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Three Ways to Double the Value of Your Social Software


I did a Connectbeam webinar yesterday, Double the Value of Your Social Software. One thing about webinars is they really force you to crystallize your thinking, and you get to try out some cool new ideas. This one was a lot of fun for me. I enjoyed bringing some unconventional examples to the discussion.

So how exactly does one “double the value” of social software? The core of the argument is that integrating the various social software apps inside companies produces a new layer of value. In terms of how this happens, I developed three areas of focus:

  1. Expand information’s reach
  2. Create an employee skills database
  3. Diversify and strengthen workers’ sources of information

The Slideshare below is the presentation I used in the webinar. Below the Slideshare, I describe the background and the three areas of focus.

“Enterprise Silos” 2.0

The great thing about companies rolling out the tools of Web 2.0 is that it lets people from everywhere contribute. Multiple people jump on wikis, blogs, microblogging, etc. Social software can tear down the departmental and geographic walls that separate employees.

So it’s ironic that these wall-busting apps end up as new walled gardens of participation. Employees update their Confluence wiki, they blog on Movable Type and Yammer away. But there’s no integration of the apps.

There’s a screaming need to pull these social software apps together. The folks over at venture capital firm Foundry Group laid out a nice investment theme with regard to Glue.  A lot of the logic from that post applies to the proliferation of social software apps inside companies.

By connecting the different social software apps inside companies, companies will realize a new source of value from them, “doubling” their value.

With that, let’s look at the three new sources of value when you integrate these apps.

Expand Information’s Reach

It’s true that information is the key driver of success in the market today. That’s a truism, overplayed theme, I know.

But, it has had its effects inside companies. You see this theme played out in architectural decisions, such Service Oriented Architectures, which makes integrating data and processes much easier. Mashups are another area where we see this.

How about the consumers of data? How to optimize the creation, distribution and consumption of data inside the enterprise?

This is an area where Enterprise 2.0 can learn a lesson from the world of e-commerce. E-commerce companies work hard to optimize the finding and purchasing processes on their sites. Every extra step it takes to find something or to purchase it causes some percentage of consumers to drop out. So they work hard to provide a full, but easy experience.

How about applying that thinking to accessing the employee-generated content inside companies?
How to reduce the steps to accessing this content?

There are three components for what I’ll call an Information Reach Program:

  • Search
  • Serendipity
  • Notifications

Let’s take a look at those three components.

Search: A Forrester Research survey found that only 44% of employees can regularly find information on their corporate intranet. Meanwhile, Pew Research found that 87% of people can regularly find what they want on the Internet.

Where do you think employees will turn first for information? Now there’s nothing wrong with googling something. New information needs to be brought into the enterprise. It’s healthy and vital.

But the pendulum has swung too far toward looking externally, particularly with the rise employee-generated content. Thing likes social bookmarking, blogging and wikis are letting employees find and filter an array of great information. Yet it’s too easy to ignore.

One way to counteract that? Integrate employee-generated content with search engines. When an employees runs searches, they get their usual search results. But why not also show them related content from the company’s social software? Slide #12 in the Slideshare presentation shows Connectbeam’s example of that.

Serendipity: Also known as, finding useful information when you weren’t expecting it. Or as Dennis Howlett put it:

Serendipity: the 21st C word for ‘bloody good luck.

If search is purposeful, serendipity is passive, and in-the-flow of whatever else you’re doing. For serendipity to work, you have to expose people to a range of information during their activities. And let’s be honest – much of that information will score low on the usefulness scale.

But I argue that you need to cionsider serendipity from a portfolio perspective. If you can enable employees to be exposed to random information in high volumes, there will be cases of great matches between something a worker needs and a piece of information she wouldn’t normally see.

Key here is putting this information in-the-flow of daily work. If all employees do is watch a cascade of information, they’re not being very productive.

Notifications: “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.” says Clay Shirky. Search is purposeful, serendipity is luck. How about those nuggets of informaiton that you want to know, but aren’t actively searching for and miss during the course of the day? Notifications are the third component of the Information Reach Program.

Key here is to let people personalize their notifications, because people aren’t monolithic in their interests. Top down push processes diminish employees’ interest in tracking the data presented. Filter on groups (e.g. departments, projects, communities of interest), individuals and keywords. These go a long way toward answering Clay Shirky’s point about filter failure.

Create an Employee Skills Database

When you integrate the different social software apps, you can create rich set of data that well-describes what each employee knows and is working on.It’s not just your position and previous titles that matter – it’s your contributions, visible and accessible by all.

We’re seeing steps toward this approach on sites like LinkedIn, with its new apps platform. When you view a person on LinkedIn, you see more than their resume. You get a living, dynamic view of their work. Someday, all that content you’re piping into your LinkedIn  profile should be searchable by others – beyond the current resume entries.

Same idea holds inside enterprises. If you could aggregate employees’ contributions across the social software apps, you have a much richer view of their skills, knowledge and interests than the typical corporate directory.

Connectbeam customer and all-around smart guy Rich Hoeg of Honeywell put it nicely at the recent Defrag conference:

With Connectbeam, I was looking for a social bookmarking application. I ended up with a skills database.

Yes, that’s a Connectbeam plug. But the logic applies more broadly.

Diversify and Strengthen Workers’ Sources of Information

I’ve discussed previously on this blog a fantastic research paper that evaluated the power of employees’ social networks to affect productivity. Basically, the more diverse an employee’s sources of information, and the stronger her connections to a large number of peers, the more productive she is.

Now tie this idea in with Harvard professor Andrew McAfee’s thinking about employees’ Strong, Weak and Potential ties inside companies. Employees already maintain Strong ties inside companies. That’s the status quo out there.

The opportunity for companies is to work those Week and Potential ties. Move them closer to close ties. How?

  • Make employee contributions as findable as possible (i.e. expand information’s reach)
  • Associate activity and tags to individuals
  • Enable easy following of the activities of others
  • Fish where the fish are – put employee generated content where people do their work

Wrapping up

This webinar was a lot of fun, and I think you’ll notice some different thoughts than what is usually seen in these presentations. There are several ideas included in it that really merit exploration separately. I’ll probably do that on this blog, and over on the Connectbeam blog as well.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Three+Ways+to+Double+the+Value+of+Your+Social+Software%22&who=everyone

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

2 Responses to Three Ways to Double the Value of Your Social Software

  1. Pingback: Supply-Demand Curves for Attention « I’m Not Actually a Geek

  2. yoursurprise-bellatio-2 says:

    Heya! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the fantastic work!

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