Imagine being in the throes of an exceptionally busy time at work, only to have your email box regularly deluged by a multi-week series of alerts regarding feminine napkins. Yes, this is a true story.

One of our clients has had a recurring issue with the topic of feminine napkins for the past several months within their current Jive solution -- not a lot of productive social collaboration going on when talking for months on-end about anything in the bathroom! This was not exactly a proud moment for social business, but it brings up some important lessons and reminders for us all.

Is Your Social Initiative Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem?

It also highlights a great challenge surrounding the development of major initiatives, whether social or not, inside companies -- too often, solutions that claim to do it all are difficult for employees and customers to use or navigate. In an ideal world, it really should be easy to turn this sort of thing off, if only it was intuitive!

We want our social collaboration to be more than trying to locate the lunch menu, bathroom amenities or what your cats are doing in the picture window. We need more examples of how a community saved travel dollars, launched a product ahead of schedule or added features based on peer and outside review.

Instead, imagine not being able to opt-out of a feminine napkin-focused discussion or email alert thread for fear of missing an important technical question related to SharePoint or other social business-related matter. This is exactly what happened to a number of social business professionals and illustrates the fine line between social solutions encouraging great interaction and providing unwelcome distractions.

The genesis of this situation was that a major enterprise thought it would be great to encourage its employees to interact more with company management and with each other by providing a forum in which employees could pose questions online and invite discussion on any number of questions or topics.

The company deployed a private-label Jive solution to make this happen and the results provided a case study as to how social business really can miss the boat. Soon after launching, the topic of the day (and for weeks, as it would turn out), emerged as “Why are feminine napkins free in some company restrooms, but in others they are not?” As part of the solution, every time anyone posted a response or comment to the feminine napkin topic at-hand, ALL group members received an email alert!

As a result, a number of social business professionals and countless other employees who had zero interest in feminine napkin-related topics were pulled into the discussion anyhow. In the case of the social business team, they actually had to be members of the discussion forum, in case any technical questions developed along the way.

They were ready, willing… and even HOPING to see some questions cross their desk about social business, but instead were inundated with something entirely unrelated.

Point is, if we are not careful, social business has the potential to not only miss the mark when it comes to improving productivity and collaboration, but to be extremely disruptive. Robust filtering is an important first step, but in the case of the feminine napkins, is obviously not there yet.

The scary thing is that this is not only a Jive issue but could happen in any contemporary social enterprise solution. As things currently stand, no matter how hard you try, a user can easily find ways to override and add content to any community, thread or topic that is relevant or not -- so this is as much a user issue as a platform issue.

Where is the Unsubscribe Button for Social Business Feeds?

Facebook offers the ability to "unsubscribe" from specific posts for just this reason but no other company has created something of the sort for social business -- yet (save a few plug-ins here and there).

Thus, this is a bit of a reality-check for our industry and highlights a significant need and opportunity: the ability to not only filter items but to unsubscribe from anything including communities, posts and documents with which users no longer wish to be associated.

From business and innovation standpoints, this creates openings for companies or developers to address the situation by:

  • Developing a solution that provides the ability for each and every user to micro-tune their feed and subscribe/unsubscribe to post-level content, documents, communities and departments; these filters need to be easy to get to and easy to understand and they need to be accessible at the thread level -- right click and “be gone” sort of commands put the power of the solution in the hands of the user. In short, they should get back to our vision of user-centric designs.
  • Supporting the ability for users to filter out content that is undesirable or irrelevant.
  • Providing capabilities to throttle emails, alerts and notifications to daily, weekly or monthly feeds based on content. We hear time and again, “I don’t need another email alert about this topic or for that matter any other social topic.” Let’s not let it get to that.

This obviously isn’t as simple as it seems, but I believe that it is not only doable, but needed, for the broader good of all of us in the social business and collaboration space.

Let’s take a look at a couple other areas of immediate exposure for social business in 2012:


There are a lot of exciting and promising things happening in the cloud, but security is not yet entirely up-to-snuff, at least not in the arena of social business. As true collaboration emerges as the key element of social business solutions within an enterprise, the need for genuine and comprehensive security follows suit.

Specifically, enterprises have any number of sensitive documents being shared and some organizations are being burned by serious security breaches. While this creates obvious headaches for everyone involved, it significantly affects overall confidence in social business solutions.

So while there are promising products in place now to address certain document types, basic areas of exposure still exist for many. We hear horror stories from the front lines on a semi-regular basis (names being withheld to protect those affected) and it’s becoming pretty clear that there is both room and need for better security solutions in the space.

I will devote a full column to this topic in future months, but this is worth having top-of-mind now and moving forward.

Remember, It’s More Than an Activity Feed

I’ve had as much fun as anyone bashing activity feeds and the simple notion that social business is simply a Facebook-like experience for the enterprise. That said, there is value to providing forums in which employees at all levels can interact, comment, ask questions and generally develop a genuine sense of community.

Where things go south is when customers/employees lose the ability to determine how and when they want to be notified about a topic at-hand, or a consistent form of filtering, or where to fine tune their activity and community comments -- all the tools that make collaboration important for the end user.

So as tempting as it might be, we should not simply abolish activity feeds or other social elements altogether, as they can drive considerable value -- and yes, even a sense of community -- for most employees within an enterprise. What we, as social business professionals, do need to do is to better differentiate the distinction between when a site or solution is adding real value to a community and when it’s providing nuisance and not a lot else.

It seems crazy that a team of C-level executives or a group of social business professionals have to be party, via email or other alerts, to every comment someone in the enterprise posts about anything -- whether it involves transactions or feminine napkins.

As amusing as it might be, this should serve as a serious and useful reminder that yes, we are in an exciting space but that we have a lot of work to do to remain on-track in realizing the potential of social business and collaboration.

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