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  • Writer's pictureMinnie Faith

Social Business: Collaboration Comes of Age

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

How pioneering attempts to collaborate in the workplace eventually led to today’s dynamic social business trend.

Social business is a re-imagining of business based on the increasing connectedness and transparency of the market. Despite the widespread recognition that companies need to adopt a “social” mindset to better connect with customers, some executives are unsure about what this actually means. Such confusion is understandable: Social business inherits many of its associations—and perhaps misconceptions—from strategic efforts dating back to the 1990s in the areas of collaboration, knowledge management (KM), and content management. Similar-sounding terminology—social networking, social media, social computing, social enterprise, and now social business—only adds to the confusion.

To enhance our understanding of social business, it’s useful to examine how pioneering attempts at collaboration led to the tools, processes, and strategies that define the interconnectedness we know today.

Early Collaboration Efforts

In the 1990s, many organizations tried to confront inefficiencies in how work was performed and shared by implementing collaboration suites, and point solutions. These applications often facilitated ERP workflow, document sharing and messaging. A principle limitation was that they offered groups of communicators no way to engender a community beyond the defined and assigned group members. In many cases, solutions were confined to a single function, geography, team, or job role, so users were unable to access the rest of the enterprise. Similarly, previous versions of content and knowledge management tools focused on collecting and managing intellectual property without successfully capturing the context and workflows that transform it into business value. KM systems became static repositories or libraries, without context, curation, or circulation.

Over the past decade, collaboration tools, accelerated by the rise of social media, evolved and became more dynamic. Yet some companies still found it difficult to leverage them for traditional business purposes. Many people—particularly baby boomers and older—were slow to adopt public social media services (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin), which made senior executives skeptical about the usefulness of these tools in a business setting. “Why do I care what someone ate for lunch?” was one common and oft-repeated refrain. Security, privacy, and compliance risks were real. Intellectual property could be compromised, competitive plans could be inappropriately shared, and brands could be harmed by individuals misusing enterprise systems or mistakenly posting a seemingly harmless comment.

Moreover, companies often made significant missteps by investing in technology-centric pilots and systems that simply didn’t work – or didn’t work with other systems. Sometimes, IT organizations employed a “build it and they will come” approach without articulating a business objective, choosing the appropriate social network, or taking other steps—for example, engaging users in the requirements gathering or selection process—essential to success. Though many recognized the need for greater collaboration at all enterprise levels, the risks were too high and the processes too unpredictable to make social business a reality.

A New, Improved Social Business Model

Today, companies are making focused investments in deploying social technology and media into social networks for specific business objectives across all areas of the enterprise. They see public social media sites as only one part of an overall social business strategy. They use social media to gather market intelligence, manage brand reputation, support customers, communicate with stakeholders, accomplish marketing objectives, and identify potential sales leads.

Moreover, millennials joining the workforce are wired to use social and mobile channels to bond, interact, and solve problems. Organizations are deploying enterprise social networks and other social media technologies internally so that their younger, well-intentioned employees have a secure, private space to connect and communicate with each other. New social computing tools support basic communications and group collaboration, so contributors are motivated to use them to perform daily activities. These tools preserve context alongside the content to aid in both discovery and use.

A step-change has also occurred for knowledge and content management. Open taxonomies, also called Folksonomies, bridge structured, unstructured, and semi-structured data and sources to identify new relationships between different pieces of content, providing new opportunities to both discover and create business intelligence. This can be especially useful for organizations with aging workforces, where leaders are looking for ways to facilitate large-scale knowledge transfer. The curator and moderator join the librarian in harnessing content, communication, and conversation into both long-and short-lived communities. Both new and tenured employees have value to contribute in this new read/write paradigm of social business.

The Evolution Continues

The application of social business systems and practices is facilitating discovery and creating connections across the enterprise. It is also radically changing the way we think about core business strategies and goals. It makes real-time collaboration on tasks and documents possible, and provides a systematic view of who knows who, who knows what, and how work actually gets done. In short, social business delivers on the promises made by collaboration systems decades ago.

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