Social Enterprise

The secret to succeeding with social media apps in your organization

When Marc Schiller talks about social networking, he doesn't mean Facebook. He means creating a collaborative, user-driven environment that connects people to a common purpose.

There isn't a serious IT leader on the planet who isn't interested in figuring out how to capture the power and benefits of social media applications for their enterprise. Now before you get the wrong idea, let me be clear: I'm not talking about mining social media sites like Facebook or trying to open your enterprise to social media applications.

What I am referring to is the capturing essence of Facebook and other social media hubs, i.e., creating a collaborative, user-driven environment that connects people to a common purpose. In this context, we're connecting people who work for the same company in order to work better, faster, and easier. And in so doing, we're streamlining and promoting communication, information distribution, collaboration, and community building in much the same way that Facebook does­ by moving people on to a central platform for messaging and information sharing.

Now, it's not that there aren't any applications for doing this. There are plenty of them. Most of them fall under the heading of collaboration platforms and provide tools for building communities, authoring and sharing content, managing projects, and collaborating in truly visionary ways. The problem is that full-scale adoption of this collaborative approach has hardly caught on. For many, especially the over-35 crowd, using these systems falls on par with the joy of filling out a timesheet--just another cumbersome task that has to be done; another process getting in the way of real work. And the result, no surprise, is that most knowledge workers (as we are now known) take any opportunity to work around these systems and avoid these applications altogether. In the absence of a powerful mandate, these applications languish on the sidelines or receive marginal use at best.

Personally, I'm a huge supporter and user of this new generation of collaborative software. I have been very close to a number of implementations (including our own in-house transformation), and I have experienced firsthand just how powerful they can be. More importantly, I believe that I have discovered the secret to success with this type of change. Are you ready? It's gonna shock you at first, so stay with me.

The secret to success

OK, here it is: Disable e-mail attachments. That's right, stop allowing people in your company to send an attachment along with their e-mails to anyone inside your company. (You'll have to leave the ability for communicating with outsiders, of course.) If you have the influence (or guts) to pull it off, I promise it will drive adoption of your collaboration application so quickly you won't believe it. Here's why:

At the heart of all true collaboration applications is the basic understanding that we work together on ideas and these ideas are born, take shape, and live in documents. From the earliest stages of idea generation (whether as Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Flowchart, MindMap, whatever), collaboration apps encourage users to get material off their local hard drives and into a platform where they belong to all. In short, collaboration applications represent the critical path to true group thinking and working.

But, and this is a big but, in order for these applications to work, they have to be used regularly and properly. Documents have to reside on the platform. And that's exactly where the problem lies. Most people are not accustomed to working this way. They can't be bothered to get content onto a collaboration platform. They believe they have a quick and easy way for collaborating without the overhead--it's called e-mail. And human nature ain't on your side when it comes to beating this one.

I could go on and on about all the wonderful benefits available to users and companies that embrace collaboration platform--commenting, notification, version control, search, and so much more--but the prevalent truth is that wide-scale adoption is still the exception, not the rule. (God knows the vendors are working it day in and day out.) As in many other cases, adoption of collaboration platforms lags because tomorrow's potential benefits don't seem to offer enough to pull users away from today's quick-and-dirty process.

Case study--a law firm takes the plunge

I have seen extremely smart lawyers suffer document-version screwups multiple times at a cost of hundreds of hours of rework (that means tens of thousands of dollars unbilled) and still avoid using the firm's collaboration platform.

All that changed for one firm when a senior partner, fed up with the situation and associated costs, politely refused to read anything e-mailed to him as an attachment. To boot, he didn't e-mail attachments either.  If his colleagues wanted to collaborate and work with him--and since he was the senior partner, they certainly did--there was no other choice but to use the collaboration platform. His position: If the document was worth his time, it was worth a two-minute investment for the "sender" to work though the platform.

Sure enough, within 60 days the firm was transformed. Everything, and I mean everything, moved onto the collaboration platform. And then, the magic started to happen. Document comments started flying around; stringing one-off thoughts into actual discussions. Version control worries became a thing of the past.  New ideas began popping up in the company wiki, and a simple, but effective, task management process came to life on its own. Here's the best part: No one, and I mean no one, ever sent another "Could you send me that file?" or "Is this the latest version" e-mail. All this happened because the central building blocks of the platform, the intellectual property of the firm, was on the platform and not being passed around via e-mail.

Today if you ask anyone at the firm about the platform, they would say that they couldn't work without it and that going back to e-mail-centric collaboration would be a painful setback to their productivity. Success! And the best part of it all: Internal e-mail went back to being used for what it was originally intended--brief, quick, one-to-one messages. Anything more substantial goes on to the collaboration platform from the start.

The takeaway

I know it sounds a bit extreme and you may not be able to pull it off completely in your organization. Nonetheless, you may be able to apply the lesson in a more limited way. Perhaps take baby steps--a day or a week without attachments--as a pilot. One thing is for certain: if you're successful in getting people over to the other side, once they cross over, it doesn't take long at all for them to stop wishing there was a way back.

18 comments
bob.roman
bob.roman

Great article Mark! I can not get people to use Sharepoint but I am trying. They love attachments and the global network drive with a thousand directory folders to go through before they can get to a document. I created a Sharepoint site for Office 2010 material and resouces, no one is using it or discussing it. Amazing! Once we rollout they will all be crying about lack of education. Oh, well!

krmkarlm
krmkarlm

Administration, storage, bandwidth, customer service / incident, etc. The list goes one. Those companies that have not implemented social collaboration tools are sending a huge message to their employees that they don't trust or appreciate their input.

chris.silano
chris.silano

It's unfortunate that many admins / HR depts do not see the benefits of Social Media. Facebook is continually topping the list of "sites admins actively block @ work"

barrynovak5
barrynovak5

Excellent blog. I totally agree. As both a project leader and team member, I've seen so many perfectly good collaboration systems go to waste, while everyone emails each other and tries to manage their email threads and supposedly shared documents. You didn't even mention the other big benefit: individuals don't have to fret as much about backups; presumably, the content/document management system is getting backed up more religiously than most personal backups. And the bottom line is this: all those documents, annotations, and other content are company assets, which need to be effectively shared and protected as much as the hardware used to create them.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Fewer cases of overstuffed Inboxes and fattened .PST files. Reduced storage demands, quicker back ups, and longer service life of existing capacity before upgrading storage. Reduced concerns of attachments as malware delivery devices, and faster malware scans at the server and client. Faster network traffic and e-mail client response when attachments are pushed down.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

is that it doesn't matter what tools you make available if employees chose to not use them. We have two locations. One is a manufacturing plant in a small town, the other an engineering project and design facility in a large city. The engineering facility gets far more use out of Sharepoint than the manufacturing one. Its workforce is more technically oriented and computer literate (and frankly, younger), while the majority at the manufacturing site don't have computers of their own. Of course, some of the difference in collaborative or social site use may be simply due to the difference what the facilities do.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Frankly Facebook should be blocked, at least during main business hours due to its distraction factor. Add to that the amount of malware that uses FB to spread and it is easily justified as a site which should be either blocked or highly monitored. Are there business uses for FB? I will grant that there are but not for the majority of employees.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

Assuming for the moment that the manufacturing site suddenly got a work force equally "more technically oriented and computer literate (and frankly, younger)". Would they have sufficient access to computers to make equal use of SharePoint? It's pretty tough to get much use out of SharePoint (or email for that matter) if you don't have a computer!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I didn't grow up with IM. I'm not uncomfortable with it, but I don't see as bringing any advantages to the way I work. I run four or five virtual desktops, with apps pinned to each. If I'm not on the desktop with the IM app (MS Communicator), the only way I know I've received a message is by the sound effect.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

An office full if incoming IM receipt noises would suck pretty quick. Just think of that first week when the staff are all discovering smilies and sound effects. You can disable sounds or mute your system sound entirely. I figure I'm right there looking at the screen, I don't need to hear "ding" to confirm that I just saw my mouse click something. The people I chat with also realize that I may not be able to respond right a way. If it's something that I needed a quick response for, I'd try text first "hey, did you decide about the thing?" and follow it up with a phone call if no indication that the person was responding. (many IM will tell you when the person is typing a response). System sounds and contact expectations seem more social issues than technological.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I usually send a text message "hey, give me a call when convenient" rather than interrupting friends work. Palmetto, like everything it depends on the person and the time. I can alt-tab and bang in a quick message faster than I can stop what I'm doing, reach for the phone and talk through it with someone. If the information, justifies a phone call then absolutely; phone it is. (BT Clip; I was trying to avoid using "headset" again as I was meaning wired headsets separately from bluetooth headsets. I went for the BT ear clip.)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I long ago stopped worrying about that. I find hearing the sound of an incoming IM just as disrupting as the phone ringing. Either way the sender expects a prompt response, especially if there is a 'Presence' indicator that tells him my computer is active. I too despise voice mail, but I'd rather have an e-mail than an IM. Just me.

spencemeister
spencemeister

The most frequent IM message I send is, "Do have time for a phone call?" I despise voice mail, and I don't want to interrupt someone who's in the middle of an important thought, with a conversation they don't want right now. The HUGE value of IM is side conversations on conference calls. I can "whisper" a quick question to a co-worker and not display my ignorance to the group. Or I can ask a quick question while it's on my mind that may not be of value to anyone else on the call. Of course I never ever "dish" on anyone. LOL

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"I'm personally far more responsive by text than voice." It takes me much longer to type a message than to speak the same words. What's a 'BT clip'? MS Office Communicator has already been chosen. I don't think compatibility with external systems is a requirement.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I'm meeting people now who prefer email and txt to voice chat when calling them. It's the same in the office, sometimes you just want a quick text exchange. The environment may also be better suited to IM chat rather than the vocal choir of half conversations. I'm personally far more responsive by text than voice. For lack of headset or BT clip, it sucks to be asked questions I have to look up one handed because the person wants to wait on the phone to continue some long discussion of very short points. I've also found it quicker to be able to alt-tab an IM window rather than stop everything. Now, what I would suggest: - find an IM that logs everything - find an IM that encrypts it's traffic - look at how it taps into the other IM protocols if it does and where that stream becomes unencrypted (eg. SecureIM is no good when talking to a remote end on Microsoft Chat which sends uname/passwd/data in clear text)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

We'll be deploying an IM client company-wide next year. I can't figure out what circumstances make this the preferred tool over a phone call. I can support it, but I don't know what I'll do with it myself.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

I dabbled in Face Book a little, but in short order had wannabe "friends" I'd never heard of. This was not my idea of a good thing so I dropped out, never missed it and have yet to see anything that makes me want to re-join (indeed, just the opposite). We used to have IM on a lot of our users computers, but it fell into disuse through no involvement of IT, so we don't even install the client software anymore and no one's complained or even mentioned it. In my case, I hated the interruptions and when someone tried to have a conversation instead of a quick question or comment. I do think the "social media" craze is badly over-hyped. I'm sure that in some corporate cultures, it does work well, but in others, it doesn't. Just like anything else, one size does not fit all, hype notwithstanding.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

But assembly line employees aren't expected to use SharePoint. (There are several computers in each assembly area shared by the employees, with a common logon, used to retrieve blueprints, drawings, bills of material, and to clock in and out. No individual accounts or e-mail; no Internet access, intranet only.) I realize I'm using 'chicken or the egg' logic here, but management has determined that having some capabilities on the floor would introduce distractions detrimental to efficiency. It's the office and cube-dwellers that are ignoring SharePoint (Finance, HR, Customer Service, product support engineering, drafting, purchasing, scheduling, QA, etc.) Most of these users live in SAP. Even if we gave the line workers access, I don't know what they would do with it. Frankly, I'm not selling it well because I can't see a way for anyone here, floor or office, to get value from it either. I admit I'm inactive on non-business social networks; maybe that's limited my exposure to the potential uses. People who use consumer-oriented social sites are there because they want to be there; if they get bored, they drop out. Not everyone in the workplace is interested in using social media; some that are may not be very good at it. You can't force someone to create good content, and what one person considers to have value may be another man's "This is a waste of time I could spend doing something productive. I'm not opening this page again." I find our own IT department portal to be less than useful. It's strikes me as disorganized. I consider that partly SharePoint's fault, with it's mandate to partially organize content by type and not by common themes. Lists go here, wikis go there, documents over in that area; instead of allowing across-the-board organization by project or subject matter. It also strikes me as slower than just retrieving from a network shared drive. These tools have become popular since I began working here. Maybe there are similar facilities that have found ways to benefit from them. I'd love to hear from them.

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