Social Collaboration: Benefits, Best Practices, and Tools
With social media, you can chat with friends, share funny memes, and tweet angry things into the internet void. Social collaboration uses the same tools (and can include the same behaviors), but the goals are different; this is the business side of social media.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at social collaboration; what it is, what the benefits are, and what best practices you can follow. We’ll also share some examples of social collaboration software. Here goes!
What is social collaboration?
Networking is the standard way business people connect. It’s a concept that has gone on for as long as people have been trading goods and services. Social collaboration is networking gone digital.
Instead of coming together in the town square or at a networking meeting, people come together online and work together. You can “meet” people on LinkedIn, Twitter, or any number of websites and create professional relationships. People can recommend others for new jobs or contract work based on these digital-only relationships.
Social collaboration isn’t just about networking in the traditional sense of you- help-me and I’ll-help-you in solidifying business deals. It can also be within an organization where you work together to solve a problem or create a plan, but do so via electronic media rather than sitting in a conference room.
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In 2020 when the pandemic forced many jobs and all external networking to an online realm, social collaboration took off in a new way. Suddenly, it was okay to meet via video conference and do entire project plan discussions via instant messaging.
Whatever your situation, social collaboration is creating networks and solving problems in the digital world.
Benefits of social collaboration
Bloomfire, a company that specializes in social collaboration software, identified five key benefits of social collaboration. They are:
- Increased understanding of projects throughout the organization. When employees are siloed, they know only what they are working on. Socializing their work helps ensure more employees are aware of the bigger picture.
- Easier knowledge transfer. When someone leaves an organization, knowledge typically leaves with them. Making their knowledge available to others in a public way minimizes the impact of their departure.
- Stronger teams. Teams that communicate well do better than those that don’t. If you don’t believe this, watch a development organization that has institutionalized code review, in which one developer consistently reviews the code of another. Both developers improve through the process, thereby improving the team.
- A better product. The more that employees socialize their work through collaboration, the better the opportunity for enhancements, and the better they are able to mitigate potential risks. Personally, I never send out something I’ve written for work without having a colleague review it. Including this article.
- Improved culture. When people on a team support each other through collaboration, there is less fear of failure because every project is a group project. If you’ve ever been in a team culture, you know what I’m talking about. It’s liberating and empowering at the same time.
These five benefits, of course, depend on how a company uses social collaboration. A broader understanding of projects throughout the organization only works if people diligently share information with others throughout the organization.
Siloing can still occur when we share information electronically. It requires peoples to have an interest in communicating with different teams. There must be positive interactions for people to share information gladly and for people to receive it gladly. It doesn’t matter if Jane in Marketing uploads all her plans to the company’s collaboration software if no one looks at it.
Having things done and communicated through electronic means does leave a record, making it easier to find information. Still, instant message social collaboration will not have the same impact as something more formal.
Your company can realize these benefits with leadership cultivating the proper use of social collaboration, but there are many other benefits for this digital networking outside the company.
Here are some external benefits to social collaboration.
- Removes geographic limits. You can quickly contact someone on LinkedIn regardless of their location. You are not limited to people in your town or even in your country. It’s easy to connect and collaborate with people who live all over the world. You can develop business relationships with people as well. For instance, these social collaboration tools allow you to find a web designer in Brazil and an administrative assistant in India while you sit in London. The world is the limit.
- A better chance for feedback. If you post your idea on Reddit, you’ll get immediate and harsh feedback. While you generally want to keep the polite side of “social” on the collaboration, people who do not know you are often less concerned about your feelings than your immediate coworkers who know and like you–and have important reasons for maintaining a cordial relationship.
Using broader social groups for networking, people will happily tell you what is wrong with your plans–which gives you a chance to fix it, rather than blindly move forward with something unlikely to work.
- Expanded water-cooler. You’re no longer limited to your own coworkers for ideas. Scroll through your Twitter feed, and (if you’ve chosen to follow people in your profession), you’ll find ideas on tackling the same problems you face. You’ll see solutions and find humor in what you need to accomplish.
In the world of Human Resources, many small companies have HR departments of one or two. Through social collaboration, HR people around the globe can come together in a Facebook group to serve as each other’s coworkers. That helps save the company a fortune and relieves headaches for the solo HR generalist.
- Discover best practices without formal research. There will always be a white paper or an article in the Harvard Business Review about best practices in almost all business cases. Still, social collaboration allows you to see things without the help of academics. Read in real-time about what people are doing. Ask questions directly to thought leaders. You no longer have to wait for an academic to interview the VP of HR at IBM; you can send her a message on LinkedIn or ask a question via Quora.
- A leveled playing field. It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. While this has not gone away, social collaboration has made it possible to “know” more people. You don’t have to buy a VIP backstage ticket to a conference to catch the eye of an industry leader. You don’t have to get into Harvard to connect with Harvard grads. Suddenly, there is a lot more access.
Whether implementing social collaboration tools in your office or building your own digital network, you need to follow best practices. Here are five.
- Don’t forget formality. Because the online world uses emojis and shares memes, it can be easy to forget with whom you speak. You may agonize over the grammar and wording of a report but dash off an instant message to the entire group containing spelling errors and an unnecessary epithet. While you’d never show up to an in-person meeting in shorts and a tank top, you may find it okay to do so in a zoom meeting. Try to keep some formality in your social collaboration. It will serve you in the long run.
- Collaboration comes from the top. If your company invests in Slack to encourage social collaboration, but nobody in the C suite uses it for collaboration, you won’t achieve goals. If the CEO just drops pronouncements in Slack but never responds to anyone, it ceases to be a collaboration but is just a different form of email.
- Allow people freedom. While it’s important for senior people to participate, if they control or edit or criticize, you will also lose the impact of social collaboration. People need the opportunity to share information back and forth without fear of constant criticism.
- Take advantage of non-formal collaboration. Your company may have a social collaboration tool that helps you communicate within the company, but don’t forget about the social networking tools outside the building. Your personal network will be there after you leave this company and can help you to find new opportunities.
- Don’t make social collaboration extra work. There needs to be a natural flow to social collaboration. Requiring people to do work in one system and then share it on another makes this just another task they have to check off–and they will fail to see the value.
Social collaboration software
Beyond the social media sites that most of us use every day (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera), there is a lot of software explicitly designed to facilitate social collaboration in the office. Finances Online reviewed social collaboration software and came up with the top performers. Here are the top three:
- Monday.com This software isn’t just about socializing and making connections; it’s also project management software. This allows your employees to manage and collaborate within the same tool–making at least one of the best practice guidelines easy to follow. With less software switching, you can spend time collaborating instead of logging in and logging out of various software.
- Igloo. Igloo targets explicitly companies that operate globally. This can be a benefit to bringing together a geographically diverse workforce. Unlike the other two software packages in the top three, Igloo doesn’t focus on project management but strictly on communication. It also has a free version, so it might be the place to start if you don’t need project management tools as well.
- Wrike. Wrike identifies itself first and foremost as a project management tool, but it supports social collaboration as well–although a caution: Tech Radar says it doesn’t have an integrated chat. While chat, itself, isn’t critical to social collaboration, it is a preferred method of many–especially Millennials and Gen Z. Consider what other discussion functions your office has before investing in this software if you’re looking for integrated social collaboration software.
Whichever way you choose to work with digital social networking and collaboration; it’s an essential tool for companies and individuals. The world is digital, and your workforce and clients may be global. Working together through social collaboration can change how you do business and – accelerated by this year’s pandemic – will increasingly do so.
Social collaboration is mainly about two things 1) networking in the traditional sense of you- help-me and I’ll-help-you in solidifying business deals and 2) working together within an organization to solve a problem or create a plan, but via electronic media.
Benefits of social collaboration include: an increased understanding of projects throughout the organization, an easier knowledge transfer, stronger teams, a better product, and an improved culture.
External benefits include the fact that it removes geographic limits, it offers a better chance for feedback, it levels the playing field, and it makes it easier to discover best practices.
Best practices for social collaboration include: allowing people freedom, remembering that collaboration comes from the top, not forgetting formality, taking advantage of non-formal collaboration, and making sure social collaboration doesn’t create an extra workload.