Social Collaboration:
Force Multiplier or
Forest Fire?

Social Collaboration is one of the largest recent trends in Knowledge Management, gaining widespread investment and adoption across all types of organizations. Unfortunately, very few have realized the business benefits they expected. Insights from successes and failures reveal key lessons for anyone looking to create value from social collaboration.

The Promise

Organizations have learned that much of the business value from Knowledge is delivered not thru traditional content libraries, but thru collaboration. The goal is to help people to connect and collaborate with others more quickly, beyond formal teams and also with external customers, suppliers and partners. The emphasis on the “flow” of knowledge, not just the “stock,” is the most significant KM trend over the past five years, across all types of organizations.

Technology has accelerated this shift, inspired by the now-ubiquitous presence of social media and communications platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. If only we could bring these tools inside our firewall, many business leaders and CIOs say, we could instantly change how our people work together, we could spark more innovation and efficiency across teams and departments, and finally provide our people with the tools they have been asking for. What could be better than this?

Social Collaboration is one of the largest recent trends in Knowledge Management. Unfortunately, very few organizations have realized the business benefits they expected, and they should heed some simple lessons for success.

The Race and Disillusionment

Organizations have rushed to invest heavily in these new social collaboration and community tools in recent years. Cloud hosting and “freemium” products have made it simple for enterprise users to try out and virally adopt many of them, often without involving Information Technology and other formal groups. Business leaders have also jumped onto the bandwagon, in efforts to show their people a newer, more modern electronic workspace.

What is abundantly clear is that social collaboration is able to radically transform how people and teams can tap into the latest insights, solve problems and make decisions. By supplementing email, some organizations report countless success stories about how their social platform has helped them to win new business, innovate and reduce costs in ways their traditional tools never could. These stories are real and tangible. Sounds wonderful, right?

The issue is that these successes are not the norm. For most organizations, their hopes for dramatic business impact remain unrealized. After the initial wave of buzz and excitement, the social collaboration platform often becomes viewed as merely a chatroom for non-business related topics, and perceived as a waste of time for most people in the company. The platform and program then take a back seat in the business, resulting in resourcing and funding drying up. This pattern occurs more often than not – and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Making it Real and Delivering Value

A winning program requires the organization to view social collaboration not as a tool, but as an entire business capability for their people and teams. “Build it and they will come” is not a strategy. There are many factors to consider across the a program and four of the most important are highlighted here.

  • Align Social Collaboration to how your people work. The most overlooked step is to think in detail about these tools should be used, by whom and for what purpose. What problems can it solve, how is this new/different, and how will the organization know if it is succeeding? Document this vision with examples up front, to help grab the attention of any business user or leader.
  • Understand that this is a new and radical way of working. The power of social collaboration lies in the fact that posts are, by default, open – any person can instantly ask a question, share an insight or make a comment. Even though this is no different than public tools such as Facebook, this is a radical change for the workplace, where people are hesitant to share openly with others they don’t know, and are slow to expose publicly what they DON’T know. Remember, it took 10+ years for email to become a trusted, everyday tool.
  • Address the complexity paradox. Despite the goal of making our lives easier, the introduction of Social Collaboration actually adds complexity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take any existing tools away, even email, and we don’t know what the future mix of tools will look like. People are increasingly overloaded with new desktop and mobile tools every day, and Social Collaboration has the potential to create further confusion. It is critical to develop a clear set of good practices regarding how and when to use new and existing tools, anchored in the overall strategy. Doing this up front, in training, will help immensely.
  • Leadership, leadership, leadership. A social collaboration program will only succeed when large numbers are participating regularly, including the organization’s most visible and respected people. This requires users to feel comfortable and confident in creating and sharing content across the network. Unfortunately, a common issue is that users feel reluctant to post on their platform for fear of what their manager might think. When users don’t feel “permission” from their managers to engage, they won’t! The imperative is for leaders to not only serve as sponsors, but to be active users and contributors.

Social collaboration has the potential to be a game-changing “force multiplier” to just about any organization, but realizing this promise is difficult. Managing the program as a business capability, not just a tool, can help organizations improve chances at success.


Learn more. Reach out to Bob Armacost.

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