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    Transparency, Access and Focus: Getting the Most From Enterprise Social Software

    I recently had a series of conversations with customers to get their input on some upcoming capabilities. The conversations included a variety of stakeholders and participants in each organization. Each conversation triggered thoughtful reflection and lively debate among participants about how their organization should use social software for the right mix of transparency, focus, and security.

    I’ll tell the story, do some analysis, and talk about what it means for how your organization can get the most out of Enterprise 2.0.

    South Australia Office of the Premier

    At the South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet, the discussion was about whether to hold conversations among a larger group, or within smaller enclaves. They use Socialtext Signals heavily for Q&A to tap into the expertise of a broad range of employees and to share resources that are valuable across the organization.

    Several managers advocated in favor of holding and keeping the conversations in smaller groups, while others pushed for more enterprise wide discussions. A member of the risk management group raised concerns about security. A project manager gave a counter-example, talking about value she sees in asking questions and getting answers from the larger group.

    Eventually, the manager weighed in. He said that the goal they were striving for in their use of social software was increased transparency. Part of the goal was to move the culture toward greater openness and transparency. Sure, there is the possibility that someone might make a mistake. But people use email every day and make decisions about what information to share with whom. It’s better to share the goals and trust people’s judgement.

    Getty Images

    At Getty Images, the conversation took the opposite direction. Getty Images is a major distributor of digital images and stock photography. They are using Socialtext broadly among their sales, marketing and service professionals.

    At Getty Images, people are using Signals to ask questions about the broad range of products and services the company offers. They are also using it to promote new campaigns, share reports and good news. A sales manager boasted that “we rocked the Emmies last night.” But people were starting to feel like the discussion in the larger group was too much information. At Getty Images, they are starting to steer people to hold some discussions in smaller groups. The reason is not security, but to improve signal to noise.

    Also, the Getty Images team is finding that brand new users sometimes share things that other people find to be irrelevant and trivial right when they get started. But then they see what others do, and learn from others’ practices, and adapt to the norms of sharing what people feel is relevant.

    GT Nexus

    GT Nexus is a company that makes software for the shipping and transportation industry. At GT Nexus, there was a lively debate among representatives of IT, engineering, product management, design and customer support about the need to share enterprise wide versus in smaller groups. On one hand, some product management and design team members were collaborating in private groups. Meanwhile, an engineering manager was encouraging them to post more publicly across groups.

    The debate didn’t conclude during that meeting. But GT Nexus will be able to use self-join groups and workspaces where they can collaborate in smaller groups without disturbing others, while valuable information is still being to others via browsing and search.

    Analysis and recommendations

    In all of these situations, the ability to share both broadly and narrowly, more publicly and more privately, set up a lively internal discussion about how broadly and narrowly to share different sorts of things. Each organization needed to think through its own culture and information needs, and come up with guidelines and heuristics about what to share with whom. Also in all of these cases, adoption timeline comes into play. People’s initial impulse is to share “too much” or “too little”, and the adoption process is about settling on the norms and accommodating people’s behavior to these norms.

    Overall, the value of enterprise social software comes from increasing transparency, so that more people in the organization have access to the people and information they need. Transparency is tempered by two different factors – the need for security, and the need for focus. If too much information broadly shared, and too much is said out loud, everyone drowns in the noise.

    Enterprise social software needs to enable organizations to manage, focus, and access along both of these axes:

    1. Security is provided through private groups that are visible to members only
    2. Focus is provided by small groups where activity can be easily discovered, and interested parties can join

    It is business decisions and cultures, not features, that enable organizations to gain the benefits of appropriate transparency and access. People need to decide, and develop shared culture, about when to share and ask publicly, and when to refrain from distracting their colleagues. Employees need to understand what information must be kept confidential, and what problems would benefit from increased insight and collaboration from a broader audience.

    The implementation of social software catalyzes important conversations and requires important decisions about transparency, access, and focus in your organization. There is no one right answer, and getting it right takes key decisions about what’s right for your organization, and tools that let you tune for your company’s goals.

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    About This Blog

    Weblog on gaining business results from social software.

    On this blog, Socialtext staffers and customers explore how companies can gain the most business value from their use of enterprise social software, including microblogging, social networking, filtered activity streams, widget-based dashboards, blogs and wikis.

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