Social vs Collaboration – Are organisations getting the mix right?

If you have recently attend events on corporate digital communication, you will undoubtedly have noticed that there is really only one topic on the agenda: ‘social collaboration‘.

The format for these events is pretty predictable. First the thought-leader confirms why we must all go social, then an organisation show-cases (or shows off!) their social collaboration platform and lastly the vendor (sponsor) takes a few minutes to explain how their platform can deliver the new ‘digital workplace’ straight out-of-the-box.

The first question from the audience is also pretty predictable: what measurable result did this collaborative utopia bring to the business?

Unfortunately, that is when the organisation (and some of the vendors) come unstuck and more often than not bring out the statistics:….more than so many thousand active profiles, over 1,000s of groups and communities, and more than a million posts, etc., etc. Alternatively, out come the results of the latest employee survey, normally concluding that “the employees using the platform feel x% more engaged than those not using the platform”.

Interesting stuff. Essentially, these figures do show that people are using the platform, that they are socialising and interacting and that the interaction can lead to improved employee engagement, which is essential to any successful organisation wanting to keep its best staff.

However, what is so frustrating for me is that none of the organisations or vendors talk about tangible business benefits. Surely, if you are going to invest in a new way of working you would expect measurable, financially beneficial results?! Dont we expect 1+1 to equal 3 if we go down the social collaboration route?

In my opinion, the reason why most organisations and vendors find it hard to be specific about the tangible business benefits is because there is still too much focus is on the ‘social’ and not enough on the ‘collaboration’.

Don’t get me wrong, conversations are good. They can cross cultural divides, make distance irrelevant, build team spirit and create a sense of belonging. It is also a great way to get people to use (and get comfortable with) the platform provided. But it is not to be confused with ‘collaboration’ and, I would argue, that it is in the collaboration where you get the tangible benefits.

In order to make collaboration successful, an organisation needs to have clearly defined objectives and establish the KPIs to measure them. The outcomes might include one or a combination of the following: innovation, cross-selling, knowledge sharing, growth, increased profitability, improved customer service, faster on-boarding.

Once the objectives have been clearly defined, organisations need to provide their people with the tools to collaborate and work effectively. It is essential that your chosen collaboration platform is seamlessly integrated with the other tools (e.g. ERP, CRM, file servers, email, etc.) that your team needs to perform their day-to-day tasks.

And as a prerequisite to it all, the organisation has to have the right culture and drivers in place. Social collaboration doesn’t just come about by buying a few user licenses, or as Oliver Marks summarised it is his blog “buying a toolkit doesn’t make you a mechanic“. Successful social collaboration requires an organisation to already understands and embraces the spirit of traditional collaboration, from the top down. Without this, understanding social collaboration is like trying to understand a foreign language and what will they do instead? Two outcomes: revert to chatting or do nothing at all (the most common failing of social collaboration platforms is inactivity).

Let me substantiate the above with a practical example: a client of mine defined one of the objectives of social collaboration as ‘improving profitability through better customer service and feedback’. Traditionally customer complaints were dealt with through a system of reporting. The customer-facing staff would report a product complaint to their line manager, who in turn would report it to his/her director, who in turn would report to the buying director, who would pass it down the chain to the specific product buyer who would finally discuss it with the supplier of the product in question and pass the answer back up the chain…Phew. I almost lost my train of thought twice writing that.

This process was resulting in numerous customer complaints being missed or going without action. Faulty stock was going to waste because nothing was done about it as no one knew why it wasn’t selling.

On the positive side, the organisation had an incentive system in place to motivate staff to report product complaints and feedback. So it had an excellent ‘driver’ to help achieve the objective.

What (social) collaboration is going to do is to reduce the reporting process from a few weeks/months to a few hours/days by linking the customer team (and their feedback) directly to the buying team (and eventually the supplier). The KPIs attached to this objective will measure response times and time spent by staff dealing with the issue, the affects on the number of product returns and complaints, and ultimately the affect on customer satisfaction. “Hold it, hold it…customer  satisfaction is not a tangible benefit” I hear some of you say. Yes, of course it is! It directly influences the organisation’s bottom-line, turnover and profitability.

It is good to socialise, even better to collaborate!

Some interesting articles I came across whilst preparing this post:

Luis Suarez – Why Social Business Keeps Failing to Deliver
Sam Dyer – The social shift in internal communications
Alistair Rennie – More Than Facebook: The Time Is Right For Social Business
Elena Galitskaya – Enterprise Social Networks Failing to Meet Expectations


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