How to foster Social collaboration at work – Best practices Part 1

Social collaboration at work

Fostering social collaboration at work is an art as well as science. Whether you are a new entrepreneur or an executive in an established company, fostering social collaboration and thereby leading to innovation needs the acceptance of chaos in the initial product development stages.

It is imperative that we avoid making detailed long-term plans but instead focus on the smaller details of users or customers’ needs and wants. We have to allow managerial teams to compete with many alternative designs and projects within a framework of goals and limits to achieve the desired results.

Further, it is a common understanding and perception that small companies foster greater social collaboration at work than large companies. This is not necessarily true. However, there is a lot to learn from the managerial practices of some of the world-class companies on fostering social collaboration at work and innovation. These practices can help other companies and managerial teams to learn and be more socially collaborative.

Firstly, what is social collaboration at work ?

Social collaboration at work is a set of processes where groups of individuals interact with each other to do common goals. The interaction might also be a ‘Brainstorming’ activity where people participate and new ideas emerge out of the participation and contribution.

Continue reading

How to reap social media benefits for SMEs ?

social media benefits for sme

Reaping social media benefits for SME’s depends on how well social media is internalized within their own organizations. We have seen and read many articles from various publications and blogs world over on how small and medium enterprises can reap social media benefits externally for business development.

By externally, I mean in the areas of digital and content marketing, advertising, understanding customer preferences, product development and website traffic boost. But little has been spoken on how social media can help organizations internally by capitalizing on its people’s connections, strength, and relationships.

Organizations, big or small need to capitalize on the connections that are available to them.

They (Organizations) come with varying business models, profit or non-profit and customer base but they all have one thing in common and that is the people.

Emphasis on people is important for realizing social media benefits

The success of social media in organizations is not about the efficient use of technology but about its people. The relationships and connections that people have can boost ideas, energy, and purpose. Such relationships can bolster the social media marketing efforts externally as well.

After all, employees are the best brand ambassadors of the company. If you keep them happy, they will spread the good word. Such goodwill is far more valuable than the exclusive digital marketing of your product on a popular social media tool.

It is important that SMEs should try and make the usage of social media a success within their own organization and showcase this to the world. Once they do it, it goes without saying, there is every chance that social media users across the world will simply love it and start adopting or engaging with their products and services.

People form strong bonds of social capital within themselves and with their work environment. Being open to their ideas, sharing tacit knowledge and genuine insight stems from this fact. Also, openly sharing, peering and acting and collaborating together, locally or globally are some of the key aspects of social media collaboration among employees.

In fact, these are fundamental to the use of social media collaboration tools. Tools like Wiki,  chat software, discussion forums and communities of practice have traditionally existed. The latest entrant in this space is the use of whiteboard collaboration where documents and diagrams can be edited in real time.

A simple case study for reaping social media benefits in an SME

To build this case and to capture the lessons learned, I would like to look at a small leadership consulting and organizational development firm called Emergent Solutions Inc. headquartered in Palo Alto in California. I would like to thank the authors of the book “social media at work” in the presenting the nuances of the challenges and issues faced by this firm.

As with any SME during the growth phase, much of the employee’s time gets buried in running the operational and transactional processes of the company. Being in the leadership consulting space, the focus had to be more on the projects, best practices, resource materials and effective customer solutions.

The organization after looking at various software finally chose the Wiki collaboration for social media collaboration among its people.

They created separate workspaces for sharing news, posting project details, best practices and ideas for improving customer solutions. They even had separate workspaces for presenting customer challenges and thought leadership discussions for seeking insight and ideas from everybody involved in the organization.

For capturing client inputs and requirements they had even set up a space for private client workspaces.

Employees were able to track their projects and present solutions to their clients on time for their consulting engagements.

The effective use of collaborative Wiki has in-fact streamlined their operational processes and they were able to focus more on other value-added consulting activities.

The company has even taken a step further, for showcasing their own collaboration success story to their clients and thereby showcasing their own global capabilities and as an effective solution partner.

A summary of lessons learned

The success of implementing a Wiki collaboration software for realizing social media benefits was largely a case of commitment and ownership among the employees. Nevertheless, there are some lessons that can be shared.

  • It is the essential to share the vision and benefits to the entire team. So that everyone understands and knows where they are headed
  • Creating effective process templates that suit the need of all the employees is important so that it encourages co-creation.
  • It is important to keep and make the implementation exercise a fun to explore and engage. People are more likely to accept and ease into the new ways of working when they are not forced.
  • Most importantly, it is important to employ a community manager or a ‘knowledge broker’ who can clean up and keep things tidy for other members to access the tool and contribute content.
  • Lastly, the founding members need to show the leadership commitment and passion. This commitment and passion will drive the commitment among their community members.

There are multiple ways that SMEs can reap benefits of social media in their organizations. As seen in the above example, business processes and customer base might vary among organizations but the central theme remains the same.

We just need to see how we can embrace social media and adopt a new mindset and also on how those technologies can yield results.



Garbage in garbage out, can social media in the workplace change that?

garbage in garbage out; social media in the workplace

Garbage in garbage out (GIGO) is a popular computing jargon used in enterprise computing and IT applications in large corporations across the world. Social media in the workplace has the influence to change all that with the introduction of Web 3.0.

Computer applications are designed by logical processes for transaction entry. If there is a poor data entry and the data is nonsensical, the output would also be poor and non-sensical.  Such poor and flawed data have huge implications. People believe what they see on the computers and they rely on the data for decision making.

Owing to the speed, urgency and not much care taken during the data entry in large organizations, such garbage in, garbage out is a common phenomenon. Well, social media in the workplace is set to change all of that. A more recent statement ‘Garbage in, gospel out’ might be a reality in the future.

The introduction of Web 3.0

Web 2.0 enabled us to make connections, create content and share it with our friends. It allowed us to interact with each other through multiple devices. Now with Web 3.0, the internet has become much smarter. We now call it the intelligent internet. It allows us to not just publish content on the internet in a democratized way but also mine data to suit the user’s requirements. Social media in the workplace with Web 3.0 might know the user’s preferences, analyze the meaning, and serve only pages and data which is highly relevant to the users.

You can also read out blog post article on “The global brain and graph theory”.

This affects the way, employees will create and use knowledge. Knowledge and data become more precious and they will be mined democratically where needed and when needed. Social media in the workplace will be more context dependent and context based. There will be smart interconnections among colleagues. People will start realizing the benefits and make an effort to enter the right and relevant information for future use.

Even in the consumer space, there are a number of social media tools in use. We see vandalized information all the time on some social media sites. Even the most popular ones are not left out.

Keeping this mind, the future models of social media sites with Web 3.0 would bring in more contextual information in the likes of ‘Siri’ and ‘Google’ says Cormac Reynolds from the Online marketer, a London-based digital marketing firm. You can find his website here.

‘Siri’ is a computer program for the IOS, macOS and tvOS operating systems from Apple Inc.  What appears to be the future, ‘Siri’  works as a digital personal assistant and makes recommendations and requests to other web services. Interesting !

Within large organizations, the introduction of Web 3.0 will change the ‘garbage in garbage out’ phenomenon. Knowledge generation and usage will be more dynamic, relevant and competitive within the organization. The organization becomes a ‘truly learning organization’. Learners will accelerate.

Continue reading

Social media in the workplace: Intel, a case study in a nutshell

Intel social media check list

Intel is the world’s largest semiconductor chip manufacturing company. Founded in 1968 and headquartered in Silicon Valley, California, Intel is a global company with its employees spread all over the world.  All the employees work together to make Intel, the world’s largest and a highly valued silicon chip maker company. Intel, the name stands for Integrated Electronics.

True to its name, the company has a commendable and highly integrated social media computing infrastructure and tools for use for its employees. It does not stop just at that, the important thing is social media collaboration is quite successful here.

In fact, Intel is one of the early adopters of social media which is extensively used by its employees successfully in all the functional domains of the company. From recruiting, talent management to product engineering, social media collaboration at Intel has set benchmark standards in business performance and scores high in employee satisfaction rankings.

Intel is a trailblazer in this sphere and is all set to make effective use of social media in the future.

An example business challenge at Intel

Before I jump to write about a social media collaboration example at Intel or rather a specific challenge faced by Intel Engineers, I would like to thank the authors of the book “Social media at work” who have done extensive studies and interviewing executives at world-class organizations.

The author’s study, research, and findings have culminated in writing this book.

I have referenced content from this book to write about best practices in social media usage at Intel. The book is available at Amazon. It can be found here at this link.

At Intel, solving engineering problems has been a regular challenge. The engineers use the ‘follow the sun’ model. Through this model, work gets passed on from one geographical region to another and work happens 24 hours a day.

The real challenge is the absence of asynchronous communication. An instant two-way communication which can help the engineers was missing.

This communication bottleneck had to be sorted out and they introduced social computing tools like ‘Wiki’s’ and Forum for social media collaboration. This facilitated the engineers to capture their ideas, talk in real time, record backlog history, build trust with each other and above all collaborate without hindrance.

Productivity misconceptions

Intel did have its scary moments. For example, bosses do ask their employees “When would you finish your real job?” The mixed opinion is that social media usage does hurt productivity.

Intel learned it the hard way. To face such issues, Intel integrated business problems with social media collaboration and developed a proof of concept. Social media collaboration had to be built into its core processes.

Please do read our blog post on how  Corporate social network can be made successful.

Best practices for social media collaboration at Intel

Over the years, Intel, after many rigorous exercises and lessons learned, had compiled some of its best practices for implementing and using social media collaboration in workplaces. Please find them below.

The below best practices from Intel have been referenced from the book “Social media at work”.  My sincere thanks to Arthur Jue, Jackie Alcade Marr, Mary Ellen Kassotakis, the authors of the book.

  1. It is best to implement social media tools over integrated business processes. Standalone processes need to be integrated with the rest of the core processes. It would be futile and social media usage may be not be accepted well among users, prior to this integration.
  2. The consumer use of social media is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Employees are bound to bring in outside practices, inside the organization. Open source technology is freely available.There is every chance that employees will drive the IT function for implementing social media in workplaces. We have seen it already happening. There is a need for the democratizing the usage of social media.
  3. IT departments need to be quick to recognize changes in the social media usage otherwise they are bound to face more work in the future.
  4. Allow innovation to occur in a more natural way. Grass roots development need to take place. For mass adoption, “Executive buy-in” is necessary.
  5. It is good to allow employees to have their own blogs. Blogs give employees a voice and a means of contributing their knowledge, experience, and perspectives.
  6. To get work done from the grass roots level, it is good to integrate social media into the existing business processes of the company.
  7. It is good not to force anybody in the company to adopt social media usage. Social media usage needs to be encouraged only as a good option.

Finally, the important one – Social media should be easy to use

8. The important thing is to focus on the ‘Simplicity of the tool’. The simpler the tool, the easier it is to use it. It is good to involve all representative users for a user acceptance testing. It is good to take their feedback and make relevant changes.

Intel always sees social media usage as big contributor and a key enabler of business performance. As a company, Intel is committed to integrating social media into its key processes which make the greatest impact.


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 than 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 !


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