Think Collaboration, Not Social

Today, everything is social -“ social commerce, social business, social CRM -“ the list goes on and on. Social has become a multifaceted word in the world of business. It carries with it a lot of baggage and has many people asking, “What’s the business value?”

Social is the “e-” of the 90s. Surely you remember e-commerce, e-marketing and so on? Today social is sprinkled on everything from CRM to content management. Social media and social networking have done much in the consumer space to change the way we think about delivering information. However, social is just one type of collaboration that takes place within groups. Collaboration is putting social technology to work.

The term social is actually inadequate to describe the underlying value of what’s really happening. Collaboration -“ with customers, prospects, partners, employees, and colleagues -“ is a much more accurate and encompassing word to describe the market. Collaboration includes social tools like blogs, forums, wikis and user profiles -“ as well as more traditional collaboration tools like desktop sharing and video conferencing. Social media tends to be a type of activity, while collaboration is an activity with a purpose.

How people share information is moving rapidly away from structured content like traditional office documents. That’s not to say structured content is going away, but rather that there are new tools capable of capturing information exchange. These new collaboration tools are people-centric, where document management systems are document-centric. Social information can be applied to reveal relevant data. Unstructured content -“ like dialogue -“ is immensely valuable. Collecting and analyzing this information gives you a deeper understanding of your community.

Collaboration has a clear plan and objective, and it is measurable. To have a successful online community, it’s not enough to merely listen and engage. You have to analyze internal and external conversations and measure their impact. It’s what successful companies like Dell, Electronic Arts and Texas Instruments do.

So other than researching what other companies are doing well with their investments into social media and collaboration, what can you do to achieve success?

1. Develop a clear strategy. First and foremost, that strategy should articulate a plan for what goals will be accomplished. It’s important to clearly understand your objective, because it helps define the technologies used to support the objective, the measurements to track the objective and what role social media plays in the strategy.

2. Find a platform to enable your strategy. You can start out simply by using a free service like Twitter, and graduate to an enterprise collaboration platform when you are ready.

3. Measure the results. In order to be successful, organizations must understand user engagement both inside and outside of their communities. This is the most important step, and one that is too often simply ignored. If the strategy is clearly defined, then there should also be measurable objectives.

There are two distinct ways that your brand and keywords can be monitored and analyzed:
External Listening -“ Broad monitoring for keywords
Internal Analysis -“ Focused monitoring in communities you own

Both monitoring capabilities are a necessity, but there are very distinct roles that each plays.

To extract that value of social media, you need a clear strategy, a platform and tools to measure and analyze the results. Clearly define your objectives and identify your sources. Then listen, engage and measure. Peel off the shiny packaging and look deeper into what social media really means for you.

Rob Howard is the founder and CTO of enterprise collaboration and community software company Telligent. He oversees product development and the company’s technology roadmap. In 2004, he founded the company in Dallas, which was first-to-market with integrated online community software. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.