The One Social Way - Or not - to Doing Social Really Well in Enterprise

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,

One of the interesting things, having been at the heart of social and collaboration for business a good long while (since 1996, no I'm not kidding), is seeing how large organizations who are doing and have been doing social well (more than 80% of employees are active users (more than once a week (often daily) checking in and taking an action (setting status, commenting, posting something, etc.)) with many of them doing a majority of their interacting with team and work colleagues inside the tools and services) actually do this.

The interesting thing is most organizations who are doing social and collaboration well are not using just one service or platform. They are using two or three, often with some small solutions for niche situations (niche for them). They are also not planning on migrating to one solution, well at least for any foreseeable future.

There is No One Way

The reality of doing social well is embracing the understanding there is no universal, no master narrative, and no one right way. Yes, we are all human, but we are not all wired exactly the same. The different personality types, different mental models, and many different cultures in an organization (and world outside their doors) that comprise reality, which requires embracing that reality with more than one approach.

No organization started out to do this, it just happened. What IT often wants to do is have just one solution that works for everybody, as that makes their job more manageable. But, many organizations needed something far better than the mess that email created in their organizations so to clearly communicate with and within their teams and departments. Reality is people roll in and out of projects and people stopped using just corporate sanction tools to get work done with colleagues. Often what IT provided for the organization didn't work well enough for them, as it didn't meet their needs nor mental models. The last 5 to 8 years getting a good social / collaboration solution for a team up to a division that ran in the cloud (didn't need IT) and could fit on a credit card for the team or a division's PO that was small enough to fly under the radar has been easy. Not only was it easy, but it has worked rather well, as it fits the needs and people use them rather heavily.

Where this has ended up after 2 to 8 years is many different social and collaboration services in an organization, that haven't really talked to each other well. Teams, groups, divisions, etc. need to talk and work together and so IT was getting back involved to get everybody on one solution. The trouble is, you can't remove what works.

Why There is More Than One Solution Working Well

When you try to remove a well used solution you realize it is really difficult to move to one platform. It is not the porting of the data, interactions, and differing privacy models that is hardest, it is a pain, but not the most difficult piece. It is not retraining people (if heavy retraining is needed something is really not right, but this is just a symptom of the real issue).

The biggest hurdle is there isn't one universal model. There will never be a universal model that works, unless is it heavily based on adaption and no vendor remotely close to that yet.

Most of the well used social and collaboration platforms have understood they need to really understand their users well. They did user testing and mapped their products to their user's mental models. But, the thing is their users are not universal and are tied to the people and personality types that have long bought their software / services. The users they researched and tested on have been those parts of the organizations that buy their products. This is not the whole of the organization that they focussed on, but the slice that is their customer base.

This is why Salesforce Chatter works really well for sales and marketing, but the other 65% to 80% of the organization won't go near it nor live in it the way sales and marketing people do. Similar for Yammer and SharePoint as they are honed (and really not well) for tech centered folks who are willing to work with less than optimal tools. Jive works really well for knowledge workers (and even information workers), and for the innovation and leading edge teams and groups (no it doesn't scale up yet) there is Slack (there is no chance in hell you can remove Slack and they are likely the best minds and change makers in one's organization whom you really don't want to piss off and have leave - if you don't think you have Slack users you either don't have highly productive innovation folks or you aren't looking hard enough). There are a myriad of smaller targeted solutions for a wide variety of roles and personality types that are perfect for their niches (some with millions of users - with around 2 billion technology enabled people on the planet it is quiet easy to have a niche of a few million users).

So, What Do We Do Now

Organizations that are moving toward doing social and collaboration well fall into two camps: 1) One social platform that has good, but not great usage (Jive is a solution that adapts the most broadly and is one of the few actually pushing forward to improve and get to do a better job at having a product that is social as humans are social) is doing great in parts of the organization, but untouched in others; 2) There are many many platforms in the organization and there is a strong need to get people working together across the now disparate groups.

The first step is realize there is no getting to one. Be fine with that.

Now, the harder goal, which is getting things to work together, which is beyond just simple traditional integration. To do this well it takes deeply understanding the different personality types, roles, and mental models in the organization and not just following a tech schematic that most integrators use as their blueprint.

The first step is to bring in people who understand the differences between social platforms beyond what the checkboxes say. These people usually have strong social science backgrounds, have worked in large organizations along the way, and have been working (helps if managed, designed, and / or developed) with social and collaboration more than a decade. Outside? It is rare this person will be inside, but if so many organizations have rules against using platforms outside the organization that there will be a need to have an external party research to get honest insight and feed back with good research non-disclosure guidelines in place.

"We Have One Solution" Organizations

If you are one of those "we have one solution" organizations, I'm hoping that one solutions is one that plays well with others, as those are a great starting points. Right now the best of these is Jive, as it seems they understand they are not out to rule the world, but play very well with the world and all the needed tools and services that employees use to get the job done. Jive also has a well laid out plug-in and module mindset that includes Open Social (this only is a partial solution so far as it isn't full interoperation capable yet) to get outside content in. But Jive and Salesforce Chatter can integrate and work relatively seamlessly with each in their own platform and well honed interface for their own user's mental models. This is a really good example of where the future resides.

With the one solution that may not have really broad adoption, work to sort out who in the organization is not participating or has lower use rates. Spend time gathering the data and mapping patterns. It will likely start to frame divisions, roles, and personality types that are rather clear to see for those not using it (also refine the understanding of who IS using it, as you don't really want to mess those types of employees along the way).

Mapping the gaps where people are not using the tools, as well as why not, will help be a guide. In this mapping and research, particularly if done by people outside the organization, there will be other solutions used that may not be known (sometimes these are used widely - beyond 10% of the organization is where wide starts) and capturing and understanding what they are and why is going to be essential. Finding and understanding the myriad of options out there to map to roles, sub-cultures, and personality types, as well as interoperation will be essential. Trying a few different options and having change management and internal communications involved will help things as well.

"We Right Fit Solutions" Organizations

The first step with many known solutions is to do a full capture and audit of all platforms and services used, as there are likely more than what is known. Also be comfortable with the reality that there will likely be more than one solution at the end, but hopefully they will play well together.

In the capturing what is being used and by whom, learn what they do, how they do it, and why. Learn, what could they live with out and what is essential. Watch people work. One of the most important things is discern if they are working in closed groups, open groups, or if they are using one of the rare platforms that allows reseting permissions so to start closed and once honed share more openly (this is a valuable capability in a solution). Map the differences between groups and tools (a serious benefit of having outsiders do the research and mapping).

Once everything is captured and mapped the hard work begins. The solutions is going to be different for each organization, but interoperability is going to be a key component. There will likely need to be a tool or service at the center that other in, out, and around. Understanding the cultures, differences, capabilities, privacy, security, user work needs, underlying data models, and availability of APIs are going to play roles in working through to a workable solution. Depending on the organization mobile, what tools (the non-collab and social services) it integrates with and how, organizational make-up (including if an organization that has been acquiring other companies and / or has plans to), virtual work environments and needs, data / document storage models, adaptive to change, and much more are going to play very important roles in working to a good way forward.