Connecting Content to Social

By Christian Buckley posted 11-21-2013 13:06


I've been around long enough to see a couple familiar cycles when it comes to social. If you look back to the late 1990's, instant messaging (IM) was the hot social property, with organizations spending the next few years fighting end users over whether to lock down the public IM networks from behind the firewall, or to embrace them, or to purchase a secure version of these tools that they could manage on their own behind the firewall. And then as organizations began using them heavily, something happened: while IM never went away, it was not the end of email, and life kind of went back to where it was before all the fuss.


There is tremendous value for organizations to move away from document-based collaboration toward systems of engagement, such as with social collaboration platforms like Yammer, Tibbr, and others. Getting people talking more is always a good thing, and I've always been a firm believer in providing multiple channels for communication rather than a single "approved" method, as different people are comfortable collaborating in different ways. But there are still many organizations who are pushing back on the social surge, and its not because "they don't get it."


Ok, granted, there are plenty of people who "don't get it" when it comes to social collaboration, but I'll argue that most people understand the inherent value to communication and to team-based community-building, but have a difficult time translating those benefits into real business value. I'll posit that the failures of social collaboration have something in common with the waning influence of IM in the past decade: social without context is just chat.


Someone in IT or a business group hears about a new social collaboration tool, and signs up, quickly inviting several peers, many of whom find value and start using on their own. Pretty soon, corporate materials and conversations have found their way in, and productivity gains are recognized. But without constant cheerleading and advocacy from the most passionate users, that heavy usage in the early weeks and months never sticks around for long. People who just chat tend to get bored, and move back over to Facebook to meet that need. With fewer people using the platform, the tools become less effective for those who understand how to use them and appreciate their value. People go back to using email.


Why go back to email? Because the vast majority of email communications center around content. Sure, we all send the personal and sometimes non-relevant emails, just like there are pointless IM conversations about what you had for breakfast, and the sharing of hilarious cat photos on your Yammer network. But the majority of your conversations are building context around a threaded discussion that usually has at its center a document, a presentation, or some other digital artifact. The problem is that email limits the value of this content and the collaborative conversation surrounding it. That's where social works best -- community and content together.


Those who use social in context to their content will thrive. My observation is that there is often a direct connection between content inclusion (whether uploading documents or rich media, or linking to some other source, such as a SharePoint library or a URL to a website or whitepaper) and sustained social growth. Conversely, look at dying social collaboration initiatives, and you'll find very little content being shared, discussed, and created.


The current slate of social / engagement tools are not a replacement for the more structured, content management-centric platforms we've deployed, but an enhancement to them. It will be a few years until all of these tools and systems work seamlessly together, but that is where the industry is going. The hard part is figuring out what your organization needs (social may kill your ECM platform if you do not understand how they work together), and where these new tools will be most effective -- but starting the process by understanding the partnership between social and content puts you ahead of the mainstream.

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