Whether we want them or not, social collaboration tools are now standard issue in most enterprises. We've heard promises of instant collaboration, rivers of knowledge suddenly flowing through the organization, processes running 10 to 20 percent faster, an instantly transformed workplace which requires little ramp-up — people are already familiar with Facebook, right?

Yet both experience and research show that collaboration tools often produce disappointment and frustration. We know that they can work — anecdotally we hear success stories, and in our own personal lives we often have "eureka" moments via social network feeds or tapping into forums.

So why is it that so often in organizations they become unloved and, worse still, ignored and underutilized? What happened to all that potential and promise? Why do people not fall in love with such an obvious opportunity to work more effectively?

The warning signs your collaboration efforts are going south include a proliferation of groups formed with no management, initial posts being made with no further participation, and conversations with little or no participation from management.

Here are five sequential steps to revitalize and reinvigorate your social platform.

1. Revisit the Purpose

Many people regard the purpose of a social collaboration platform as a no-brainer. To be more efficient. To be more productive. To collaborate. These are fluffy and are not statements of business purpose.

Revisit your original business purpose. Remind yourself of the problem that needed solving.

Or simply put a stake in the sand and define the purpose of your social platform as innovation rather than just efficiency. This gives it a dynamic purpose. A clear strategic vision. Its ultimate goal is to effect simple everyday improvements and innovations in the way your people work.

It is crucial however, to understand why you need to be innovative and set a goal around this. Something tangible that provides a direction, nothing more. Why should your customers adore you? How should they feel? Think long distance, even fanciful. Aim for the moon and use it to get off the ground.

2. Integrate Your Processes

Ensure that your collaboration tools are woven into the fabric of business process flows. This is crucial. Giving people the opportunity to have conversations that expose hiccups or suggest improvements will not only energize the process but will give you a platform for innovation focused around that process. Aggregating conversations around specific business processes is far more effective than asking people to just innovate or come up with new ideas in a vacuum.

Start with simple, everyday processes like customer feedback loops in which content needs to be shared and addressed in some manner. Push out messages explaining the value of everyone's input into improving the process. Create a social group focused around a specific process, making sure that the business process owner is properly involved.

Still sounds like you can't find a suitable process? All we actually need are processes that require three basic steps: creating content, sharing the content and an action or resolution — this action can be as straightforward as learning something or making a decision. These types of processes are perfect partners for social collaboration tools, and you probably have more of them than you think.

3. Senior Managers: Know Your Place

Or more accurately, be visible without controlling the space. Social platforms should never be used as a channel for telling people what to do.

Following these three golden rules will ensure that leaders provide help, not management.

Open up: Say what's keeping you awake at night; what you've learned in the last week; what's exciting you. Be honest. For true innovation to flourish, we need to know what are the opportunities, what are the problems, what is being done well elsewhere, what is holding us back.

Listen: Leaders should not judge and not influence when inappropriate, just listen. When in doubt, do NOT participate. You have other levers to address issues. Allowing sometimes uncomfortable conversations to take place will give you one of the clearest windows into how your organization is actually operating and what issues need fixing.

Provide momentum: Once a conversation moves to a point that something needs to be done — a promising idea arises, a problem is uncovered or a question has been asked — ensure that this is acted upon. Nothing puts people off using social tools more than the sense of pointlessness: why should I suggest something if no one does anything about it? And it might not come off, but showing that an idea progresses beyond first base is crucial.

4. Trust

A cornerstone of any attempt to collaborate is trust. Trusting and encouraging people to participate as they wish allows them to feel safe (loosely following Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs) which in turn releases the inhibitions, exposing the good ideas you never thought you had.

Here are some guidelines for generating trust on your social platform. Ignore them at your peril!


  • Don't reward people with money for posting, commenting and liking
  • Don't encourage people to use the system but at the same time not tell their line managers to adjust their expectations accordingly
  • Don't describe your social platform to your staff as "Facebook for business" — it's not. It's what you define your purpose as
  • If you're going to create KPIs around participation (which is a good thing), don't base them on raw numbers of posts, comments and likes. This will fill your social platform with rubbish and will turn people off. It's harder to win disaffected users back than win initial acceptance


  • Recognize staff whose posts are useful to others (e.g. high number of likes). Give recognition to posts that lead to change
  • Set up notifications that tell you whenever one of your staff have posted anything. Not to check up on them, but to look for opportunities to contribute, or to praise them
  • Articulate to staff that responding to bonafide business questions from anywhere in the organization is not only an acceptable use of their time but is seen as valuable
  • Capture any examples you come across of highly valuable business outcomes from conversations
  • Help staff manage the groups they belong to, so any ideas they have can be posted in the right place

5. Work Out Loud

Now that you have a trusting environment, get your people talking. Connecting. Liking. Commenting. Understanding the value of an online business conversation. This kind of energy generates innovation. Working out loud becomes your ideas laboratory: where thoughts, issues and occurrences intersect with insights, learning and ideas. And the medium for this? Conversations.

Deutsche Bank developed the "Working out Loud" concept as a way of changing behaviors from one-to-one (or one-to-very-few) conversations to one-to-all, in the open on the social platform, where it becomes part of the organization's "knowledge ambiance."

Community managers play a major part in this. Case studies and research confirm that a community manager is a vital role, critical to the success of internal communities. They give it energy, they keep it on course, they broker and curate high value discussions. So if your express business purpose is innovation, then community managers will work their magic with this in mind.

Remember: innovation involves input from diverse people, diverse minds, and the diverse experience and knowledge they bring. We need to make sure everyone is brought along on the journey. When your workplace is a place where everyone embraces, even enjoys, working out loud, magic happens.