Social business: Should you ban internal email at work?


When people ask me to explain what social business is all about, I’ve found that describing it as an alternative to email for internal communication and collaboration is an easy-to-grasp starting point.

What makes this explanation even more interesting is that last week Thierry Breton, CEO of IT services firm Atos announced his intention to have a “zero email” policy within the next 18 months. This statement has been seen by many as controversial, but some believe this will be viewed as normal rather than exceptional in the not too distant future.

Breton highlights that internal emails are becoming increasingly demanding of time. As users accumulate more and more data in their inboxes  (which may or may not be relevant to their job) searching for key information becomes more difficult and time consuming. Thus Thierry is suggesting that eradicating internal email will make his internal team more efficient.

Let’s be clear - email is not going away any time soon and Atos would still use it for external communication. However, transforming the internal communication model in this way this way is a definite move towards becoming a social business. In fact, Atos would not be the first multinational company moving towards a social business model and IT companies are ideally placed to pioneer this change as they have the in-house resource to implement these systems and the desire to be leaders in the field.

Here are just  a few areas where moving away from email for internal process can be beneficial:

For the workforce of the future

In an interview with the BBC, Breton highlighted how “most of the young people that we were hiring were not using email anymore after graduating from universities. They were instead mainly using instant messaging tools and social networks like Facebook - and for most of them, when they joined Atos it was first time they had ever worked with internal email tools like [Microsoft] Outlook.”

I expect that much of the criticism of Breton’s desired policy has arisen from a confusion as to what tools will be used - “Facebook/Twitter-like” may be misleading, causing people to imagine an informal or very short-form discussion. Social business tools will be purpose built for enterprise, but retain the familiar user experience of the major social networks. The adoption of these platforms will come naturally to younger recruits and is only going to become more prevalent over time.

Stop attaching, start collaborating

The ability to work on documents collaboratively is perhaps what excites me the most about social business. Tools such as Chatter or Confluence (see our list of collaboration tools for social business for other examples) offer secure environments for documents to be shared and worked on simultaneously. Freedom from the need to track, revise and merge changes into a single document is a great boost to efficiency.

It goes beyond the sharing of documents, though, as pooling skills and knowledge will be another benefit. In a large enterprise, the ability to quickly identify others who may have the skills or knowledge you need for a project will be invaluable. Individuals will be able to tag their areas of expertise, or even topics that they are interested in and so be able to contribute even if they are from different departments or countries.

Top down change

Successful transformation to a social business requires senior buy-in, and so I hope that Breton is successful in proving the value of alternatives to internal email. If this is the case then Atos will be a valuable example for others looking to demonstrate the benefits to management.

Social business: 10 tips for safe, secure and compliant collaboration


Human pyramid representing collaboration

Image from Flickr courtesy of Keith Williamson

One of the main obstacles stopping companies from embracing a social business model is the fear that opening access to social media for employees will hinder employee productivity, or will open up new security, compliance or privacy concerns.

Sarah Carter, the VP of marketing at Actiance recently put together a presentation which gives businesses 10 top tips for secure collaboration:

Ten Tips to Safe Social Collaboration

1. Understand the landscape

  • Social media is now being departmentalised far more than before -
    • The average organisation in UK now has five Facebook fan pages, instead of just the one, as it was 12 months ago.
    • IBM North America has 39 twitter accounts.
  • By 2014, social media will be the primary interpersonal communication service for 20% of business users instead of email.

2. Consider and address the risks

  • The risks to social business and online collaboration are just the same as before, only now the speed and spread of communications is much greater and faster. Dealing with issues in real time is something you must be prepared for, as well as online reputation and crisis management.
  • Provide a secure, collaboration environment to reduce the risk of data leakage, whether inadvertent or malicious.
  • Social media channels are becoming increasingly targeted by virus and malware hackers. The trusted nature of social networks means people are more likely to click links if it looks as though it was sent through LinkedIn, for example.

3. Understand the legal and regulatory situation

  • As social provides a form of electronic communications, we have to consider the existing regulations affecting communications.
  • Consider retaining the content that is created and shared over social media.
  • Think about archiving commentary between your customers and employees (has added CRM benefits too).

4. Establish a presence

  • It may be necessary to divide your social media presences across a variety of accounts as your HR and marketing departments will have different approaches to how social media will be used.

5. Engage and be engaging

  • Ask questions, participate in groups and Q+A areas of sites and communities.
  • Follow what is going on in the lives of your employees, customer base and even competitors.

6. Consider Enterprise Social

  • It might be necessary to go beyond the major social networks such as Twitter or Facebook for your employees to collaborate. You may like to check out our ‘living’ list of social media collaboration platforms.

7. Educate

  • Educate your users about the risks of using social media - not everyone will have the same appreciation about the effects that a mistake can have on your online reputation.
  • Keep yourself and your IT team educatedabout the constantly evolving social landscape - users will be learning about new tools and platforms at a fast rate and it’s important to stay abreast of trends.
  • Educate your network about the events you are running, or attending, and use social platforms to arrange meetings before you even arrive.

8. Control, Manage, Secure

  • Ensure your employees who participate on social media for your company do so with accounts that can be clearly identified as corporate to help keep records of conversations and to aid customers identification.
  • It is possible to restrict access to certain areas of social networks and you may need to consider this*. For example, employees may need access to Facebook during office hours, but do you want them playing FarmVille?
  • Similarly, it is also possible to establish black and whitelists of words that can be used. Avoid the issue of an employee inadvertently saying that they “guarantee” an outcome by preventing it from being published.*

9. Review and Revise

  • Identify which policies are working, review your policies and then move on.

10. Measure

  • Response rates from social media outreach is important to measure across the different networks, and also against email.
  • Some of the things you measure will be simple, eg, number of connections you make, however remember that quality is especially important so numbers alone is not a suitable metric. You will need to identify metrics that accurately show the value of your social media strategy and key business goals.
*these two points were described as examples of Actiance’s features.

15 social media collaboration platforms


Social media is not just about conversations; it’s also about collaboration.With this in mind we thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the most well known collaboration tools on the market at the moment.

Much like our list of social media management tools wiki, this is an ongoing project, so if you know of any others please let us know so we can add them to the list.

  • Adobe Acrobat - allows teams to work collaboratively on documents through their browsers. Options for web conferencing and screen-sharing provide additional communication channels.
  • Atlassian Confluence - offers a powerful wiki-based solution to enterprise collaboration. Content can be simply dragged and dropped from the desktop to the platform, eliminating the need for keeping track of attachments sent via email.
  • Basecamp - collaborative messaging and file sharing. Project management can be easily tracked with milestones and deadlines, and templates for saving time with common projects. Campfire by Basecamp implements real time chat for collaboration.
  • Broadvision Clearvale - a Cloud-based platform that can be established without the need for any additional IT resources.
  • Colaab - offer real time browser based collaboration by allowing annotations to appear simultaneously on other collaborator’s screens. A “DeepZoom” feature allows work and annotation to take place on very specific areas of large images, such as design documents.
  • Chatter - provided by Salesforce and free for existing customers. It allows communication and sharing of projects by employees from their browsers, desktops or mobile devices.
  • Google Documents - simultaneous editing of files makes Google Docs ideal for students and other casual collaborative groups. The upgraded Google Apps version offers additional security options for business.
  • Huddle - project management and collaboration software that allows you to connect, share and invite people to work on projects.
  • Sharepoint - provides a single platform for employees to work collaboratively through various methods such as wikis and work flows. Personal profiles allow a team to better understand each other’s skills, experience and interests.
  • Socialcast - allows employees to discuss projects remotely through a microblogging service, which is also accessible from a smartphone. The Town Hall extension enables discussion between executives and employees.
  • Socialtext - uses a Facebook-like interface and claims to increase typically increase productivity by 20% or more.
  • Tibbr - uses a design that is familiar to Facebook users, providing an intuitive experience. One key feature is the ability for employees to follow subjects, to stay informed on news and developments in their area of business.
  • Wiggio - a free service that simplifies keeping track of multiple groups. Collaboration on documents, polls, and communication by text are some of the offered services.
  • Yammer - enables companies to create their own private social network, requiring a company email address to access the community.
  • Zoho - a large variety of collaborative and sharing tools for individuals, groups and businesses.

(NB: The power of online collaboration is perhaps best exemplified by Wikipedia. The Wiki platform is a great collaboarative tool, but as there are so many versions and uses it’s quite difficult to cover them all).

Added since the post was originally written:

  • Sosius - a hosted online workspace, accessible from any PC or Mac, that lets you create and collaborate and share.
  • nu+/Yooplus - a team collaboration and social software platform for the SME market.
  • Podio - a collaboration platform with  a new and radical take on work tools: you build it yourself.
  • Teamlab - enterprise collaboration, project management, document sharing and instant messaging solution.
  • Wikispaces - wikis for organisations, individuals and groups to enable online sharing and collaboration.
  • Offbureau - Offbureau fuses on-line collaboration, document management, and a social network.
  • Open Atrium - drupal based team collaboration tool.
  • Episerver relate - collaboration and community software. Also turns out-of-date intranets into a social community where employees collaborate and share information.
  • FYMI - a private collaboration site where you can store and share information securely and sustainably with your team.

Customers sometimes do not know what they want


Image by Darren Hester via Flickr

The promise of co-creation is that getting customers involved in the innovation process, and letting them inform the design of new products, will mean that you develop a product that is better suited to their needs and will ultimately perform better in the market. Of course, it is not always this simple. Often customers don’t know what they want. They can’t necessarily articulate how they would design the ideal product, nor can they say what is wrong with the existing product. They may never have articulated what they like nor what they dislike, but this doesn’t mean that the product isn’t perfect.

Over the weekend, the New York Times looked at this very subject following revelations from ex-Google visual designer, Douglas Bowman. In an unusual move, Bowman explained on his blog the reason he had left Google. As the New York Times discussed, his description of the design process at Google raises a number of questions:

Can a company blunt its innovation edge if it listens to its customers too closely? Can its products become dull if they are tailored to match exactly what users say they want?

Bowman’s suggestion is that that answer to all of these questions is “yes”. That Google relies too much on data, as a proxy of customer input, and not enough on design skills alone. As the New York Times article report:

Mr. Bowman’s main complaint is that in Google’s engineering-driven culture, data trumps everything else. When he would come up with a design decision, no matter how minute, he was asked to back it up with data. Before he could decide whether a line on a Web page should be three, four or five pixels wide, for example, he had to put up test versions of all three pages on the Web. Different groups of users would see different versions, and their clicking behavior, or the amount of time they spent on a page, would help pick a winner.

This kind of user-input into the design process is what many think of when they think of working with their customers on new product development and design. They think of presenting a number of options to customers (or indeed to potential customers) and then asking them to evaluate each one and choose the one they prefer (or in this case to take their use of a particular design as a proxy for this choice). Of course, this is not necessarily the best way of co-creating with your customers.

Rather than asking people what they think about a particular set of designs they prefer (or which they use most), you can often get a more useful level of insight by engaging with them. Don’t ask them about solutions to a problem but observe what they discuss and say about the problems themselves.

Imagine you are a company designing kitchen equipment. You could involve your customers in the design and innovation process in one of three ways:

  1. Ask them what they want - ask what new equipment, tools or gadgets would make their life in the kitchen easier or allow them to do new things
  2. Ask them to choose between a set of prototypes - present a set of potential new products to them and ask them to choose which they want.
  3. Ask them to talk about what they do in the kitchen, what equipment they use and what problems they have

The last of these is most likely to produce the most insightful outcomes. Rather than asking people to get involved in the actual prototype products themselves, or to tell you what they want, get them involved further up the innovation funnel. Engage them and talk to them about what they use in the kitchen - what makes their lives easier, what would they like to be able to prepare and cook but can’t. Don’t talk to them about the equipment that, you hope, will solve their problems. Talk to them about their problems themselves.

By watching what people do you can then interpret this and begin a design process based on this information and this engagement. Then, rather than just presenting three options to people of potential new designs, you can approach them based on what they have discussed before: “there was a lot of discussion about x, here are some ways we think we could help with that. What do you think?”

This kind of engagement is where online communities really come to their fore. They let you engage your customer in a sustainable way. You can get to know them, their lives and the problems and challenges they face. It isn’t just a short-term process to “do some co-creation”, rather it is long-term engagement that fundamentally changes the way you innovate and develop new products.

Customers sometimes do not know what they want. It’s a fact. They do, however, know how they use what they have, the problems they face and the things they would like to be simplified. Understand what they do know rather than forcing themselves to make choices about things they don’t.

  • Design: it’s not all about you. (
  • Design Or Data? Ex-Googler Spills All After Landing At Twitter [Design] (
  • Google designer leaves, blaming data-centrism (

Web Mission 09: Investors, Oracle and Hitching


After spending yesterday morning at Plug and Play, the Web Mission 09 team spent the afternoon meeting with some Silicon Valley investors. Each firm had a five-minute slot in which to pitch their idea. It certainly felt rather dragon’s-den like, with the key difference being the entrepreneurs on Web Mission 09 tend to be running businesses which are already successful and have clients, products and traction in their market.

The highlight of the pitching came from Simon Campbell of ViaPost. He went for a full-on re-enactment of Steve Ballmer’s famous “I love this company” speech and it certainly got some attention.

That evening we had a night off from formal events. I managed to get tickets to see Gavin DeGraw play the Great American Music Hall. It’s a lovely venue and proved to be a great night out. Oh and if you’re a DeGraw fan, you can hear his new album early on Spotify, the web’s best music service.

This morning was one of the most discussed sessions of the week: a full day at Oracle getting an insider’s view on their Enterprise2.0 developments and plans. Highlights included finding out about Beehive, Oracle’s Collaborative Enterprise Platform, an insight into their Social CRM offering and one-to-one meetings with the Global head of M&A.

Beehive is a central plank in Oracle’s social and collaboration strategy. It provides enterprise customers with team collaboration tools (blogs, discussions, tags and wikis) and tools for synchronous collaboration (conferencing, presence, instant chat and voice chat). They are pitching it against a host of Microsoft tools and claimed that a deployment for a 5,000 person firm would save a company 54% on hardware costs and 70% on software if buying Microsoft.

I had to rush back early to San Fran. I’d left it a little late and decided that rather then wait for a cab I should walk to the train station. Crossing over yet another 5-lane dual carriage-way I noticed a sign to San Fran and decided, for the first time in 15 years, to see what would happen if I tried to hitch a lift back to the city. Within ten seconds a car stopped for me.

By co-incidence it was driven by a software developer who built the Imbee, a Social Network for kids with strong parental supervision capabilities. Even more of a co-incidence, Imbee, like our own community platform, is based on Drupal, the open-source modular framework and content management system. So we spent a happy 35 minutes discussing the 100,000 strong Drupal developer community. He even dropped me off at my door. Thank you.

Read all of Charlie’s WebMission 09 blog posts here.