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Social Collaboration Use Cases

Kellsey Ruppel
Principal Product Marketing Director

As we wrap up this week on social business, we're happy to have John Brunswick provide his thoughts on social business use cases.

Why would someone ever want internet access from their telephone?  While the concept of essentially ubiquitous mobile internet access seemed foreign only a few years ago, it illustrates an industry shift that today can been seen around the intersection of social activity with business collaboration.

What specifically makes this any different than prior collaborative activities that we have undertaken?  Previous collaborative processes centered around specific entities / projects, while social collaboration has shifted that center to focus on the participants.  Think about some early discussion forum technologies versus Facebook.  They both serve as communication mediums, but one views interactions as post (entity) centric, while the other views interactions directly in the context of a user.  They both afford people the ability to exchange ideas around given topics, but offer a different perspective on how a user interacts with the information.

At first glance Social Collaboration may seem like a thin layer above traditional collaboration tools that is constrained only to inter-organization activities.  LinkedIn, Reddit, Facebook and other platforms provide straightforward examples geared toward the commercial internet space.  How and where can this apply to the enterprise?

Enterprise 2.0 technology has always been focused around reducing support and communication costs through customer self-service, expertise location and project collaboration.  Social Collaboration broadens the reach and increases the context of these interactions to provide capabilities to drive and maintain affinity for brands, extend a workforce, automate knowledge discovery and provide capabilities for enhanced customer and prospect relationship management (CXM).

Social Collaboration use cases are illustrated in the form of crowd-sourcing platforms, automated knowledge discovery within organizations and consumer focused offerings like Nike Plus.  Let's take a look at how social collaboration can provide an on-demand group of domain experts, provide efficient ad-hoc decision support cockpits, retain top talent and capture tacit knowledge with opt-in domain specific communities and perhaps most interestingly - drive brand affinity.

Engaging On Demand Experts
A few months ago I authored a post for AIIM, "Does the Social Web Benefit Any Organization?  Absolutely - If they are Smart" that explored if it was possible for any organization to gain real value from the Social Web.  I proposed that Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing excel in helping businesses, regardless of size or vertical.  Creative thinking powered by social collaboration can have a significant, sometimes even breakthrough impact, in some of what might be considered to be the least social business verticals.

Initially organizations may have been skeptical of these social approaches to providing services to business, but after a wave of initial hype (Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything & McKinsey's The Next Step in Open Innovation) a few concrete examples of success stand out.

Both 99 Designs and Innocentive act as virtual extensions of an organization, supplying communities of experts skilled at problem solving within specific domains.  99 Designs brings a wealth of creative talent from across the globe to help companies with graphic design work, while Innocentive helps solve some of the world's most complex technical issues - ranging from oil spill cleanup to purification of drinking water in the third world.  In both cases organizations use these platforms to become part of and interact with these communities, especially in the case of Innocentive where organizations like NASA and P&G both use the platform as an extension of their own capabilities.

If businesses have a core focus, they can benefit from refining the delivery of that asset to their respective customers / interactions with business partners delegating non-core functions to experts to allow them to maintain focus on their differentiating core processes (as evidenced by the rapid growth of Contract Research Organizations).  Socially collaborative approaches make the engagement and ongoing communication within these systems readily adoptable.

Ad-Hoc Decision Cockpit
Why did I not just call this section Ad-Hoc Decision Workspaces?  It wouldn't do justice to what enterprise social collaboration can provide to make the most effective use of resource's time and efforts.  Not only are people within the social collaboration framework "social", but our data should be as well.  Most decisioning is supported by information that exists somewhere within our outside of the enterprise that could be in the form of business intelligence reports, unstructured information in the form of office documents or external resources related to the decision in question.  Social collaboration enables interactions to be focused around an element or elements of information, connected with a role or grouping within the enterprise.

What if you organization was selecting new store locations?  It would be ideal to quickly join key decision makers into an online workspace, add key decision information into the workspace in the form of demographics related to your products, financials, contract documents and contact listings for the various potential locations.  From this it would be possible to keep the internal stakeholders abreast of ongoing activities through their activity streams, allowing them to comment on activities directly relevant to their role within the project.  Additionally, formal discussions on various aspects of the new store location could take place within the cockpit.  The cockpits lifecycle could ultimately culminate with a vote within the cockpit regarding the selected location, followed by an export of related materials to help execute the decision.

Opt-In Knowledge Sharing Communities
Anyone who has taken a basic organizational behavior class is probably familiar with Maslow’s infamous Hierarchy of Needs.  If not, his hierarchy's base starts with items needed for survival and ends at the peak with self-actualization.  As organization's drive to innovate and deliver better products and services, an outlet for creativity and passion is critical to success in a variety of objective ways.  Daniel H. Pink's book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us illustrates a series of excellent examples around this proposing that employees perform optimally when they find intrinsic meaning in their work.

The paradigm of LinkedIn's groups provides a foundation for a way in which to harness and leverage passion and domain expertise to benefit members of the business community.  Similarly, within our organizations social collaboration tools can provide people with an opportunity to contribute and gain recognition for their work that helps the greater good through problem solving and knowledge sharing.  As social collaboration technologies evolve in the enterprise, capabilities like "opt-in" communities lay the foundation for people to selectively choose to follow and participate in areas of interest.  Ultimately this model can lead to bonds being formed across geographies, new business possibilities and optimizations emerging from the communities and a reduction in the amount of time needed to solve a problems.

Drive Brand Affinity
This next use case falls well into the category of thought leadership.  It is not possible for every organization to follow the specific pattern outlined in this example, but it highlights the far-reaching possibilities that a connected socially collaborative system provides.

If you are a runner you may already be familiar with Nike Plus.  To call Nike Plus a "product" is shortsighted.  It is an experience comprised of a device, software, community and extended community - all enabled through social collaboration concepts.  The experience has ended up winning a very wide range of awards throughout the advertising and user interaction industry.

So - what does this have to do with social collaboration?  Nike has hit the mark for the "me context" + community creation that fosters increased business.

Nike Plus allows runners to coordinate their runs with music, obtain feedback throughout their run and view results within a customer extranet.  Within the extranet Nike offers feedback to runners, allows them to engage in challenges, offers training advice and as you may expect, allows for the purchase of merchandise and music.  Then things get very interesting...

Nike Plus has integration within Facebook and Twitter allowing a runner to update their status indicating they are embarking on a run.  The update is triggered when the run starts.  As the run progresses, the runner's social connections can "cheer" the runner on by liking or commenting on the status update.  Any likes or comments to the status update actually trigger the runner's audio device to play a sound that indicates connections are supporting them during the run.


So - not only has Nike created a very valuable extranet, but they went well beyond the traditional bounds of customer service.  By engaging a runner's connections within their social networking communities and allowing them to provide feedback to the runner directly in context of the activity - in context of connections that are meaningful to the runner, they have created an experience tied to the Nike brand that is extremely positive in every regard that the runner and their connections share.

It would be interesting to see what data Nike has around up-sell and cross-selling within this experience.  It would also be interesting to see how Nike goes about using the information to boost customer satisfaction with their experience and ultimately the Nike brand.

Could something like this be helpful to your brand?

Above and Beyond
The examples above are meant to be thought provoking.  Everyone's business has different key processes that may benefit innovative thinking that social collaboration can support and accelerate.  Based on the trends above it is likely that the future of collaborative interaction will continue to move toward a user focused context where the boundaries of business continue to expand to include new participants outside of an organization, including extensive bi-directional interaction with customers and prospects that takes place within their existing contexts.

Join the discussion

Comments ( 2 )
  • Dan Reinhardt Monday, October 3, 2011

    Very informative and thought provoking as always. I'm on johnbrunswick.com on a regular basis!

  • guest Friday, December 30, 2016

    Hi Keilsey, I liked it when you said that employees perform better when they find meaning and purpose in their work. Finding purpose and meaning requires organizations to foster such culture and be open. The question is, can social collaboration environments provide that ? The use case of Linkedin groups that you cited was a good one.

    When people share their ideas and information and when there is reciprocity, it creates a collaborative environment along with trust. Such environments can act as channels for people to interact and find their meaning and purpose.

    Another use case of Brand affinity that you mentioned was really good. I agree with you. People would like to recognize brands that are responsible and trustworthy on social media. Again, as I said, it creates that environment for people to collaborate socially. It is an opportunity for the company to build thought leadership as well and have committed and sincere followers. A good example of many Brand Facebook pages. I am sorry, my comment to this article, came a bit too late. I can see, it is originally written in 2001.

    I liked reading through your post. Enjoyed it. Thank you. I happen to bump into this site from another site. Cheers, Ramkumar

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