September 7, 2012 by Sharlyn Lauby

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.


We've seen a significant increase in contingent workers since the Great Recession; technology is one of the reasons this growth is possible. Employees no longer have to be in the same location to feel connected. Technology can help us feel a part of a team even if we're thousands of miles away.

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There's a specific technology that's helping to pave the way — social collaboration software. This software market was a $600 million industry in 2010, but it's estimated to reach $6.4 billion in 2016. If you're looking for a way to stay connected, feel engaged and get stuff done, exploring social collaboration could be worthwhile.

Social Collaboration Defined


SuccessFactors is a leading provider of cloud-based business execution software and produces Jam, a social learning and collaboration platform. Jam makes sharing and finding relevant information and experts within organizations easy.

"Jam provides simple-to-use video and screen captures so users can easily record and share their expertise," says Charles DeNault, director of product marketing at SuccessFactors, an SAP company. "Jam is available on your computer and your mobile device, allowing users to access content, capture real time updates, learn on-the-go and comment from mobile phones and tablets."

While companies are using social collaboration tools to assist productivity, social collaboration doesn't always have to be company-driven. Sarah Evans, chief evangelist at collaboration platform Tracky, says individuals can manage personal tasks, professional projects and social networks using collaboration tools.

"Many of us live life like this: Correspond via email with mom for dad's birthday, text friends about where to meet for dinner, conference call with five co-workers all working to revise one document," Evans says. "You can actually streamline all of the above (and more) by using Tracky (either via browser, iOS or Android) as your central communication hub because it encompasses all the major tools that we use daily, including to-do lists, live chat, calendars, task management, people and project discovery, social accountability, cloud-based storage and more."

Understanding the Audience


While everyone can use organization, social collaboration platforms do have target audiences. Darryl Myers, vice president of business development for group communication tool Wiggio says, "The ideal person to use Wiggio is involved in at least one group, and simply wants to make it easy to communicate and share information with their group members." The tool is currently used by more than 100,000 groups, from students to businesses and religious organizations. Myers says his team designed Wiggio to appeal to even the least tech-savvy types.

Evans offers another accurate, albeit different, picture of a social collaboration software user. "The ideal Tracky user is most likely dying a slow and painful email death and suffering from app-fatigue; buried under the weight of too much over-communication and struggling to manage a busy life in too many platforms. Tracky users are varied .... We currently see a lot of event and conference planners, public relations professionals and corporate accounts."

Selling Social Collaboration to the C-Suite


The 2012 IBM CEO survey cited collaboration as the number one skill they were looking for in employees; over 75% said it was critical. "Social collaboration can make everyone a little bit more productive every day," DeNault says. "It lets them find the right person, learn how to do something or get an answer to their question faster than before and often in a more dynamic way. It also helps break down organizational silos and helps teams work more effectively across departments or regions."

Evans agrees and offers a case as an example: "A worldwide church organization is using Tracky to launch and manage a new web presence and member involvement project. Previously, these projects were mostly managed internally via email (a lot of them), phone and a pseudo-intranet. Now, writers from around the world can upload and edit their content collaboratively in their respective expertise areas, while web and outreach organizers create their strategic plans within the platform, invite in appropriate contributors and report results. Service and youth managers collaborate within groups that are geared toward event and resource planning, marketing and attendee communication. Members also have their own groups that they can contribute content, questions, help organize service projects and help promote the organization's content on social platforms."

Implementing a Social Collaboration Platform


Social collaboration platforms offer rich results, but it does take some work on the front-end. DeNault says the key challenge is getting everyone involved. "Getting profiles populated, people into the right groups, and everyone connected is a big challenge. People are reluctant to invest time and effort into something without seeing value or a clear path to value for them."

Myers says it has to do with the need for intuitive software and learning curves. "Companies are looking for a platform with a very low learning curve. We've found that if someone doesn't immediately understand how to navigate a new platform, they won't continue to use it (unless they are forced to, which leads to a negative user experience). When we work with the champions who are launching collaboration platforms within their organizations, they are attracted to Wiggio because there is little training required to get people to use the site. We even test our tools on fourth graders to make sure our platform is intuitive."

Bottom-Line Results for Social Collaboration


Speaking of the need to ramp up quickly, it's logical that results must come equally fast. DeNault says that definitive quantitative measurements are down the road but initial response has been great. "Our clients indicate that employees are better informed with Jam and strongly prefer blogs and video over email. Greater employee engagement has been shown by higher scores in areas such as collaborative environment, availability of learning and leader visibility. And some clients have realized a savings up to $500,000 because of other systems and processes they've been able to eliminate."

Evans added that the results are not just internal. "Companies love people. To keep their finger on the consumer pulse, companies now must become 'social enterprises.' Enterprise social software connects people beyond work groups."

In the book "The Collaborative Organization," author Jacob Morgan discusses the hard benefits associated with collaboration. He cites research that compares the impact of collaboration versus other factors, such as strategy and market variables, to overall business performance. The results show that collaboration has the greatest impact on business performance, sometimes as high as 36%. Morgan explains that collaboration yields results because of its important role in helping companies solve business problems.

Social collaboration software has potential to enhance communications both with employees and customers. As we all know, having an effective communication strategy translates into employee productivity and a better customer experience. Identifying the right social collaboration platform and devoting time on the front end will make the effort successful. It's this kind of investment that could yield significant results for the company in profits.

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August 8, 2012 by Alex Fitzpatrick


This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.


Google+, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, has gained a reputation as a desolate wasteland of a social network. Google has fought back, claiming an ever-growing userbase (75 million daily active users today) but the calculation methods are sketchy at best.

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Given the platform’s lack of popularity, should you bother maintaining a Google+ presence for your small business? Absolutely.

Why? There are two reasons, says Jacob Smith, digital marketing specialist for Zumba Fitness.

First, Google+ integrates with all of Google’s other extremely popular public-facing services: search, Google Places, Google Maps and so on. Any business on Google+ will likely see an SEO (search engine optimization) boost from maintaining an active Google+ page. If you’re running a brick-and-mortar store, such as a restaurant or appliance store, having a Google+ page will help add valuable data to your Google Places page.

“For small businesses, Google+ isn’t another one of those minor social media platforms that pops up and can be ignored,” says Smith. “[Google is] tying it to SEO and other purposes. There are some realms where you need to be there to have a brand. If you take my name and Google it, my Google+ profile comes up as a good result. John’s Locksmiths Shop will show up quicker on organic search if John has a Google+ page.”

SEO and brand management aside, Google+ can be a powerful tool for a small business to use internally. When you combine the social network element of Google+ with services such as Google Docs, what’s left is an extremely capable communications tool for already-established networks.

“Google+ has a lot of integration with other Google products,” says Smith, naming Gmail and Google Docs as examples. “We use Google’s full suite of apps internally. While we’re writing on Gmail, we can hop on to Google+ and communicate ideas with coworkers in real-time. If you’re using Facebook [or Skype] like that, you’re jumping through platforms to do the same task.”

Additionally, Hangouts can be a user-friendly way to host video conferences for brainstorming sessions or troubleshooting.

“Small businesses can do a lot with Hangouts,” adds Smith, pointing to how easy it is for non-tech savvy people to engage in a Hangout and share documents and presentations with one another. “In the newest setup for Google+, you can pull people in from Gmail, swap screens and share documents.”

Google+, then, gives your small business two advantages over the competition: better search rankings and an impressive array of internal communications features. Why wouldn’t you join up?

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