The underlying technologies that power social collaboration and drive end user engagement have been around long enough for us to see some clear patterns. Going 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 (such as AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, or Microsoft's own Messenger), to embrace them outright, or to purchase a secure version of these tools that they could manage on their own behind the firewall. It was predicted that IM would bring an end to email.
And then as organizations began using IM tools more 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. But a change had, in fact, taken place. IM became another layer within our collaboration activities, adding even more context to our connections.
There is tremendous value for organizations who enhance their document-based collaboration platforms with what author and technologist Geoffrey Moore calls "systems of engagement," which aptly describes our modern social collaboration platforms. 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" tool or method, such as requiring everyone to limit communication to email and document-sharing using SharePoint. Different people -- and different teams -- are comfortable collaborating in different ways. Increasingly, teams are turning to social tools as an effective way to communicate, share, and collaborate.
While there are plenty of people who "don't get it" when it comes to social collaboration, most people understand the inherent value to communication and to team-based community-building, even if they have a difficult time translating those benefits into real business value.
I'll posit that the failures of most social collaboration deployment have something in common with the waning influence of IM in the past decade: social without context is just chat. It's when the two are paired that you see the true value of social collaboration.
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, Skype, or even Slack to meet that need. With fewer people using the platform, the "official" 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 favorite social network. But the majority of your email 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 takes time to build out a collaboration solution that is able to pair content with engagement while also meeting the nuanced requirements within your own organization. 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.
One of the most compelling aspects of the Beezy solution is that we are built on SharePoint, for SharePoint. We deliver the latest social collaboration features (systems of engagement) within the industry-leading document-centric collaboration platform (SharePoint), helping our customers to connect their content to powerful and engaging social experiences, whether on-premises or online.