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Business and IT leaders tasked with executing on social-media-based efforts do not place enough emphasis on the "social" aspect of community participation. According to Gartner, although numerous organizations have achieved social media success, failure rates are high because leaders and managers rely heavily on social technology functionality and often miss the critical design concerns. "Far too many social media endeavors are failing because the managers leading the efforts lack knowledge of the fundamental principles of mass collaboration," says Anthony Bradley, group vice president at Gartner. "Business must understand the basic nature of mass collaboration and how to deliver on its value. Millions of people can simultaneously create content, share experiences, build relationships and engage in other forms of meaningful activities."

Technology leaders shouldn't assume the social technologies automatically come with the needed mass collaboration built in. Mass collaboration must be designed and delivered as part of the social solution, and no social technology is great enough to save efforts that ignore or omit the fundamental principles of mass collaboration. “When these efforts are omitted, people don't view the social media environment as a place to collaborate, and so adoption never really takes hold," explains Bradley. “Initial interest wanes quickly as community members realize that collaborating in the environment is too difficult. Participation lacks focus and critical mass never materializes around a common cause."

The analyst firm has identified six core design principles that distinguish social media from other approaches to communication and collaboration, and form the foundation for its  mass-collaboration value proposition. Business leaders should apply these principles to shift away from a "provide and pray" approach to a motivate and engage strategy.

  • Participation: Getting Communities to Work for You

Successful social media solutions tap into the power of mass collaboration through user participation. Many organizations look at social media as another channel for corporate communications rather than an opportunity for mass collaboration. Businesses should set active participation as a priority design goal, with everything else revolving around getting the community to contribute valuable content. Providing seed content to promote community contributions and motivating content contribution through social incentive mechanisms — such as social status and gamification — are recommended to drive participation.


  • Collective: People Must Swarm to the Effort

With social media, participants "collect" around a unifying cause. People go to the content to contribute their piece to the whole. However, the most challenging effort with social media is to gain community adoption and speed is critical. Swarming is almost completely dependent on the organization’s purpose for mass collaboration. Purpose is the specific reason business leadership wants people to collaborate; this is what draws together a community and gets them to contribute. Purpose also identifies the "what’s in it for me" for individual contributors. What’s unique about mass collaboration is that people are self-motivated to participate if the purpose is compelling enough. Firms should pursue a specific and well-defined purpose that is easily identifiable to the target audience. It’s important to capitalize on physical world events, as well as online events, as part of a "tipping point plan" to rally people and catalyze a community.

  • Transparency: The Community Validates and Organizes Content

A social media solution also provides transparency, in that participants are privy to one another's participation. It is in this transparency the community improves content, unifies information, self-governs, self-corrects, evolves, creates emergence and otherwise propels its own advancement. This principle of transparency distinguishes social media from other forms of content sharing, such as Web content management and traditional knowledge management systems. Communities should be empowered with a robust capability to view, use and provide feedback on the contributions of others: with functionality such as thumbs up and thumbs down, tagging, voting, star ratings, and social commentary. Employing transparency with social status and gamification mechanisms, such as leaderboards, virtual currencies and badges, also helps to create incentives and recognize valuable contributions.

  • Independence: Provides the "Mass" in Mass Collaboration

Independence delivers anytime, anyplace and any-member collaboration, which means any participant can contribute completely independent of any other. To aid independence, organizations should consider the potential scale of the social media solution and examine the design for anything that may impede anytime, anyplace and any-member collaboration. They should also eliminate or at least minimize, any workflow, controls, administration and moderating, or other gating mechanisms that can create bottlenecks and negatively impact scale.

  • Persistence: Contributions Must Endure for Scaled Value

Social media captures participants' interactions and contributions in a persistent state for others to view, share and augment. This principle shows how social media differs from "same time" conversational interactions, such as telephone and videoconferencing, where the information exchanged isn't captured effectively. Organizations should make it easy for participants to capture content using evolving technologies, such as contextual information capture, to help collect more interaction content. They should examine how much persistence is desired, how much of the contribution to capture, how to manage it and how long to maintain it, whilst identifying content that is critical to the purpose of the social media effort.

  • Emergence: Communities Self-Direct for Greater Productivity

The behaviors in mass collaboration cannot be modeled, designed, optimized or controlled like those in traditional systems. They emerge over time through the interactions of community members. Emergence is what allows collaborative communities to come up with new ways of working or new solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Organizations should focus on the ends and not the means, by providing the community with the time and flexibility to find its own way of achieving results. An organization should observe social media behaviors, examine how productivity actually manifests itself through community interactions, then guide the community or make other organizational behavior adjustments to accommodate new ways of working.


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