Enterprise 2.0- Communication Tools

Enterprise 2.0 Communication Tools

So you have your hammer, otherwise known as email, and now it’s time to fill out your toolbox and get the right systems in place to solve your task-oriented communication problems. Today I am going to look at some of the available communication and information-sharing systems popularized by the social media movement.

My discussion so far has been very tactical in nature- identify a problem, then pick the right solution. But before I dive into the strengths of these communication tools, I want to briefly digress and share another approach to Enterprise 2.0.

Andrew McAfee, in his book Enterprise 2.0, defines Enterprise 2.0 as “the use of emergent social software platforms by organizations in pursuit of their goals.”

This is a great book, and I highly recommend it. McAfee considers the emergent aspect of these systems- how the benefits increase as more people use them, and the social aspect of these systems- how people are linked to one another. Throughout the book he remains grounded in the realities of corporate life, using four case studies to illustrate problems and solutions.

McAfee uses a bulls-eye to represent classes of people (knowledge workers), organized by strength of interpersonal ties. McAfee looks at how different tools- emergent social software platforms (ESSPs)- take advantage of and help strengthen, promote, and create these ties.

Bulls-eye diagram of tie strength

Strength of collaborative ties
Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools
for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges

by Andrew McAfee, Harvard Business Press, 2009

In a corporate environment, people working closely together should be strongly tied. Weak ties connect business acquaintances, and more importantly, bridge groups of strongly tied individuals- pools of institutional knowledge. Every organization has holes, areas where ties potentially exist, but don’t.

As you look at the communication problems you wish to solve and begin selecting tools, you will get the best results if you can see beyond the immediate task-oriented issues. “Enterprise 2.0” is good lens through which you might look.

Communication Goals

There are some desired characteristics common to most corporations when looking to improve communication systems. Some of these are:

  • Ease of use-
    people don’t like to use something that gets in the way.
  • Relief of pain points in existing systems-
    the overloaded email inbox is a good example.
  • Effective information sharing-
    how to get the right info to the right people at the right time.
  • Easy information access-
    how to find needed information.
  • Institutional learning-
    combine ‘what’ and ‘how’ and keep the info up-to-date.
  • Creation of a strong & weak tie network-
    span structural holes [Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competion by Ronald Burt, Harvard University Press, 1992].

To these general goals you’ll want add your own.

Product managers and product marketing managers in the B2B space should look at these general goals in conjunction with product-specific communication goals.

  • Where does the information your product uses come from?
  • Who creates it and how?
  • Where does the information your product uses go to?
  • Who uses the information?

As Rafiki says, “Look beyond what you can see.”

Look at your product’s entire ecosystem to see where these communication methods can help you (your product) solve your business problems.

Tools

Below is a list of basic communication and collaboration tools.  First, some terms-

Audience: Who can be reached (without major contortions).
Tie Effects: Impact on Strong, Weak, Potential, and Non-existent ties between people.
Info Persistence: How long the information conveyed is available (without additional steps).
Info Access: Who can access the information (without major contortions) and when.
Asynchronous: Sender & recipient(s) do not need to be using the system simultaneously.
Synchronous: Sender & recipients need to be using the system simultaneously.


Email
Text messages coupled with attachments of arbitrary data that are sent to one or more defined recipients.

Audience
One-to-one. One-to-many. Sender-selected audience.

Tie Effects
Can strengthen strong and weak ties. Can help convert weak to strong. No conversion from potential.

Info Persistence
Varies. Subject to the whim of the individual as to when a message is deleted. At the outside, usually limited to employee tenure.

Info Access
Limited to sender and recipients. Asynchronous.

Strengths
Extremely flexible with regard to the type of information conveyed. Ubiquitous. Easy to use to reach people for whom you have an address.

Pitfalls
Extremely flexible- often results in inappropriate use and user overload.  Must know your audience.

More About…
“Processes and Impacts of Knowledge Creation in Email” by Sharman Lichtenstein and Craig Parker, 2003.

“E-mail at work: A cause for concern? The implications of the new communication technologies for health, wellbeing and productivity at work” by Howard Taylor, George Fieldman, and Yochanan Altman, 2008

Instant Messaging (IM)
Text messages sent back and forth between two or more people in real time.

Audience
One-to-one. Many-to-many. Sender-selected audience.

Tie Effects
Can strengthen strong and weak ties. Can help convert weak to strong. No conversion from potential.

Info Persistence
Short. Limited to duration of IM session.

Info Access
Limited to sender and recipients. Synchronous.

Strengths
Real-time nature provides instant access to information. Conversational style helps to strengthen ties.

Pitfalls
Limited in type of information conveyed. Information is not persistent so must be transferred to another medium, commonly that being someone’s brain, where persistence varies greatly and access by others requires additional transfer. Must know your audience.

More About…
“An Empirical Study of Instant Messaging (IM) Behavior Using Theory of Reasoned Action” by Alan Peslak, Wendy Ceccucci, Patricia Sendall, 2010.

Chat
Text messages sent between an arbitrary number of people in real time.

Audience
Many-to-many. Self-selecting audience.

Tie Effects
Can strengthen strong and weak ties. Can help convert weak to strong. Can convert potential to weak.

Info Persistence
Short. Limited to duration of chat session.

Info Access
Limited to direct participants. Synchronous.

Strengths
Real-time nature provides instant access to information. Conversational style helps to strengthen ties. Self-selected audience means that participants may not know each other, providing opportunity to create new ties. Arbitrary audience size can result in widespread dissemination of info.

Pitfalls
Limited in type of information conveyed. Information is not persistent so must be transferred to another medium, usually that being someone’s brain. Audience must know about any given chat session and then choose to participate.

More About…
“Collaboration and Knowledge Transfer Tools for the 24 Hour Knowledge Factory” by Diana Anderson, 2008.

Email List
Email sent to a managed list of recipients. Often the sender does not know who all the individual recipients are.

Audience
One-to-many.  Usually a self-selected audience. Sometimes audience is selected by a third party (Ex. a manager creates a list containing the group members.)

Tie Effects
Can strengthen strong and weak ties. Can help convert weak to strong. Can convert potential to weak.

Info Persistence
Varies. Subject to the whim of the individual list members as to when a message is deleted. As such is frequently limited to employment tenure of list members. (An archived, search-able email list is actually a forum with message delivery via email.)

Info Access
Limited to list members. Asynchronous.

Strengths
Extremely flexible with regard to the type of information conveyed. Ubiquitous. Easy to use to reach all members of list.  Self-selected or a larger, mandated list means that participants may not know each other, providing opportunity to create new ties.

Pitfalls
Extremely flexible- often results in inappropriate use and user overload. Lists are notorious for a low signal to noise ratio.

More About…
“Am I wasting my time organizing email? A study of email refinding” by Steve Whittaker, Tara Matthews, Julian Cerruti, Hernan Badenes, John Tang, 2011.

Forum
An online site for discussions (exchanges of messages, usually text) in which members can actively participate, or passively observe.

Audience
Many-to-many. Self-selected audience.

Tie Effects
Can strengthen strong and weak ties. Can help convert weak to strong. Can convert potential to weak.

Info Persistence
Long. Forums are typically archived and search-able.

Info Access
Can be unlimited, or restricted to a group. Asynchronous.

Strengths
Extremely flexible with regard to the type of information conveyed. Ubiquitous. Long information persistence is a major part of institutional learning. Information delivery can be push (via email) or pull (website, RSS feed), as appropriate.

Pitfalls
Information is unstructured. Discussion format decreases signal to noise ratio and does not ensure that conclusions are present, complete, or accurate. Review of inactive discussions can be difficult, potentially resulting in information which is no longer accurate.

More About…
“The Role of Lead Users in Knowledge Sharing” by Lars Bo Jeppesen, Keld Laursen, 2009.

Website
An online container, created and maintained by a distinct entity, where multiple types of information (text documents, spreadsheets, images, video,audio, etc.) and forms of communication (forums, chat, email, etc.) can be aggregated and made available to various groups of people.

Audience
Generally, one-to-many. Specific elements comprising the website will have their own characteristic audiences. Self-selected audience.

Tie Effects
In and of itself, a website won’t affect ties. However, elements contained in a website, such as a forum or chat room, or access to other elements, such as signing up for email list, will affect tie strength.

Info Persistence
Varies. Generally short as trend is to keep information “fresh”. Deliberate steps must be taken to provide longer-term persistence. Specific elements comprising the website will have their own persistence characteristics.

Info Access
Access varies- any portion of a website can be: available to all; limited to a pre-determined group; or limited to a self-selecting group meeting approval criteria of the website owner. Asynchronous. (Specific elements may be synchronous.)

Strengths
As a container, virtually unlimited as to the type of information conveyed. Differing audiences can be guided to appropriate elements of the site. Ubiquitous. Can be effective reaching those with no ties to website owner, nor to each other, then establishing, converting and strengthening ties.

Pitfalls
Maintenance burden can be very high and require specialized expertise. Extreme flexibility requires investment in planning and clear understanding of business goals. Limited number of contributors. The audience must find and visit website.

More About…
“The Adoption of Web 2.0 in Corporations: A Process Perspective” by Philip Raeth, Nils Urbach, Stefan Smolnik, Brian Butler, Philipp Königs, 2010.

Wiki
A website which is augmented, modified, and maintained by its user community.

Audience
Many-to-many. Specific elements comprising the website will have their own characteristic audiences. Self-selected audience.

Tie Effects
Can strengthen strong and weak ties. Can help convert weak to strong. Can convert potential to weak.

Info Persistence
Varies. Differs from a plain website as the user community’s shared goals make it more likely that deliberate steps will be taken to provide longer-term persistence. Specific elements comprising the website will have their own persistence characteristics.

Info Access
Access varies- any portion of a wiki website can be: available to all; limited to a pre-determined group; or limited to a self-selecting group meeting approval criteria of a wiki owner. Asynchronous. (Specific elements may be synchronous.)

Strengths
As a container, virtually unlimited as to the type of information conveyed. Differing audiences can be guided to appropriate elements of the site. Ubiquitous. Multiple contributors can improve the relevancy and accuracy of information.  The maintenance burden is distributed. Can be effective reaching those with no ties to website community, nor to each other, then establishing, converting and strengthening ties.

Pitfalls
Success is dependent on the degree of participation and competencies of the user community. Organic growth of the wiki can result in an un-navigable jungle of data rather than an orderly garden of information.

More About…
“Employing Wiki as a Collaborative Information Repository in a Media and Entertainment Company: The NBC Universal Case” by Danielle Bibbo, Eric Sprehe, James Michelich, Young Eun Lee, 2010.

Blog
An ongoing series of essays, where each essay is usually coupled with a forum in which readers discuss the essay with the author and with one another.

Audience
One-to-many. (Discussions can provide a degree of many-to-many.) Self-selected audience.

Tie Effects
Can strengthen strong and weak ties. Can help convert weak to strong. Can convert potential to weak.

Info Persistence
Long. Blogs are typically archived and search-able.

Info Access
Can be unlimited, or restricted to a group. Access to essays and access to comments are typically governed separately. Asynchronous.

Strengths
One-to-many coupled with long persistence aids institutional learning, allowing experts to “mentor” many people at once.  Syndication feeds built into blogging software automatically notify aggregators, search engines, and existing audience of new content. Very flexible as to variety of content supported.

Pitfalls
Information is unstructured. Review of inactive discussions can be difficult, potentially resulting in information which is no longer accurate. Success is dependent on the degree of participation and competencies of the authors.

More About…
“Inspired by the Audience, a Topic Suggestion System for Blog Writers and Readers” by Werner Geyer and Casey Dugan, 2010.

Microblog
A blog where distinct, short observations, thoughts, and reports are published. Twitter, the most popular microblog, limits these messages to 140 characters.

Audience
One-to-many. Self-selected audience.

Tie Effects
Can strengthen strong and weak ties. Can help convert weak to strong. Can convert potential to weak.

Info Persistence
Varies. Generally short as emphasis is on current, time-sensitive information. Depending upon the system in use, deliberate steps might need be taken to provide longer-term persistence.

Info Access
Can be unlimited, or restricted to groups or individuals. Asynchronous.

Strengths
Well-suited to mobile devices. Provides insight into ‘pulse’ of the company. Strengthens ties and helps span structural holes.

Pitfalls
Security is an issue if using a public service as most posts are public. Short message length limits types of uses.

More About…
“Microblogging Inside & Outside the workplace” by Kate Ehrlich & N. Sadat Shami, 2010.

Video & Audio
Video and audio are extremely effective communications methods and are have been integrated into most of the tools listed above. As collaboration tools and mechanisms for improving and preserving institutional learning, they are extremely effective. Phone conferences have long been part of corporate life. Video conferencing is rapidly being adopted as costs have come down. The major challenges facing us here is the difficulty of searching through video or audio for specific information. Metadata helps, but requires a good deal of effort to use effectively.

There you have the basics. Most of these tools can be combined and enhanced with other technologies- video, for instance, and with each other. More and more often, you will find them tightly (or loosely :) integrated into productivity and collaboration systems. They are just tools, however. Start by identifying your problem, then think about how you can use these tools to improve your solutions.

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