I have a lot of hands on designing, developing, and managing of social / collaborative platforms since 1996 and regularly advise product makers, vendors, and buyers around right fitting and understanding then working on solving problems they may have. One of the things that was regularly surfacing around 2007 as enterprise social platforms were getting taken seriously. But tool selection and roll out of them was often bumpy at best as there was a lack of the breadth of understanding around many services. This was the case with many vendors, but also really much the case on the customer side of things. When working through discovery of the problems that customers were having, usually in the “One Year Club”, many of the issues correlated to the lack of understanding the breadth of perspectives important to social and collaborative work and environments.
Looking at situations where products were right fits gave insight into what works well. The success factors surfaced where vendors with well rounded products that were correct fits for certain customers [commercial social platforms that understand social interactions at various scales and get their products right for specific users] and roll outs that have rather solid adoption. These all had breadth and depth of understanding. Looking at what helped them be successful it wasn’t one or two things, nor five, it was they had most of 14 different roles with roles in their selection, development, strategy, planning, launch, and running of their offering covered.
If you wanted to have success it became clear that having breadth and depth with these 14 roles would provide a good team that could help work through many, if not all the difficult struggles most social software / services rollouts and programs running face at one point or another. When looking across many of the projects I worked with in the One Year Club category (or colleagues who were working with programs that needed help) most of the efforts didn’t have the 14 roles covered. Most had 2 to 4 roles covered at best.
This gap was glaringly apparent when large parts of a rollout were in the custom build model, much like many organizations were struggling with around Microsoft SharePoint or other build your own solution platforms. Organizations weren’t buying finished products, but a platform that focussed on heavy customization (often with difficulty getting what they hope to do working well). Part was what came out of the box from SharePoint was a bit rough (3rd party solutions like Newsgator/Sitrion were quick ways to get things working well for social and collaboration needs in SharePoint with little hassle). What the teams working on SharePoint were lacking were 10 to 12 roles that they desperately needed for depth of understanding around how humans are social, how things function, ease of use in contexts, and other essential needs.
Moneyball of Social Software Teams
This breaks down the 14 roles at a somewhat high level. At times myself and others have called this the Moneyball system of social software. In baseball, which Moneyball focussed on, they focussed on what made the Oakland Athletics team with a low budget able to compete with large budget teams. Big budget teams focussed on home runs and star pitching along with other simple understandings of analysis. What the Oakland Athletics did was look at what makes a winning team and how to measure things based on outcomes by understanding things more broadly and deeply.
What I ran into was similar, though understanding the roles and needs to have a solid well rounded social software team, so to get solid successful results. Most solutions were rolled out with 2 to 5 roles with depth, but what are the other factors that also have deep value and because they were missing had a less than positive impact? Over the last 6 years or more I’ve shared this list of 14 in workshops and with long engagement clients (but at a deeper level), but also help them cover the ground across a few of them where I have that depth and breadth (from 20 years of experience with social software and formal learning).
One last thing to realize with this list, particularly if you are on the customer side, is you may not have these skills and roles, but your software or service provider cover some you are missing or help narrow the gaps for roles missing.
The 14 Social Software Roles for a Solid Team
IT development is usually the one role that social software rollouts have covered. The development portion and getting the code right is often not an issue. This role covers development, integrations, stability, and upgrades / patches.
Content managers are incredibly helpful not only with content management practices and needs, but could also cover content strategy needs as well (if content strategy isn’t there working with communication specialist helps close this need). Most social environments have professionally created content that are part of their offerings as blogs or other more planned content models. But, content also surfaces out of conversations and cooperative activities in communities and groups. This content can be repurposed as it is or honed for other targeted and / or broad uses. Content managers also often works with document management and taxonomy roles for ease of finding and helping keep content well structured and easily found.
The community manager is a role that some organizations and services understand the need for to be successful. Others have yet to understand the need for this yet. Having a solid community manager who can help set the tone and culture of the community and groups, as well as help set good skills and practices in place for members of the social offering is a great asset. The community manager is the guide, host, and facilitator, but often has good depth working with difficult situations and turning them into very good outcomes. Good community managers are also adept at seeing needs and gaps in tools and services that need attention. A good community manager can’t fix a tool that isn’t a good fit for an organization, but can help get through that state to one that is a better fit, then help the better fit thrive.
Solid communications management folks help with finding solid messages and well created content into a social environment. But, from a social perspective they also should have strength seeing content from users in the social environment that needs attention (as it is positive and needs more exposure, or it is negative and needs a calm way handling of it). Understanding the life cycles of content and workflows around finding, creating, honing, and right fitting content and messages shared from the organization as well as from the users is powerful and helps bring life to the social environment. Setting good content guidelines is another way the communication management role contribute to social environment success.
UX general design
User experience design is essential and has long been overlooked in enterprise until lately, as the focus services being designed for use and ease of use weren’t considered as needed when you could just send people to hours of training. But, with social offerings there are a lot of diverse elements that people are having to work through, besides how to get something done in a platforms or service. Good usable design with regular user research (prior to taking steps, as well as while designing potential options, and honing what is in place) helps take the rough edges off that get in the way of people using as well as understanding what a service does, and can do.
Social interaction design
General UX design isn’t enough with social platforms as there are a lot of interactions with the service and system, which is used to interact with others (which is difficult for many on its own). Understanding the design of social interactions (what is clicked and then what happens after it) so that the tools aren’t getting in the way, but also some of the rough edges of human social interactions are also eased is badly needed. There are broad options for buttons, forms, profiles, reactions, likes, etc. and social interactions designers work to understand what are the best fits for the contexts at hand and what the impacts will likely be with distinct user groups. User testing around social is a little different from general user testing as the situation requires working with a diversity of end points (people) at either end of what is put in place that need to be understood. Testing also needs to include various depth of use and maturity with the service. These help find a good fit in the social interaction design that works well.
Data analysts are essential to help understand benchmarks prior to starting down the path with social offerings, but also are needed to dig into the data to see how people are and aren’t using the services. Many platforms have decent data analysis, but it only scratches the surface and much better analysis is needed; particularly in larger solutions, more mature use environments, scaling, as well as those that have a diverse user segmentation. Social environments change drastically as they grow and act differently with more diversity as they scale. Data analysts should have good understanding of Social Network Analysis (SNA) / Organizational Network Analysis (ONA as well as many social analytics capabilities for seeing diversity, clustering, social scaling changes, etc. Having a solid data analyst helping with capturing the data that is needed, keeping privacy in mind, and slicing and making sense of the data with clarity has a big impact with what deeply matters in early stages and as use scales and matures.
Change management is not only essential for preparing organizations and people for a new service and offering, but deeply needed for the changes that come along with using these services. Digital social environments help enable normal networked social patterns that are well covered in Wirearchy as the shifts in ease of connecting in a digitally enabled networked environment can be disruptive. This is mostly in a positive way, but is not always perceived as positive if it is not known the changes may be coming. Helping people understand what the new services do and the needed mental models for working in this way are areas change managers can help with, as well as work with others around legal and compliance issues that need consideration.
Document management, with a solid understanding of social environments, helps with working through how to archive valuable content and conversations, but also how to ease finding and connecting to systems of record from inside a social offering. This connection needs to work in both directions, one is surfacing documents and resourceswell (within permissions guidelines, compliance, and connecting to the right / latest version), but also working out how to show the document or record is being discussed and used. This use activity around a record can be a valuable indicator that it may be getting updated, or caveats have surfaced that are valuable to all who view and need the record.
Social scientists (ethnographer, urban planner, sociologist, etc.)
The social scientists are often overlooked, but should be one of the first roles included. Social scientist, particularly those who have graduate school level of work, see social environments differently than most who don’t have that background (this may be a personal bias, but talking with others with similar background the “how was this essential understanding not seen” is a common phrase in reviewing social offerings). Social environments are under constant change and morph as (sub-)cultures intersect and social environments scale. The questions asked by social scientists, along with framings with models around how humans interact, while watching for conflict and the patterns that surface in constant change and are not seen are nothing less than essential. One of the common downfalls with social platforms is around they often don’t allow people to be social like humans are social. There is no better way to keep an eye out for that to mitigate for it, but also understand how humans are social at various scales than having social scientists involved.
Taxonomies are essential for easily grouping information, conversations, and content and for helping people find relevant and related matter. But, language and mental models for what things are called and are related to are often far more diverse and emergent than taxonomies allow for, so embracing folksonomy is also essential for social environments. Having a taxonomist involved will help set categories and information structures in place that will enable the capability for solid finding and refinding. If that taxonomist also embraces folksonomies (and the service has the foundation for it) the ability to have emergent taxonomies that take less work to keep up to date than traditional taxonomies can happen. Also embracing folksonomy helps new ideas and mental models (these emerge through new members, training, cultural shifts, etc.) be included in the ease of finding and grouping of findable and refindable information.
Knowledge managers seem to be in and out of fashion in organizations these days, but no matter what the rest of an organization believes having solid knowledge management as part of the social software team is essential. Early social platforms were around 20 years ago were being built on understandings for how knowledge is created and honed, as well as changes over time. The social platforms had issues, but the foundations in knowledge management are solid. The knowledge manager provide understanding in what the services need to capture knowledge and resurface it when needed. But, in social platforms the “who” around knowledge is helpful as well. Often there is more than one person with expertise who has honed a different dimension of a full understanding, so it isn’t just one answer that is sought and one expert, but likely a few or many.
With all of the conversation, content, information, and knowledge created, shared, and pointed to it doesn’t matter much if it can’t be found. Part of it getting found is helped by content managers and taxonomists / folksonomists, but search needs to be solid as well. Most platforms have search built in to their offerings, but evaluating if that search will suffice at various scales will need a search specialist. But, search in platforms is also often tied to other search systems and how those integrate to find, hold onto, and surface information, content, and resources takes solid search specialists to get right. A lot of information and resources inside an organization is difficult to find (not by intent, but it is trapped in systems that aren’t searched easily nor integrated well) and social environments often point to these resources and frame what is there, which enables that content and resource surface in searches. Your whole organizations gets smarter and has more available resources if the social environment and search is well matched.
Legal resources are often not thought of until it is late in the process. Working with lawyers to help understand compliance, privacy, security, and risks in general from a legal perspective. Working with a lawyer who can help understand not to just say this can’t be done, but how to meet compliance and other needs and still have a great service is an amazing benefit and one that saves budget and time down the road helping meet needs and provide a solid offering.
How to Fill These Roles
Yes, 14 roles isn’t something that is easy to fill. But, this doesn’t need to be 14 different people. By knowing what to look for a lot of roles can be found and covered by one individual. Knowing what you need, often at a little deeper level than the high level outlined here, and how it fits in to the team can help shape a team of 5 or 6 people, or who can move in and out of the team at various times to help provide the breadth and depth needed.
Also, many of these roles can be and are covered by vendors who are doing things well. As walked through in The One Social Way or Not to Doing Social Really Well in Enterprise user research and other skills are being covered on the product side. Understanding from vendors how they test with users (what types of users - domain, roles, skills, etc.), how they understand social models and social scaling, build taxonomies or enable co-existing folksonomy for emergent taxonomy, enable search and integrate with existing search, have open models for data analysis, etc. can help see what roles are still needed.
Many of these roles (even if they are covered on the vendor side) are really good to have in the evaluation and selection process as well, so having these roles in a review and strategy team up front is a really good idea as well.
These roles also can be filled by integrators. This is rather rare these days, with the exception of a few small boutiques who have approached their offerings for integration and consulting by filling gaps they regularly saw as well. Many integrators are strong on the technical side and today often have good general UX people, change managers, and search integrators, but other roles with more depth around social science and social interaction design is not a focus most have had nor have considered.
Between vendors, good integrators, consultants, strategists, and in-house resources and hires it shouldn’t be that difficult to get the 14 roles covered in one way or another now that you know to look for them.