Use Social Tools to Bolster Culture Not The Other Way Around

Social collaboration, has, for many companies, struggled to show real value. At a talk I gave at the CITE conference in June, I took a straw poll of how the attendees felt about their social collaboration solutions. Needless to say, it wasn’t positive. This attitude has created something of a conundrum for vendors who have invested a lot of money in developing these solutions. They have to explain why there is a pervasive feeling that these tools don’t deliver real business value.

One explanation has been, in essence, that companies aren’t doing social right. This particular meme says that companies first need to change their culture so that they can collaborate better and then tools will make sense.  That’s like saying that your raincoat leaked because you stood in the rain. Why would anyone buy software that requires them to change their corporate culture first? If you were trying to change your culture then, my all means do that. I’ll assume there is a good reason for doing so. Otherwise, it’s a situation of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Speaking with Kakul Srivastava of Tomfoolery recently, I heard a better, more logical, take on corporate culture and social collaboration tools. Tomfoolery, despite a frivolous sounding name, is in the serious and competitive business of creating business applications. Their philosophy is to bring the best aspects of the consumer mobile app user experience to the business application. Tomfoolery’s first application, called Anchor, is in the equally competitive segment of enterprise social networks.

Their take on the enterprise social network is that it is best used to bolster the corporate culture through the sharing of business and personal information, especially rich media. This makes more sense to me. By sharing information about each other, we learn to see each other as people and can interact better at work. Yes, it’s important to keep the two domains separate – there are times I only want to look at business content – but that’s pretty easy with Anchor. By making it easy (there’s that word again) and fun to share pictures of your kids and amusing stories, you help to build or bolster an open company culture, one more conducive to creative collaboration.

While there is a lot to like about Anchor, it’s the attitude and message that most resonates with me. Yes, enterprise social networks are very useful for dealing with the less structured and dynamic activities of knowledge workers across functional silos. That’s something most other enterprise applications don’t handle well. In that respect enterprise social networks are a business productivity tool. But the right kind of social tools can also be used to help maintain interpersonal relationships and build the culture that makes a company competitive.

Put another way: Use the tools to adapt the culture, not ask the culture to adapt to the tools. This seems to me a more logical way to look at the value of social tools. If your getting wet in your raincoat, it’s not the rain, it’s the leaky coat.