Three Big Benefits of Social Software

Ann All

Collaboration is becoming an overused term, despite the fact that few people seem to agree on exactly what it is. It's a little like the Supreme Court's long-running -- and thus far unsuccessful -- effort to define obscenity.


Andy Blumenthal, CTO of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, last summer tried to define the difference between collaboration and communication, concluding that collaboration differs from communication by taking folks out of their usual functional and organizational boundaries. He wrote:

In the process of moving from vertical to horizontal information sharing and collaboration, we are flattening our organizations. The hierarchies are less important and are shrinking, and the intra- and inter-agency sharing and collaboration are being elevated and growing. Before, we had information or "dots" that we communicated about in our verticals, but now we are connecting the dots, by sharing and collaborating on the information horizontally, across the verticals.

Vendors trying to sell organizations tools designed to facilitate collaboration are among the biggest proponents of collaboration. I'm not sure I can take another vendor telling me about the next "Facebook (or Twitter) for the enterprise." Truth is, you can collaborate using traditional business communicatons tools like e-mail. IT Business Edge VP Ken-Hardin made that point in a post from 2008 in which he noted that the simple software-as-a-service collaboration platform used by our editorial team hadn't exactly wowed him. He wrote:

... The ability to post team updates and brainstorm on content ideas in an open, collaborative and (mostly) searchable environment is well worth our monthly subscription. [But] what this tool has not done is revolutionize our business processes. We had e-mail, a personnel directory and a networked file server for documentation before it came along. Believe it or not, most office suites had versioning and sharing built right in before wikis introduced the notion to the blogosphere.

You can collaborate with them, but do most of us want to? Not really, as it's an overly arduous and often frustrating experience. Ken also mentioned he'd asked me about some interviews I'd done with folks about their organizations' use of social software. Though I don't remember the specific conversation, I apparently told him most of my interviewees used collaboration tools to improve communication, not totally revolutionize it. Again, from Ken's post:

By "improve communication," I mean just overcoming tactical obstacles, like making it easy to search team messaging and documentation. Again, office suites have been offering perfectly useful -- but decidedly unsexy -- ways to accomplish this since the last millennium.

That was a fair assessment then, and I think it's still a fair assessment today. That doesn't mean, however, that social software doesn't help organizations achieve some truly significant improvements. Like e-mail, smartphones and other communications tools before them, it's hard for us to imagine at this stage just how important they might ultimately become to many of us.


You can get a taste of it by reading a blog post written by Sebastian Schaefer, a consultant for Capgemini in Munich, Germany, who discusses Capgemini's use of the Yammer microblogging platform. (Yammer is one of 15 free enterprise collaboraton tools included in a CIO.com slideshow.) Schaefer touches upon three big benefits of social tools like Yammer, ones that separate these newer tools from more traditional ones like e-mail:

  • Open communication
  • Emergence
  • Serendipity


Open communication makes it easier to share content, gives recipients more control of the content they want to consume and relieves content owners of the task of deciding who should receive it. Notes Schaefer:

Hence, content is filtered on the way out, not in. The benefits are more awareness on current issues and the support of topic oriented networking across inner-organizational boundaries (i.e. silos). Eventually all employees ("our most valued capital") get the ability to contribute which also opens new spaces for synergistic effects, e.g. important contributions may arise from where nobody had ever expected it.

Open communication leads to emergence, or new ways of organizing content. Examples offered by Schaefer include tag clouds, information streams based on hash-tags, convergence of stable content on wiki pages, context-embedded information and the dynamic formation of emergent teams around certain topics.


Open communication also leads to serendipity, or discovering something of value not included in the original scope of a search. This is an already accepted phenomenon in most workplaces, says Schaefer, usually taking place via personal "water cooler conversations." Social software, however, "scales the water cooler spot to a company wide meeting place," in a way that increases the odds of engaging with the right person at the right time.


I know what some of you financial types are thinking: How do I quantify these benefits? I discussed the difficulty of quantifying the benefits of social software -- and shared some examples from companies that have attempted to do so -- in a post I wrote earlier this year.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 28, 2010 9:11 AM robert robert  says:

Good article. It has really helped us increase communication. We recently started using the DRE Software BCN collaboration tool a few months ago. http://www.dresoftware.com/

The BCN DRE Software is web-based business collaboration software that can be set up by anyone without the help of IT resources. I just found out they are now planning to add web conferencing in a future release.

We use the BCN to collaborate with our customers, prospects, partners and other colleagues in a secure, personalized work space. It makes me wonder what we did without it. They gave us a free trial we used for all kinds of business scenerios

that have work really well for us. We keep finding more and more ways to use it. We have gotten very positive feedback from our customers and I think it has really improved our response time with the email integration. We have the whole team on the same page. I think we will see big cost savings once the web conferencing is implemented. We have CRM but found there was a big hole that the DRE software filled without having to download any software we can access from anywhere and it has helped us solve issues with our offices in different time zones.There is no limit on the number of work spaces our users can create and we have unlimited storage space for all the imformation we need to share.

Easy to use, no IT resources required, cost effective, building customer loyalty, great for teamwork and projects. It is heping us get things done!

Aug 31, 2010 4:06 PM Enterprise Social Software Enterprise Social Software  says:

Excellent points. I think you may have overlooked a major benefit however. Contribution. The implementation of Social Software allows for business wide contribution, this makes staff feel more a part of the company and when they feel they have a vested interest it increases both morale and productivity.

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Oct 7, 2016 9:00 AM Resource Planning Software Resource Planning Software  says:
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