Near as I can figure, our behind-the-firewall social media platform has been up for two months.
And we're starting to see results -- not actually what we expected -- but satisfying and valuable nonetheless.
And, like all experiences, it's starting to change my notions of the value of social media and collaboration, especially in larger settings.
Life is just full of surprises, isn't it?
What We Initially Thought
Going into this, our assumption is that small communities would form around passionate topics. These people would collaborate around common interests and problems, and goodness would result.
I've expressed my concerns before around the slow rate of community formation, and how we're taking steps to accelerate this.
For me, anyway, there are lots of benefits associated with social media, but the big one is business-oriented communities.
But we're learning that this stuff evolves differently than we originally thought, especially at a larger company like EMC.
The Power Of Random Associations
One thing that we've all noticed is that we're meeting and interacting with people we've never, ever met. They're cool, and they have a lot to say.
Conversations are springing up around interesting topics between people who will probably never meet in real life.
And, on several occasions, this has resulted in discussions on topics that are both very valuable to EMC, and resulted in insight that we would have not gained in any other way. Put differently, I can now start pointing to real, tangible and valuable intellectual capital that was created through interactions, that was not deterministic in nature.
We didn't plan for this to happen -- it just did.
Small Vs. Large Communities
I mentioned before that we had a few "pirate sites" up and running prior to getting the standard platform available.
And I'm often asked "gee, if we have our narrowlly focused site, why should we go through all the effort of joining the larger community?"
I now see why this is a good thing. I can point to several discussion topics that were richer, deeper and more valuable because they had a broader audience to engage.
As an example, we've got a product group that has their own forum platform. Everyone there is very focused and committed to that particular product and market.
But, over on the corporate platform, we started a discussion about the intersection between that product group and several other broader initiatives. The hybridized discussion was much more valuable to the company as opposed to the narrow discussion.
Even the people who were members of the smaller community noticed the effect.
Now, I've seen this before, but in a different context. Way back when, when LANs and networks were new, we had to convince people that connecting everyone was the way to go. There was a rule or a law that said the value of the network was exponential in relationship to the number of nodes.
It wasn't a linear function, it was an exponential one. Now, in today's world of ubiquitous internet access, we know that the value of having everyone connected is obvious. Even developing economies.
But the same thing seems to be playing out in community and social network formation. The more people you can expose to the discussion, the more participants you'll get, often with different backgrounds and perspectives, and the more valuable the outcome will be.
Sure, you can have focused communities -- but the broad range of communities and topics ought to be visible and browsable by everyone. Sure, there's a lot of noise and uninteresting stuff -- but if you see something you're interested in, then -- voila! -- magic happens.
Put differently, having 10 communities on 10 isolated platforms is far less valuable than having one large space with 10 focus areas that everyone can see.
What This Means To Me
First, it's clear that the "default social media platform" needs to be centrally funded, centrally supported and made available to all comers in the company. Think of it like email or network connectivity. To do otherwise inhibits and delays business value.
Second, the rule about "no private spaces" is showing to create business value -- everyone can see everything, and participate in anything, and that is proving to be far more valuable than individual, closed spaces. The larger your environment, the more important this becomes.
Third, when planning for community formation, realize that some will be directed, and other aspects will be more spontaneous. We still want to get better at community formation, but we're getting a bit of wind at our back from the spontaneous formation.
Fourth, it's taking time for behaviors to emerge, for people to get comfortable with sharing and communication. I'm not one to be patient, but patience is a key ingredient here. I'm learning to think in terms of months and quarters, rather than days or weeks. Human beings need time to adapt and learn new behaviors.
I'm reminded of the old joke, e.g. "colds usually last about a week, but if you take care of yourself, it can be as short as seven days".
I think I need to keep that in mind here as well.