A sweet spot is the optimal place or set of conditions for something to happen. It is the place on a tennis racket where it “feels good” to hit the ball and provides the strongest bounce. It is the place where the combination of different factors gives you a better chance of success. There are also sweet spots for social collaboration technologies -- places where they can be especially effective for solving problems, or creating new opportunities. So where are those sweet spots? Which kinds of business problems might be best solved with social collaboration?

Knowledge Work Is Getting Harder

The nature of work has changed a lot over the past few decades due to advances in information technology. It is particularly true for those of us who engage in so called “knowledge work”. Our work requires us to have instant access to information and we need to be able to interact with and collaborate with many different people; people who we sometimes only know by their email addresses.

As knowledge workers we often cannot anticipate which information we need, or whom we need to interact with. We are also stuck between a rock and a hard place as we have less time to plan our work at the same time as our work gets harder to plan due to constant change and complex inter-dependencies to the actions and decisions of other people.

Social Collaboration Comes To Our Rescue?

“Social Collaboration” is an emerging discipline which tries to deal with this situation. It uses a people-oriented approach to collaboration that draws knowledge from social sciences to help us to better understand what drives people to share and collaborate with each other. (see Social Collaboration: A Retrospective and Outlook) It also uses social software, a new generation of web-based easy-to-use collaboration technologies, which build on technical concepts such as search, links, tags, signals, filters and extensions.

Social collaboration is in several ways quite different from much of the traditional team-oriented collaboration which we are used to. For example:

  • It extends beyond teams and might involve anyone and any number of people
  • It relies on using our personal networks to rapidly diffuse, attract and filter information

The sweet spot for social collaboration can be found in knowledge work which requires direct or indirect participation of many different people in order to achieve a certain purpose or goals. In those situations, it’s absolutely essential that we can find and communicate with anyone who can contribute to our work -- even people we don’t (yet) know.

Often things get messy in these situations. Sometimes it’s not even possible to get the work done, or the quality of the work will suffer since we cannot find and access the information we need, or the right people. Many of the problems which occur in these kinds of situations can be addressed with social collaboration principles and technologies.

I find the illustration below useful when reasoning about different types of collaboration challenges and for pointing out the sweet spot for social collaboration. The sweet spot for social collaboration can be found when there needs to be many-to-many communication or interaction between people.

collaborationmatrix.jpg

Communication-centric collaboration refers to situations where the highest priority is to share something across to other people in an effective and efficient way. Content-centric collaboration refers to situations where the focus in more in the craft of finding, creating and managing content that is intended to communicate some information to other people.

Social Collaboration Can Support Key Knowledge Worker Activities

An increasing number of business challenges rely on improved many-to-many collaboration; Information Management, Business Intelligence, Idea Management and CRM to mention a few. In turn these all rely on basic key knowledge worker activities such as:

  • Sharing information
  • Finding information
  • Finding people
  • Locating expertise
  • Building workspace awareness

In my next article, I will look closer at how social collaboration can support these activities.