Remember the manila envelope with the column grid on the front, filled with names (most crossed off), as a way of circulating inter-office information? When that envelope hit your desk you opened it, read the note inside, signed or took what you needed from the envelope, tied it back up, crossed your name off the grid, and passed it to the next person on the list. That was before email. It was simple. We all knew what to do with the envelope. It was every organization’s cultural legacy. But it had real limitations.

True story: before I left my last position in July 2011 (yes, 2011), one of those envelopes hit my desk. It was a birthday card for an office mate. My name was the only one that hadn’t been crossed off the list. I knew the envelope had to have been sitting on my desk, mixed in with the other inter-office mail, for over a week (I’d been out of the office). The poor guy’s birthday had been celebrated the week I was away but he didn’t get the card until I got back -- out of 75 office mates, no one knew who signed the card or where it was. The process stopped with me and my vacation schedule.

Flawed, certainly, but simple.

So, how can we become organizations that still support the functional simplicity of that circulated envelope while embracing social computing?

Well, you don’t have to be a social media expert to help your organization get started -- think about going back to basics. Here are a few strategies for getting your business prepared for social.

1. Keep it Simple

Whether you’re thinking about UX/UI, your strategy or your adoption plans, keep your approach simple. Your employees will appreciate an easy-to-use tool and a “strategy” that is seamless to them. Let people know what you want them to accomplish, rather than confounding them with complicated flowcharts and diagrams, and support those expectations with a tool that isn’t overwhelming.

Think back to the envelope -- simple interface. You never wondered which flap to open!

2. Set Expectations

Social is not a Field of Dreams story. The social tool is not going to auto-magically transform your organization into a socially-astute, openly collaborating entity if it isn’t already. Help your employees embrace social with a practical approach: involve your business owners and help them weave social into the fabric of their everyday processes.

3. Make it Personal

Employees want to see what’s important to them. What’s important has value. Let them, their needs and ways of working be central to the experience.

4. Evangelize Your Story

We love a good story. Give your employees one that they can relate to. Let them know how others in the organization are benefiting from social or how they made the transition from envelope-to-email-to-social so they can participate in and emulate these “a-ha” moments.

5. Re-think How You Communicate:

Social business involves communication, but don’t think social will solve all of your communication woes. Email isn’t going away any time soon, so make sure to reach your users in their inboxes and draw them into your social experience. Once in your social space, know that communication is not one-way; it’s more than two way now. It’s multi-directional. We can still push communication, but social business users want to give back. Expect and plan for employee participation, then….

6. Listen to Your Users

Address their pain points and find their success stories, support them by providing the tools, content and expertise they need.

7. Offer Support

Social business, by nature, helps provide better support to each individual using it because they’re each engaged in a bigger knowledge network. Capitalize on the peer-to-peer model, provide some simple self-help assets, and give employees a place to get the help they need from each other.

8. Respect the Act of Unofficially Leveling Your Organization’s Hierarchy:

Social unearths people and information. We’re no longer gatekeepers and our brick and mortar pedigrees may not carry as much weight as a consistent 5-star rating for providing excellent information to our peers. Recognize the new experts in your organization and use their expertise to grow your knowledge base -- and get out of their way!

There’s nothing magical about the tools that make social business possible, but there may be a bit of simple magic in the way we approach it.

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