Sharepoint Europe Blog Post

Does Social Media Equal Collaboration?

01 October 2013 by Christian Buckley, MVP

Social I ran across an interesting article by Rachel Miller summarizing research gathered by her company, All Things IC, and simply-communicate.com, a community for internal communications professionals, that asked an important question for those of us in the broader information management space: What does your organization call internal social media within your company?" 

Their findings are the result of a brief survey of 109 communications professionals (you can read the complete article here), but I'd like to share some highlights and my own commentary.

Why does it matter what we call social media inside our companies? In my experience as a team lead and manager, as a technical project manager, a business analyst, and especially thinking back to my experiences running my own companies - using clear and concise language to describe and define what we do matters. The words we use to describe our work can be the difference between getting funded, or maybe buy-in from key stakeholders, or getting that unmistakable glazed look from someone you just aren't going to convince that your request is important. I remember back with my first startup, trying to understand why we were struggling to get financing when we had a great idea, a working prototype, and even beta customers - until I realized that the way we described our ideas were not positioning us correctly.

As the author points out, there are gaps between the terms we use for job descriptions, when we describe what we do, and the tools we use. When people talk about using social media within the enterprise, my first question is always "What do you mean, specifically?" I have certain definitions in my mind, but who knows that a person really means when they are describing it with their limited knowledge of the many tools and platforms available in the space? As a result, they describe their requirements with a limited vocabulary, and confusion ensues…

As people start to talk about what they are trying to accomplish through social media tools, it is very similar to what the authors identified in their research: end users mean team sites, instant messaging, blogging, wikis, rich media sharing, and other capabilities that we see within SharePoint and other leading platforms. So it's no surprise that when people say "social media" in an enterprise setting, what they actually mean is "collaboration" technology. It's still fairly generic, but I believe it has more meaning, as it removes the advertising / promotional aspect of social networking from the discussion.

I do believe that the trend of the CIO blocking social media in decreasing, as more and more businesses begin to understand the difference between internal collaboration via social tools versus external social marketing strategies. These are simply two different things - and while some organizations may feel that social marketing is "not for them," hopefully they recognize the benefits of improved internal communication using tools and methods popularized through consumer sites and applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the various instant messaging platforms. These tools are quickly becoming the de facto way in which we communicate, and organizations that restrict them will limit their own growth.

The salient points the author brings out in her research, however, are highlighted in the last 3 boxes of her infographic, to the right: companies are not able to see effective results from their internal collaboration efforts, their social strategies are not aligned with their business strategies, and internal and external social media efforts are not aligned.

These statistics ring true no matter what platform you are using. For the last two stats, just swap out the word "social" with "collaboration." For those of us in the SharePoint space, we're seeing very similar responses - and unfortunately, some folks are jumping on the social/Yammer bandwagon as a quick-fix, not recognizing that they are doomed to repeat their lackluster performance if they don't do some more fundamental planning and alignment.

According to the author:

The majority of communication professionals are investigating ways to introduce new ways of communicating inside organisations. They are focusing on the culture of their company and making decisions based on their environment, what they want to achieve, budgets and aligning their work to the business.

The language can often seem ambiguous and education was given as a key requirement - in terms of what platforms are available and informing comms pros and senior leaders. This is important to enable organisations to make the right choices and smart decisions to aid their internal communication and ways of working.

So let's take the author's conclusion and move some words around - you tell me how accurate this is to your current SharePoint experiences:

The majority of SharePoint professionals are investigating ways to introduce new ways of collaborating inside organizations. They are focusing on the culture of their company and making decisions based on their environment, what they want to achieve, budgets and aligning their work to the business.

The language can often seem ambiguous and education was given as a key requirement - in terms of what features are available within SharePoint on premises and in the cloud, and informing comms pros and senior leaders. This is important to enable organizations to make the right choices and smart decisions to aid their internal collaboration and ways of working.

The question is: How much of your collaboration strategy is getting hung up by definitions?

If you have any questions or comments on Christians article please leave a comment below.

This article was first published on buckleyPLANET. Christian Buckley was a speaker at ESPC14. 

For more expert information on Social check out this FREE eBook 'Socialized! How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social' by Mark Fidelman. Download Now>>

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