To be a responsive and productive organisation increasingly requires faster and more effective communications between people, leading to the rise of the enterprise social network


Social technologies have always been part of the digital age but they are playing an increasingly important role in productivity, by enabling faster and more effective cooperation between people. When facing uncertainty, the value is in discovery…

What is social capital? It is simply the benefits an organisation can derive from cooperation between individuals and groups. Sharing insights that inform decisions and actions

There are four degrees of social capital facilitated by digital technology:

  1. Messaging
  2. Social networks
  3. Collaborative sites
  4. Knowledge management

1. Messaging

Image: Messaging

The original form of digital communication. Whilst email is still popular, messaging also encompasses instant/real-time communications with presence indicators.

Direct messaging is effective for broadcast announcements where no response is required and 1:1 conversations. It enables the individual to manage, filter, consume and respond to communications in the way that is most convenient to them.

Direct messaging is rubbish for group-based conversations and collaborative outcomes. It places an administrative burden on everyone, wasting time trying to keep track of multiple emails and determining if a response is still needed.

Email and direct communications can be great for personal productivity and are often still the easiest way to contact someone when you know who you need. But they are the least effective means for organisations to benefit from social capital

2. Social Network

Image: social network

A social network makes everyone a potential candidate for cooperation. But the network itself is not an effective means for mandating a response – participation is always optional. There are three uses a social network is particularly well-suited for:

  • Communities of Practice (CoP): connecting peer groups across time and geographical boundaries for frequent conversations and knowledge sharing. Strong ties build trust
  • Networks of Practice (NoP): bridging peer groups to broaden the reach of knowledge – the strength in ‘weak ties’ made popular with the phrase ‘six degrees of separation’
  • Prediction Markets / Jams: periodic events to foster opinion, feedback and ideas across as wide an audience as possible, with active participation encouraged

In short, networks are at their best for frequent conversations amongst peers to keep up to date with what’s going on, and infrequent discussions involving larger groups of participants who may never have met before but share a common interest. They are weak for delivering regular communications and completing required tasks that can get lost in the timeline

3. Collaborative Site

Image: Collaborative site

Collaborative sites became popular before enterprise social networks. They provided a web-based mechanism for co-ordinating team and project-based activities

Collaborative sites still hold benefits over social networks for managing structured content. They often include automated elements such as personalised alerts and notifications when deadlines are due, checklists of tasks required, forms and templates to assist completion of regular processes, integration with business applications to access transactional data

But collaborative sites become stronger when connected to a social network. There may be a core team responsible for delivery, but there will almost certainly be knowledge across the network that can help improve outcomes. Making those connections visible helps identify and acknowledge the wider contributions, creating a better feedback mechanism to inform future activities

4. Knowledge Management

Image: knowledge management

The oldest social tool of them all. Knowledge management has been attempted and written about for decades. The rise in popularity of social networks can make it tempting to write-off traditional forms of knowledge management, but that would be a mistake

Knowledge management is simply the capture of prior experience due to its potential reuse value. Having a validated repository of intelligence can help accelerate the acquisition of critical insights that would benefit a specific activity, without always being dependent on the people originally involved in its creation. But effective knowledge capture takes skill and effort ongoing. The value of knowledge can degrade very quickly due to external events – a change in legislation can render a lifetime of experience irrelevant – and the context can never be fully captured, making it unreliable in the long-term if you cannot access the original source for clarification.

Knowledge management has much to gain from the rise of social networks. The use of standards for tagging and trending topics, and the rise of digital conversations, has made it far easier to locate and harvest collective intelligence. Enhancing both search and curation.

The Rise of the Enterprise Social Network

“What’s best for something is usually worse for something else”
– Bill Buxton, Microsoft Research

Range
of Responses
Speed
of Response
Quality
of Response
Social Network High High Variable
Knowledge Store Medium Low High
Collaborative Site Limited Medium Medium
Messaging Variable Variable Variable

Social networks provide access to all potential knowledge. They encourage an immediate response but the quality of responses is not consistent. Is the responder an expert or opinionated? You decide. Ranks and scores can help spot high contributors or popular content but do not confirm you have the best answer to your specific question

Knowledge stores can tap into all potential knowledge but are curated to filter out noise and verify the accuracy of the insights being captured. The end result will a consistent higher quality than raw conversations. But the process takes time and may not include the most recent sources of knowledge

Collaborative sites are designed for small groups to work together. On their own, the range of knowledge is limited but the trust and strong ties that form the group makes it easier to verify the accuracy of information shared

Messaging remains effective for 1:1 sharing when you need to communicate with a specific person and know they are available. Its speed and quality drops rapidly for anything else

Social networks are one form of leveraging social capital. But they are also the unifying layer across all degrees of communication. They offer the potential to connect anyone and everyone who may have something to contribute or a desire to participate. The challenge can be in expecting too much from the network alone. It is how it can facilitate better communications, better collaboration and better knowledge transfer that will lead to a more responsive and productive organisation.

The Social Fitness Test

It is important to remember that all social technologies are just tools. Their effectiveness is dependent on how people use them. And behaviours are heavily influenced by an organisation’s culture – established traditions and beliefs. They are not easy to change.

To benefit from social technologies requires adopting and embracing behaviours that encourage a positive response:

  • An appetite for honest feedback
  • A willingness to set aside time for play
  • A tolerance for making visible mistakes

Easy to say, hard to do. But these are the behaviours needed to become a responsive organisation. Able to listen and adapt in a world that is increasingly unpredictable and ambiguous.

A simple litmus test for how responsive your organisation can be is to ask the question:

How well do you treat whistle-blowers?

…not well, in too many cases

Here is the full presentation, posted to Slideshare

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flickr-synapseFeatured image: Synapse kindly shared on Flickr by Ben Cadet

This article was first published on LinkedIn 

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Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. This is a great post/presentation. I plan to share this with a fledgling communications working group in our company. You have explained some concepts very well (concepts I’ve struggled with). Thanks!

  2. Thanks Dan – feedback is always appreciated and comments like that help keep me blogging 🙂

  3. […] This article was originally posted on LinkedIn and http://www.joiningdots.com […]

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