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.
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 worldwill 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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Allow innovation to occur in a more natural way. Grass roots development need to take place. For mass adoption, “Executive buy-in” is necessary.
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.
To get work done from the grass roots level, it is good to integrate social media into the existing business processes of the company.
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.
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.
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 :-
Blog: It is a recorded journal of an individual. This journal can be made public for others to see and make comments.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Podcasts: Consists of audio sessions that be heard online or shared among the participants.
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
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.
Knowledge creation and dissemination.
Successive iteration of ideas for innovation.
Creation of collaborative social capital.
Integrating collective decisions and wisdom.
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 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’.
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.
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.
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.
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:-