To make social collaboration work, focus on creating and reinforcing the underlying connections.
I recently published a Dummies book, but that doesn’t mean I’m a dummy, and it certainly doesn’t mean I think people who buy the book are dummies. When you buy a Dummies book, that's like telling the author: “Explain this to me like I’m a dummy. Don’t assume I already know the underlying concepts and theory. Don’t assume I know the jargon. Explain it in basic terms, as clearly and simply as possible.”
For social collaboration and business use of social networks in general, this is particularly important. One of the traps is to assume that because social networking is so prevalent in popular culture, it must be easy to use and understandable for everyone. The truth is, there are plenty of people who’ve never become comfortable with Facebook or Twitter, who find them overwhelming and bewildering or think they’re too old for that nonsense. Or, they understand how to apply them at home but not at work.
Getting the value out of social software is not automatic. It takes good technical architecture, community managment, and content curation. If you're going to make it work, you must understand why it’s worth the effort.
I was recruited to write the book after spending two years as InformationWeek’s lead editor on social collaboration and all the other ways businesses are exploiting social networks and social media. I also organized programming for the E2 conference series on social business. I have a different beat today, InformationWeek Healthcare, but continue to contribute to our social business coverage as time permits.
For several years now, there have been tech CEOs, analysts, consultants, and authors on the lecture circuit proclaiming the coming era of social business. Often, they cruise right past the basic, dummy-level material. I’ve been guilty of it myself, diving right into showing screen shots of social software as if that were the point.
If you look at Yammer, a collaboration tool created by a startup that Microsoft bought last year for $1.2 billion, it really does look a lot like Facebook in its basic layout. The difference is you use it to share spreadsheets instead of cat photos. Other social collaboration tools aren’t quite such blatant clones, but they still borrow elements like easy modes of sharing and liking and commenting, plus profile photos so you can see whom you are interacting with.
Regardless, the software is not the social network. The software is the visual manifestation and enabler of the social network. The real social network is something like this:
The enterprise social graph is the network behind a social collaboration network.
A social network is about connections. First and foremost, a social network is about connections between people. Also, indirect connections to the people your connections are connected to, which means you can get an introduction.
This kind of abstract, logical model is known as a social graph. If you saw the movie The Social Network, there’s a moment where the fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg starts out an all-night coding session by saying, “I need the algorithm!” -- almost in the mode of, “Scotty, I need more power!” The formula his roommate starts sketching on the dorm room window is an algebraic representation of the social graph.
In addition to people, a social graph can include other kinds of relationships like “I created this document,” “I made this video,” “I commented on this post,” “I liked this post,” “I shared this spreadsheet,” “I’m a member of this group,” and so on. This lets you navigate from the person to the document, to the group, and back again.
Understanding relationships is important. In the internal business collaboration scenarios I cover in my book, sometimes the significance is that you search the network for a document that explains a policy or the records of a customer relationship, and the answer you’re looking for is not there. But if it’s easy for you to see the author of that document, at least you know whom to ask, and if you ask the question through the online system then the answer will also be there for the next person who has the same question. Ditto for your customer question, if your company’s customer relationship management system is linked to an internal social network, as is increasingly common these days.