Successful Social Collaboration? Bootstrap Small Businesses it First

bootstrap small businessSocial collaboration platforms are the new real estate. Whether you’re using them as a social marketing channel or to bootstrap your small business idea, even if its beautifully designed and the user experience has been woven effectively into it.

The old saying “build it and they will come” is not a guarantee that you’ll have a heavily engaged platform of conversation, sharing and collaboration that leads to increased revenue or deeper relationships.

That’s the problem, organizations wanting to connect to its audience or build collaborative spaces and places see it as a technological solution not a human one, still. 

The problem is a lack of strategy and purpose that all to often just goes wrong and badly. Leaders recognize that both their customers and employees are using social media quite heavily and they are all too aware of the success and failures. They know they can’t ignore it forever but many know very little about how to apply it their organization.

Then there is the issue of learning from the past when, in fact, what we need to do is learn as we go into the future. Creating a new culture that has collaboration embedded in its DNA requires new thinking. 

It’s where many organizations are tripping up.The biggest problem I have seen is people trying to solve the whole problem all at once. It falls into one of these scenarios:

1. Some organizations are putting enterprise solutions in place and then expecting their entire work force to be engaged immediately. The reason is that they think that if they make connecting mandatory, the rest will follow. It doesn’t. Its a lot more hard work than that. This is not Facebook.

2. There is always a danger when you try and solve it in one fair swoop that it actually gets bogged down in conflicting motivations, squabbles over control and the cynics fighting the optimists. It’s all politics of course. Competition internally over who ‘owns’ the platform and who takes responsibility. 

Is it IT, HR or marketing? Failure to even collaborate at this stage, to work out a way to move forward jointly is a major barrier. And, of course, this just delays the project that then eventually loses its initial impetus and retreats into the background. Stuck in a chasm.

3. You can’t change behavior overnight. Most people want to be engaged but there is always a lack of trust around a brand that suddenly decides it wants to engage with both of its customers and employees in equal measure. 

Trust is the bedrock of ensuring that social technologies drive out the outcomes you desire and have set as targets. Trust is not earned by command, control and manipulative behaviours but through respect, authentic and value behaviours.

4. Implementing a grass roots community engagement model or creating a top down approach from the ‘C’ suite. Grass roots often brings about poorly disciplined collaborative working and a lack of focus. Top down often brings about badly designed purpose that few buy into.

5. Companies putting in a social marketing strategy without considering an employee enterprise social network. Thinking about customers first then crow barring employees into whatever happens. Engaged employees will deliver engaged customers.

When you have even just one of these scenarios deployed you get one of the following results:

1. It fails and then the cynics have their ammunition to prevent it happening ever again.

2. Its just too big and will often lack any sense of purpose. People need a compelling cause to be attracted to using something over the long term.

3. Brands have engaged customers but employees are de motivated and uninspired. A disconnect occurs. In a connected economy this just does not make sense.

It is, of course, a risk and an opportunity and it needs to be treated as such. So what is the answer, well I’m starting to see some really productive results from creating a strategic approach to collaboration between brands, their customers and their employees that drives towards employees/customers jointly collaborating on special projects. 

The foundations for this approach are based on the following:

1. Don’t try and engage 1000 employees from the start and don’t try and engage 1000′s of customers from the outset. Start small focusing on two or three projects that are ‘hot spots.’ Learn lots, understand how social networking, technology and collaboration actually work and then scale up to other areas that will be harder to make a success.

2. Don’t tell people what they want, listen and ask them first. Understand the target participants. Why would they collaborate together? What value will they get out of it? What value will the organisation derive? Where is the ‘win win?’ Invest in a focused social listening audit before you even think about delivery models.

3. Create a strategy, bring some social architect expertise in to guide your team through the process. They will help develop the roadmap which starts with a well defined purpose that reads something like this (real examples):

“Engage 75% of our engineers across the business to collaborate on solving our current problems in XXXX, improve product performance, decrease failures and increase the resolution of customer complaints.”


“They know they can’t ignore it forever but many know very little about how to apply it their organisation.”


“Engage with us and get people interested in product XXXX so that we can develop services to help you better.”

Social strategists know how to build the architecture required to bring together technology and humans to best effect. The actual tactics must be delivered by the organization itself from inside out. Too often there is a disconnect between the technology and real customer/employee needs.

4. If you are working small scale you can be quite sophisticated in your approach. Picking projects likely to create early wins makes your long term strategy succeed. 

On a small scale you can use a ‘honeycomb’ model with customers and employees simultaneously. Effectively you are jumping to a hard hitting, very inspiring, competitive advantage in one focused approach. Cultural change rapidly takes effect with these projects. 

There are pre-conditions required in terms of customer and employee engagement but it really gets to the heart of the problem and innovative solutions are produced jointly across stakeholder chains.

5. Monitor and measure the impact, the results and the outcomes. Analyse the data, understand what worked what didn’t. Create champions and listen and learn. Then scale it up to other areas, one step at a time. But also consider that different collaborations may require different purposes and differing engagement models. Here you are moving into a portfolio of community engagement and I’m not talking about traditional employee surveys here.

6. And with any strategy approach, on a small scale no matter what engagement model is used, make sure that both grass roots collaboration is blended with a top down approach and vice versa. Its a two pronged approach that is easy to manage on a micro level, an absolute nightmare if delivered on a large scale.

7. Use content as the method to optimize dialogue between customers and employees. The better the content and the activity, the more attention it attracts and intelligent collaboration will ensue. One of the roles of collaboration is to transform the quality of the conversation amongst people, that means improving the quality of relationships amongst people too.

Strategy always begins with purpose. Creating a social business involves both the customer and the employee, they are not mutually exclusive. It requires an intelligent approach. Organizations are still trying to do this themselves despite failing miserably over the last several decades. The introduction of technology means the organization has less control and must adopt facilitative skills rather than command directives.

That’s a change.

The first rule of social collaboration; knowing how you’ll make a success of this is to know who you are creating it for. This new set of conditions require decision makers to be more adaptive, open, humble, respectful and attentive to human needs.

Start off with a goal and start with plan. Be humble by bootstrapping.

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