Social media for Alliances and Collaboration

“Social media”, when I use these words in a conversation nine out of ten people will start to talk about tools and drop names like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. A couple will try to challenge especially the use of Twitter and they question whether it is really necessary to tell the whole world what you will be doing. Some of the social media specialists are indeed experts in these tools and naturally focus their efforts on telling their customers how to get most out of the tools. In my humble view it drives the discussion into a wrong direction.

Tools are irrelevant!
It is a bit of an overstatement, as tools are relevant at the right moment of time. What use are shiny new tools after all when there is no purpose? You really need to think about the purpose of social media before determining what tools to use: set your social strategy. In his article “Stop Fondling the Hammer, and Focus on the House” Jeremiah Owyang clarifies it from the example of building a house. In one of his more recent blogposts and webinar series about developing a Social Strategy Jeremiah puts it a bit more in the perspective of customer relations and how to develop a strategy around it.

Most articles you will find on the web are focused on applying social media in customer interactions. And rightfully so, it is an area where many companies lack a strategy and leave opportunities for customer interaction and customer intimacy wide open.

How about alliances and collaboration?
Collaboration, both within the own organization as well as between organizations (alliances) is an area where the use of social media will have a natural fit. Social media will allow to share documents and create central libraries of them. Most organizations at the moment use email to send documents back and forth, which has a couple of disadvantages. So will it always be the question where the latest document is and who has access to it. New members on the team will need to have the documentation forwarded again to get up to date. Email is, in contradiction to what people think, far from a reliable tool and certainly insecure. Often it happens that email is never reaches the recipient, whatever reason there might be.

These disadvantages can very easy be overcome by the use of social media in your collaborations and alliances. Create a central repository with all your documentation in it and give all team members access to the repository. Is a member leaving: revoke her access, a new member on the team: grant access. This central repository can be enriched by adding functionality like profiles, microblogging, groups, wiki workspaces, internal blogs, it can all be done from the same environment. An environment that can be secure and only open to the people you invite. Depending on your needs there are tools out there that allow an easy 5 minute setup and tools that are suitable for a full enterprise wide deployment that require a little more setup time.

The central workspace
Now that the environment, the central workspace, is there it is time to fill and start using it. Bring all your documents on the collaboration or alliance into the central environment. Use for instance the Wiki workspaces for documentation about alliance governance structures, scope of work, and also alliance reporting. Groups will be used to put sub projects of the overall collaboration in their own area of the central workspace. Profiles and microblogging functionality can be used for building and maintaining the team. These are the social networking tools available to the alliance. The profiles will allow the team members to share information about themselves, include pictures, tell about hobbies. Yes indeed that is far beyond the scope of business, but it is the essential social part. Here people create awareness about who they are and the team get’s to know each other beyond just the excellent skills they have for the project. Microblogging will allow the team to share short status messages, like we see in many of the public social media tools out there.

The use of these microblogging messages will vary per team member, one will love it and post frequently the other will barely use it at all. That’s fine, as we are still on the social part of social media for collaboration every person will be different and their way of using the system will be different. When you do use them you will be amazed some day what you learn about your fellow team members, about their skills or about their interests. It will help to create and strengthen the team in the alliance. I would strive for every member to fill at least their profile, make sure a good picture is in that profile and a clear description about their tasks in the collaboration project and some words about them personal.

Launch and management
When you kick off your collaboration or alliance make sure the central workspace is part of the kick off meeting. The sooner you involve your team members in this new effective way of working the easier deployment will be. You would want to avoid the fact that people in the end will start sending documents through email again. Then you will be back to square one and it will be unclear where and what the latest version of your documentation is.
Consider appointing one or more community managers, team members that have the task to ensure the central workspace is used properly. Choose the missionary type, one that will find pleasure in exploring new things and guide others along their journey. They will play a pivotal role in successful adoption.

Once started with the project and the use of tools do continue leading the teams also from the perspective of social media. Remember, for most of the team members it is a new area, a new way of working together, so you will have to lead by example!

A question I received in email the other day inquiring for arguments how social media can be used to better run alliances inspired me to write this article. I hope it helped to put the use of social media for alliances and collaboration in perspective and it would be great to read your response. Do you have experiences with social media in managing your alliances and collaboration projects?