Unless you are hiding under a rock, then over the past few months you have probably been slammed with the idea of Social in the Workplace. If you are like me, you like to review the demos and look at the concepts but then chuckle a little inside when you have to look at how you actually implement something like the demo in your workplace. Everything sounds great, but how in the world does it all just happen? 

Since I am a consultant, I am asked this question over and over. And at the end of the day there really isn't a three step program that will get you there! It takes work, understanding, and a little more work and some nurturing. I think there are a few key things that can help guide you along the way, but there isn't a foolproof way to implement Social within the organization.

I was recently able to spend some time chatting with Maria Ogneva, who is the Head of Community at Yammer. During the chat she shared with me some of the new things that Yammer has developed to help enable community managers to succeed in their roles of creating environments for community and then getting out of the way!

It was great talking to Maria because so much of what she and I discussed really applies to all areas of IT -- it is really all about people and bringing them tools that enable them to better do what they are already doing.

Already Social

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The first thing that we need to talk about is the fact that your organization needs social tools because it already is social. Every organization, large or small, is socially engaged.

Now, based on the organization and the culture the channels used could be very different, but we are all relational and engaged. No one works alone, we all depend on the relationships we have to get things done.

As technology has improved over time we have seen how different groups are now utilizing tools to help manage the way they work together. So much of this has to do with the availability of tools and the ease with which they can be used.

With the massive integration of technology in our homes, it has made it an expectation of users that there be tools to help them as they work. But just like most things, you have to take the blanket statements and apply them to your organization.

This means that you need to explore the concepts within your own organization and identify how you align to the current social trends. The results of this exercise will help you understand the current ways that your organization works together and should allow you to clearly identify some ways that you could introduce technology to compliment the way that they work together.

Bottom line is that all social tools are a way to bring an organization together, and in order to provide the best set of tools you must first truly understand your organization and their needs. Social technologies prove the point again that the best tools for the organization are those that are based on the needs of the organization and are deployed with the user in mind and not the technology.

Tools that Compliment

One of the great points that Maria made during our chat was the point that communities aren't really a new concept at all, the thing that is new is the value that they can bring to organizations. If you are able to find the right set of tools that compliment your organization then you are going to have a win.

Her commitment to this point was really highlighted when I asked her how you choose between Yammer and SharePoint and if things changed after the acquisition. Her response was simply that Yammer is a great compliment that can be used with SharePoint, but you can also use SharePoint.

The point is not to have to draw a hard line in the sand between one tool or another, the point is to really understand your organization and provide for them a set of tools that can be a compliment to how they are already working. This is how you can create an environment that fosters and drives communication and then gets out of the way. So the next time you remember that you were assigned by your boss to pick one tool versus another you should give yourself a pep talk and remember it should really be about the business.

Who cares what tool you are using if you are solving the needs of the organization? Once you understand the needs, then you can look at the tools and pick the one that provides the best value, given the circumstances.

In some cases you may find that SharePoint is the perfect complement to the organization and that using another tool like Yammer would actually not be what is best for the group. At the same time, if your organization needs the additional functionality of Yammer, but you only implement SharePoint, then you will be missing the mark on what the organization needs.

I could fill article after article on the different functionality available in both tools, but in my mind that would be missing the point if I first didn't cover this very important foundation point. In follow up posts as I dig into the more technical features it will always come back to this important concept -- it must be about the business.

Implementing social tools without being focused on the business from all aspects is going to result in wasted efforts. At the end of the day the tools are important, but only if the beginning of the day starts with the users. To provide the best tools for your users you need to understand your users, how they work, what they do, what they don’t do and why. By learning this and seeing how they approach everyday processes you can help provide them with tools that complement the way they work.

Making It Work

So now that we have covered some foundations, I want to leave you with some wonderful tools that Maria and her team have developed to help you as you develop communities. This tool is called the Community Management Playbook and is a resource that has been developed to help those who have the role of Community Managers to best engage with their organizations.

Instead of just giving you data that you can consume on what to do, the playbook includes some great tips on “Day to Day” activities that you can complete. Yes, this slide deck is specific to Yammer, but I think if you read the contents you will realize that at the heart of it, it is really about engaging people in ways that lead to a greater level of social interaction as they complete various processes.

If you are reading this article it is likely that you are currently in the process of understanding what social means to your organization and this is a great resource for you to use to understand the concepts and then apply them to your situation. You will not regret starting out on such a strong foundation! And, if you are still doubting the idea of starting with the business and not the tool or if you are not a current Yammer user, reading through this playbook will still give you a good glimpse into what a business focused approach could be.

Image courtesy of Mert Toker (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: If you want to read more of Jennifer's thoughts on SharePoint and social business, read Social - It's Nothing New #spc12