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Social messaging for collaboration: Shaping up or shipping out?

30th Jun 2011
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Social messaging is helping change the way we work, enabling new ways of collaboration internally and externally. However, there are looming challenges to address if social messaging is to retain collaboration effectiveness. Mark Tamis explores.

During his keynote at the Social Business Forum Milan where I participated in a panel, Keith Swenson made the following very interesting observation: in business, the paradigm is moving from a Newtonian model (external observability, smoothness, simple rules, predictability) towards a Quantum model (limited precision, turbulence, relationship-based, unpredictability).

Currently we’re in a phase where we are trying to adapt to this new paradigm, and most notably we are looking at how IT tools can help us adapt to improve the way we interact with out collegues, supplier, partners and yes, our customers(!) in order to optimise business outcomes.

Pioneers such as Yammer, Socialcast and Newsgator have found inspiration in the user-friendly interfaces of Facebook and then Twitter and are helping to move the needle from document-centric organisation towards more people-centric. Activity streams for example are rapidly finding their place in business by facilitating sharing and the exchange of information and ideas. As the next step in the evolution, vendors are now adding features such as letting applications send out messages into these streams, such as a notification that a payment has been processed or from a machine needs servicing.

With it come a host of related technologies deemed necessary to make them fit for working behind the firewall, such as integration with enterprise directories, security layering and encryption of sensitive data.

Social messaging hurdles to overcome

Social messaging is helping change the way we work, enabling new ways of collaboration, but at the same time it is adding a lot of overhead rather than simplifying communication and facilitating ‘serendipity’. Messages have certainly become shorter and more effective (though it does take quite a bit of skill to decypher the 140 character messages sometimes), but I believe that as these platform gain in popularity, there is a real risk of information overload.

Just think back to the Will & Kate Royal Wedding – at one moment there were over 4,000 tweets per second flying around the internet. It is impossible for anyone to follow these snippets of information, other than get a general idea through engines such as Radian 6 or Attensity that pull out trends and sentiments.

Now I am not saying that this comparable to what happens within businesses (not quite yet…), but we’re slowly displacing the email overload issue to social event messaging overload, whilst losing the advantage of email – namely its asynchronous nature – in the process. You could go for a coffee break or a morning management meeting and miss out on information of capital importance to your business.

Your desktop’s home screen or your mobile device will show you the events in real time, but what happens when there are so many events that they scroll away and out of sight (which means out of mind…)? This issue will only worsen when you bear in mind that adoption of social messaging is not ubiquitous yet. Currently general uptake is still relatively limited, so imagine what will happen when the trickle of events becomes a river…

Moreover, what will happen when we start collaborating with external parties through your enterprise social messaging system? What will happen when customers add information to your online community platform or request assistance through a tweet or a Facebook message or whatever social messaging system we’ll have in the future? Or what to do with Fedex update about delivery of the goods that were ordered? Or how to manage information collected through an automated interactive scheduler to confirm when you’ll most likely be home to receive the goods? How do you manage security (who can do what, when where and how) and keep track of the context (why)?

Social messaging shapes up

Various knowledge management strategies have seen the light – again borrowed from the consumer space – such as filtering through content tagging (adding meta data, hashtagging…), subscriptions to who and what you follow (publish/subscribe model), or group-based selection.

What I believe will be the next ‘level up’ will be ‘intelligent’ filtering through message analysis that uses social graphs, expertise tracking, and context information to rank and prioritise what is shown to whom and how, what is pushed to an asynchronous stream and what is left to gently fade into the flow, and what is flagged as requiring follow-up actions if no resultant activity is detected.

Gamification has the potential to play a role here to ensure that we do capture the interactions and the expertise of the employees and construct an effective representation of the social networks that is beneficial to our knowledge workers. Rather than have gamification only promote and drive certain desired behaviours, analytics can feed itself on that data to make suggestions regarding who should be collaborating and within which context in order to increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

What is currently lacking from my point of view in the tools currently proposed by enterprise software vendors is the ability to get the right message to the right person(s) at the right time, whilst at the same time providing them with sufficient context to allow them to make informed decisions. Hence my fondness of adaptive case management (ACM) and its potential to be used as a collaboration framework and system of record for context whilst at the same time laying a foundation for the Quantum model that will build on the strengths of knowledge workers.

ACM is – among other things – used as the glue to maintain the ‘paper trail’ so as to guarantee visibility, traceability and accountability whilst leaving sufficient flexibility to for people to deal with unpredictable and unforeseen events. I believe it also has great potential to incorporate social messaging events as part of this ‘paper trail’ and thus provide an elaborate context for more effective collaboration which can then serve as the basis for expertise discovery and context for gamification. The key issue to solve how to route and associate these social messages efficiently with the right context – which is where the aforementioned tagging and analytics can play their part.

Social messaging is currently still very much in its infancy in terms of it being used in a business, because there is no real framework yet that allows it to remain effective as the volume increases. Context-enhanced social messaging, with the possibility to drill down and expand on information and to connect with people on-demand who have the right skillset, will be the next hurdle to overcome to retain collaboration effectiveness.

Mark Tamis is social CRM & social business strategist for Net-7. For further information about Mark, visit his website, or follow him on Twitter

Replies (4)

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By EuniceB
04th Jul 2011 06:54

The big issue regarding this social networking is the privacy.

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By Mark Tamis
17th Jul 2011 11:09

With all the hype surrounding Google+ being the Facebook killer and with people looking at its use in business, I would just like to add that circles do not solve the issue described in my post. At best you can get better filtering (which is a good thing), but it still does not solve the need to provide context for better insight issue. You could potentially make a circle for every "case", and use some more sophisticated operators to combine or exclude events (AND, R and NOT etc.), but the G+ product was not designed with this in mind.

@MarkTamis G+ Website

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By Mark Tamis
17th Jul 2011 11:16

The legal framework in Europe is actually pretty good, but it is not respected IMO by the foreign (US) companies whose products we use, nor is it enforced with sufficient determination.

The thing about privacy is that people tend to act like they're helpless victims, when in my opinion the key to privacy is managing what you 'leave out there', to take a more pro-active approach to your online presence.

-- @MarkTamis

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By houstonone
18th Jul 2011 09:18

Surely privacy shouldn't be so hard to achieve? Yet every community appears to have the same problems and has little regard for data protection. I am not on Google+. Heaven forbid that I should provide Google with more of my data than they already have. But from a colleague I have seen that it is easier to close down and delete your account than it is to change privacy settings. I know which option I would opt for.

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