Social Networks : activities rather than people and contents

business-tasksWhether it is to understand and explain what enterprise social networks are or think about their use-cases, we tend to focus on two cornerstones : people and content.

People because it’s about people-centric and bottom-up approaches. Content because it’s what stimulates participation and attract users.

Now it’s obvious that it’s not enough to give points of references. Because an approach that mainly focuses on people lacks context. Connecting people and and bringing them together is not enough if the context does not give them a common goal. Same for content : except for internal communication purposes that aren’t sufficient alone (employees can’t spend their days reading contents), contents have little interest outside of a given context.

So even when people and contents are considered jointly, there’s still something missing to build the approach on.

This thing is the context. What leads us to an activity-centric approach to social networks. It’s possible, of course, to invest in a giant water cooler and bet on the emergence of  relationships based on affinity through a system disconnected from employees’ mission (“this is not a place for work”) but ensuring that employees will be able to link their activity on the social network to their work, have things marked out, seems a preferable option.

So it’s not about baiting employees with contents but build use cases based on people’s activities and bring the people and information they need in the platform. The added value here his a more fluid execution, better coordination and information.

If a single team member misses, the tool works for nobody

It supposes to first identify what are people’s key activities. An approach similar to social routine discovery. Listening to employees and observing how they work is necessary. It’s an activity discovery approach that may look like process discovery. Moreover, part of the activities will be tied to processes, the other being informal processes, the way routine tasks are actually performed,

Then, for every single activity, we’ll need to know who’s involved. First, those whose participation is mandatory (they are members of the team, the project, are owners of a part of the process etc…) and those who may be involved who are peers or experts that can help to solve problems. The firsts will be gathered and managed as a work group, the seconds in communities of practices (each person being potentially member of the group, the community or both depending on the matter). People whose participation is mandatory should perfectly master the platform : contrary to communities, if a single member of a team does not use the tool that hosts day to day activities and conversations it’s like no one uses it. For the others a critical mass is often needed for communities to really work.

Contents are not only editorial. Business information and data matters.

The next step is to bring the relevant contents to them. When talking about contents we often tend to think about more or less editorialized ones. It may be the case for communities but workgroup need information related to the execution of their activities. At the prehistoric era of enterprise social networks, users had to juggle with the tools where the information was and those where interactions were. Today, any enterprise social network worth the name allows to connect both and bring information from project or task management tools, CRM etc. into the collaborative platform. For simple needs the tool may also provide good enough functionalities that will make external applications useless.

Then then the mark out. Here again, at the prehistoric era, tasks, steps, milestones used were to be found elsewhere and users had to make themselves the connection between tasks and conversations. Today, tools worth the name will be able to rely on the workflows of the above mentioned tools and notify users in their activity stream, turning notifications into social objects upon which social and collaborative activities will happen. For advanced needs, widgets embedded in the activity stream will allow to perform actions into the externals tools from within the collaborative platform.

Social networks do not only support networking but collaboration also

This approach does not prevent or exempt from traditional approaches based on communities, people and contents. But it will bring an added, direct and operational added value, clearer benefits and a more tangible ROI that will be easier to measure because closer to delivery activities. It will also help to attract more users, most of all the more skeptic and execution-focused ones.

Social networking and social collaboration are often mixed-up. The difference between both is the existence of a mandatory and measured objective and – often – the need – even light – for structure. Both are complementary but businesses too often focus on the first and neglect the second when implementing enterprise social networks. It’s often wrong.