Do you want social business and collaboration to be seen and valued as more than a fad? Well, focus on productivity! Blunt as it may sound, a social collaboration site better be more than “what’s for lunch.”

This is a big deal in corporations: The social frontier is a new one and for the most part, legal and finance departments have thus far allowed the “Wild West” to happen – but if there is no value being demonstrated, your time in social paradise will be short.

Here are some important considerations and questions to bear in-mind during the quest for improved productivity:

Avoid Activity-Only Solutions

As we’re written before, things like activity feeds by themselves don’t enhance productivity -- the opposite may be true! Most people don’t have a lot of free time in their work lives, so asking someone to contribute to a community about nothing will only annoy your audience. You want your users to find value in the solution and the ability to actually do their job more efficiently.

First-Time User Experience Truly Matters

Any successful social business or collaboration solution needs to be self-explanatory for first-time users, especially those looking for ways to boost their productivity or to collaborate with different teams. The first impression will leave a lasting one -- and your goal should be to make it positive. 

Make it easy for first-time users to customize their homepage experience to fit their needs. And yes, this means that they’re able to shut-off activity feeds. Employees do want to know what’s going on within their company: but from a productivity standpoint, they just don’t want that info to be the only thing they see.

They also want to easily understand and access whatever productivity or collaboration resources are available to them. If you have to provide a lengthy workshop or a training forum, you have missed the mark: first-time users who don’t know what to do or where to start will be last-time users.

Provide a Single Point of Integration

One of the most common complaints we hear from employees who use social business and collaboration solutions is that there are too many different sites and tools within a single enterprise, often with separate login and password considerations. Simple as it may sound, combining and integrating these into one positive and well-designed user experience can provide a good boost to productivity on its own.

As for the myriad of authentication and user access codes, this wasn’t a problem just a few years ago. However, as security concerns grew within corporations, we now have multiple logins and access requirements to show for it. Simply put, if you build new solutions that require your users to re-authenticate at every gate, you will lose many, if not most of them.

In a similar spirit, make it easy for users to add new apps and tools to their work world. Don’t force the user to jump off to another program; instead, allow the program to come to the user. Microsoft may have addressed this as effectively as anyone with its tight integration of Outlook, Office and SharePoint. In a social collaboration environment, allowing users to easily work between systems is key to getting what you need done quickly and productively.

Keep it Simple and Transparent

If your employees are scared to use or even try your social collaboration solution, you obviously have a pretty low chance of improving productivity. Make it easy for everyone to understand what’s available to them, how to access it, and whom to contact with specific questions. Yes, this is basic stuff, but it is too often overlooked!

Specifically, driving FAQ’s and Top Ten lists to Wikis and blogs is a sure-fire way to make it easier for users to learn new skills and features of your solution. Turning the wiki into its own community is also a powerful feedback mechanism, in terms of learning what is working and what is not.

Have You Made the Average Information Worker Paranoid?

As noted above, there’s been a fair amount of buzz about how some employees are actually scared to use social business offerings, either because they’re scared of the technology or wary that their managers and other superiors within an enterprise can view their posts.

For management personnel, make it clear that your employees can post and collaborate freely, as this will help ensure that you get AND retain good adoption rates. From an engagement standpoint, if you show employees how to use your solution and how it can make their lives easier and/or improve productivity, you will get fewer lurkers (people simply signing in to view posts rather than actively engaging) than if you simply create a solution without any guidance as to what the ultimate goal is.

Is the Enterprise Really Getting Something Out of It?

Social business solutions cost real money to build and we all should expect a greater demand for accountability. This means proving to management and/or our clients that any investment is actually addressing productivity and doing so in a demonstrable fashion. Building a strong sense of community is a good start, but you also need to demonstrate long-term value.

Community in and of itself will be harder to justify when those enterprise agreements come up for renewal and the procurement team is faced with the next recession. Community, like advertising and marketing, can and will get cut. So be ready to share things like the value in document collaboration, sharing and exchanging ideas that drive value across business groups as well, and the ability to reduce travel expense with team collaboration taking place across geographical areas.

These are some of the keys we’ve seen in looking at what works best for companies working to deploy and monitor the productivity of social and advanced collaboration solutions for the first time.

Make Sure That You’re Actively Tackling Real Business Issues

There’s very little point to building fun relationships through a socially focused solution if you’re not able to leverage these relationships into doing something productive. Real business issues can include legal, finance and corporate communication elements.

Building a strong community around your pets, travel plans and food service menus will only convince higher-ups that your social solution is not for business. There are a lot of areas where companies can spend money to expand their workforce’s access to use tools and technologies -- make sure your solution is at the forefront of providing this type of real value.

For example, if you are responsible for your company’s social solution, plan to provide analytics to internal groups and teams on what is actually happening from a productivity standpoint: find out how many meetings were shorter, or did not need to happen at all since your teams were collaborating effectively online, or how many people did not need to travel. This is the sort of information that can justify both your solution’s existence and future expansion.

Remember, all of these solutions are comparatively new -- so, new features and benefits will come online and you will need to justify the additional spend. Be prepared with real data and facts, as you know they will likely be requested.

Get Away from the "Fun Facebook" Model

This is a totally different paradigm and it’s time that we all start focusing on more important things in the enterprise. Yes, companies and their social collaboration solutions can be fun at times, but we also need to ensure that we are prepared to explain the business rationale for building and deploying such solutions.

The “social” piece of social business is indeed important, but if you don’t empower companies to leverage the relationships you’ve built into actual business activity and collaboration to improve productivity, its value will be limited.

Every day, we read and hear so much about productivity and how social drives productivity. Well, as great as this sounds, there is a lot of work to do and we as an industry must continue to ask questions as we strive toward reaching this ideal.

Otherwise, if we assume productivity will just improve by itself, what many see as the inevitable spread and adoption of social enterprise and collaboration solutions will be seen in hindsight as a big and promising fad that simply didn’t live up to its promise.

Title image courtesy of VLADGRIN (Shutterstock).

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