the mindset and the attitude of the people.

Other scenarios for social media collaboration usage deals with taking advantage of the diverse groups that are present within and outside the organizations. Diverse groups, present complimentary skills thereby leading to increased innovation. It is not required that a single lone person needs to have all the expertise and knowledge in the world.

Group rewards need to be in place. Social media collaboration ensures unexpected innovations. This usually stems from groups as a whole.

Finally, group activities for collaboration need to be practiced every day and everyone needs to participate.

The final word for now:

We need to understand, that measuring social media collaboration is difficult and challenging. There are instances where counting the number of comments on a post and how many of these comments were linked to the final idea, were all considered as measures at one point in time.

Social media collaboration is a holistic activity.  The credit for all the sparks, insight and finally, innovations resulting out of such collaboration, goes to the entire group. It pays to understand, “Where do creative ideas come from?”  It is all in the group and it is everywhere.


Hope you found this article interesting. Hope the meaning and the relevance of social media collaboration was conveyed enough. Please do comment to let us know your feedback.

Please do share us!

For further resources on this topic, please find below:

  1. The collaborative overload from HBR

  2. The collaboration curse from Economist

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Ramkumar Yaragarla

I am 43 years old. Founder, Loving dad and Husband. Worked as an IT Business analyst and program manager in several Fortune 100 companies.Alumnus at the University of Warwick, UK. I love the WWW and write on Social aspects of information, Social collaboration, Digital Sociology, Digital Humanities and Work life balance. I enjoy playing on the beach with my 9 year old daughter. I am open to your suggestions and comments.
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