While it is easy to get lost in the many different labels and features used to describe enterprise collaboration, the fundamentals remain the same: to share information and ideas, to connect and communicate with our teams, and to find documents and expertise when we need them. Social collaboration tools have become an important layer underneath all of these fundamentals, and are a popular choice for organizations that want to track and measure productivity — but they do not understand how a strong metadata and taxonomy strategy fits into the productivity conversation.
Metadata is fundamental to making social collaboration, knowledge management (KM), and enterprise content management (ECM) work.
The business dynamics of how Information Workers capture, consume, and interact with data are evolving — but the fundamentals of what they want to accomplish have not changed. To some degree, social collaboration is just another layer of the search experience, allowing employees to easily create and enrich the connections between ideas, content, and people. At the center of all of this is metadata. Business stakeholders of SharePoint need to understand that metadata is foundational to everything they want to accomplish on the platform — and social collaboration is often the primary source of this metadata. You could say that the volume of metadata created is a core measurement of productivity.
Let me explain.
When building any kind of ECM or KM solution, you use metadata to help define content and attributes, making everything searchable (and findable) within your system. The name of a document is one piece of metadata, as are the date created, author, project name, or any other attribute assigned to the artifact. As a way of cataloging documents and list items in SharePoint, simple taxonomies or dense hierarchical data structures can be built — all with the goal of helping people find them again in the future, and relate them to associated artifacts. Some metadata and taxonomy creation and management can be streamlined and automated, but it generally requires a lot of up front work.
Social collaboration puts the wisdom of the community to work to help with this metadata creation and correlation. As content is shared, these social conversations, tags, links, or any other collaborative activity associated with the content becomes metadata, adding context (relevance) to the content. Instead of requiring people to select keywords from a drop down list (common to most taxonomy efforts) the metadata is generated through natural interactions between people as they share a document, and connect it to other content or people.
In other words, the creation of metadata through social interactions can be used as a productivity measurement. There is a powerful network effect that happens when organizations embrace social collaboration. The more people that participate, the more metadata that is created — enriching the context around content.
As a result, there is an increase in the volume of content that is created, and because of the stronger contextual relationships generated through social activities, relevant content is more easily found.
For organizations that struggle with placing value on social within the enterprise, there are some “universal truths” that should be considered as you develop your collaboration strategy:
- Metadata drives search, content and task aggregation, and it enables most of the new features within SharePoint and Office 365. Even the powerful machine learning capabilities enabled through the Office Graph and made accessible through Delve rely on metadata. Think about the most common SharePoint scenario: adding a document to a document library. As you upload a file, you might have the ability to apply relevant keywords from a pre-defined term store. Your taxonomy adds structure to the content. In addition to the required taxonomy fields, you may also apply a few relevant keywords that are not part of the taxonomy, but which you know will provide richer context to the content. Folksonomy, in conjunction with a proactive governance model, refines your taxonomy so that common folksonomy terms eventually find their way into the managed taxonomy, so that others can use those terms more broadly. To make this model work requires some effort from your team — a governance process to regularly review end user keywords, delete irrelevant terms, promote others, and overall optimize your platform for a healthy search experience.
- Social collaboration utilizes your metadata to enhance conversation, making your dialog applicable to your work output. Social interaction further enriches the context and visibility of your content. A document owner may apply terms from a defined taxonomy, but social provides additional folksonomy — by sharing the document with others, liking it, rating it, commenting on it.
- With formal search, we don’t always know what content we’re looking for. The limitation of the traditional search model is that we only find that content which fit into our specific search terms. If someone uploads content without applying taxonomy or folksonomy (which, let’s admit it, is the case for the majority of our content) then you rely on your search crawler to search through titles and metadata descriptions. But through our social connections, we may locate new content based on personal and professional relationships, and through tags (an ever-growing folksonomy) applied by people you’ve never met and maybe never will…..because they were able to find that content through their social circles and apply some context of their own.
- Productivity improves when people can find their content. While following a structured process helps information workers ensure that metadata is assigned, and that your compliance/security guidelines are being met — social interactions more closely fit into the way they work. That’s really the key: design solutions that match the needs and working habits of your people, rather than force people to learn a new way to work. Social collaboration solutions tend to be a more natural fit for the way that people connect and collaborate.
Measuring end user productivity is a difficult task to master. Most organizations begin by monitoring usage of their platforms so that they can better understand the features and tools that people gravitate toward, and those they avoid. From there, organizations can begin to understand how much of the collaboration experience should be automated — and where social tools may help unlock value.
If your organization is interested in learning more about how social collaboration can improve your team and individual productivity, you need to take a look at the latest release from Beezy. Contact us as info@Beezy.net to schedule your demo today!