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Disclaimer: The views expressed on stopthinksocial are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

« Social Chat - The Modern Day Water Cooler Conversation »

We all, at some time or other, have stood around the water cooler in the office and discussed solutions for the big dilemmas of this world:

  • How do you solve world hunger?
  • How can you reduce your carbon footprint?
  • Why on earth doesn't the iPad support Flash?

But in the modern day, we need to find alternative solutions to crowdsourcing that can support those whom are not office based and bring diversity into the conversation by including other countries and cultures. This is where social technologies like Twitter can really add great value in the workplace.

About five months ago I was invited to join a online chat which discusses knowledge management topics using Twitter with professionals from other companies. It was a very organised and well structured chat event that was highly productive and resulted in some good conclusions through sharing our experiences from our respective companies (even with only 8 people participating).

And this got me thinking, what if we could bring this type of crowdsourcing solution into the workplace, behind the firewall, and have employees debating key business issues and challenges? After all, a company's most valuable asset is the explicit and tacit knowledge of its employees, so why not try to maximise that asset?

It could also encourage better employee engagement into the business and generate new social relationships that could have long term benefits.

So I did just that and this is the result...

Social Chat - The Modern Day Water Cooler Conversation

What is Social Chat?

"Employee driven online chat event in the workplace, that utilises crowdsourcing techniques and social technologies to discuss and resolve business issues and challenges"

What are the objectives?

  1. (Primary) To create new social connections within the workplace
  2. (Secondary) To utilise crowdsourcing techniques to improve business processes and solve business challenges
  3. (Tertiary) To subtly integrate social technologies into the workplace

What tools are used?

Oracle Alchemy Ideas Centre is used as the topic bank to capture discussion topics and for employees to vote for their favourite each week.

OraTweet is used as the internal chat solution built by Noel Portugal (this is not an official Oracle product, the code is FREE and is based on Oracle's Application Express (APEX) which is also FREE. See for more info).

How is Social Chat structured?

Social Chat is an open crowdsourcing solution, that is behind the company firewall, allowing any employee to participate.

Employees submit topics into the topic bank and vote for their favourite topic throughout the week.

The winning topic is then announced and employees choose to join the 60 minutes online discussion on a Friday afternoon if a) they have the time and b) if the topic is of interest to them (Friday afternoon is a great time to host this as people are winding down for the weekend).

The Organiser (person responsible for the general running of Social Chat) and the Moderator (person who submitted the winning topic and therefore facilitating the conversation that week) work together on identifying three distinct discussion points. These discussion points are introduced at 20 minute intervals to keep the conversation fresh.

The following video is a sample of a real Social Chat event that took place recently where the chosen topic was "How can we make homeworkers feel more connected?":

What happens after the discussion?

Once the discussion has finished, a transcript of the raw tweets is downloaded and a one page summary / conclusion is produced. This transcript and summary / conclusion is then shared with all members of the Social Chat group.

It is also shared with the appropriate business area / department to see if any of the conclusions drawn can be utilised to improve current business processes. For example, the video demo above regarding making homeworkers feel more connected was given to the HR department.

What lessons did we learn?

We have hosted about 12 Social Chat events now and learnt a lot along the way before making this a viable and integrated business solution. If you are thinking of implementing a similar solution you may find the following useful:

  1. This type of crowdsourcing solution is not for everyone
  2. Set initial expectations for newcomers as it is a unique style of conversation
  3. The Organiser and Moderator need to draft their introductory tweets prior to the event so it's a simple copy and paste when the event starts (one of those tweets needs to be "Be polite,  respect one another's opinions and above all have fun!")
  4. Have the Organiser and Moderator on a teleconference during the event so any technical issues or general support can be given. This provides a smooth discussion and enjoyable experience for the participants
  5. Send a tweet just before you partake in the discussion, apologising that for the next 60 mins your followers may see a higher number of tweets flowing in their stream than usual whilst you are partaking in Social Chat
  6. At the start, the Moderator should ask people to introduce themselves (name, length of time at the company, business area they work in) as this initiates a social connection
  7. Always start with a short video for people to watch that aligns to the discussion topic, but make it a funny related video (YouTube is obviously a good source)
  8. Do not try to follow every tweet during the conversation
  9. Respond to other participants tweets by including their name (in OraTweet any tweets directed at you personally have a different colour background making them stand out from the rest of your stream - really nice feature!)
  10. After the event, provide a transcript and summary / conclusion of the entire conversation and distribute to the Social Chat members as quickly as possible (within 24 hours)


We have only been running this event for 3 months and todate we have 120+ people folllowing the group, and many more lurkers (a lurker is someone who does not actually participate but follows the conversation). The Social Chats are always interesting and informative and the output has been used to improve a number of business processes.

What I have found really interesting is that Social Chat has inadvertently created a flat hierarchical structure (i.e. everybody is equal) during each event that has resulted in very open and frank discussions. This is something that is difficult to achieve in face to face meetings or telephone conversations as the loudest and more senior representatives tend to do all the talking.

But the biggest achievement for me is the primary objective and seeing new social connections develop and prosper into a business benefit. There are a number of people who didn't know each other before Social Chat who are now better socially connected and knowledge sharing with their peers.

I myself am also a recipient of a recent new social connection because of Social Chat, where the result could be that we are able to build our all singing and all dancing Social Workplace Maturity Model.

Again, I have to thank (Eric Weidner and Johan Lammers) for the initial inspiration, and I look forward to seeing Social Chat go from strength to strength.

Do you see Social Chat working in your organisation? Do you partake in any other form of crowdsourcing activity in the workplace?

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Reader Comments (15)


I am so glad that #KMers was an inspiration. Looks like you have really taken this to an excellent place inside the firewall. I am the founder of KMers. I think we could make a great team presenting the value of this format both inside and outside the firewall. Let me know if you would like to submit to present at any conferences.


October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSwan

Hi Swan,

I presented two initiatives at a recent London event for PA Consulting that had their customers and partners attending. These two initiatives were Socially Open Engagement Model (solution to allow employees to actively participate or passively contribute to any project / initiative that interests them) and the other Social Chat.

The feedback from the audience was extremely positive, particularly with Social Chat. They liked the idea of not only crowdsourcing but the learnings of the event itself being put back into the business.

I've done a few events recently but always happy to team up and work together on doing more...

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstopthinksocial

As a person who has participated in the Social Chats I have to say that they are now such an important part of my weekly schedule. I've worked remotely for the last 5 years and one of the things that I miss the most, is the casual conversations that I have when I run into people at the office.

Over the last few months participating in the weekly Social Chats has done a lot to bring this experience back to me. I now look forward to Friday afternoon, and the opportunity to have a discussion around an interesting topic with some colleagues I've known for a long time, and some who I've just met through the Social Chats.

I like to compare the Social Chats to a group discussion, maybe at the canteen table, maybe at a cafe or the pub. There's a lot being said, sometimes people make statements addressed at the group and quite often you will see side conversations taking place between 2 and 3 people.

Overall participating in Social Chats for the last few months has been a positive experience, and I'm looking forward to more of them in the coming weeks and months.

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Bradley

Hi Folks,

The last point is what interests me most.

I follow many chats on Twitter and the transcript is what really makes a difference as I can use it to get the full digest.


October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIvan

Great Article David and thanks for getting the work out on our team's "baby". From an "organiser" user experience I have to say that I LOVE socialchat, it's fantastic from an organiser's P.O.V to see people connect, chat, having meaningful discussions, have humerous TGIF discussions, and it takes such little effort. Socialchat has really grown, it's gone viral, people are picking up on it, dipping in and out of conversations till they're hooked. I love the regulars and I love the "lurkers" it's such fun, but has business benefits also. It's a win for all.

October 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteramy luddington

I meant "word out" not work out!

October 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteramy luddington

If you want to know why the iPad does not support Flash, read Tog's article Mac & the iPad, History Repeats Itself. Just a few people know if this is true, but I like Tog's point of view.

October 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermprove

Excellent post. I love this concept. I am curious how many types of organizations you have tried this at and how the results differ at each. What factors seem to have the biggest impact on how successfully this practice is adopted? (e.g., Size of company?, Geographic dispersion?, Age of participants? Industry? Culture?). My guess is that you have not yet had time to test a large enough sample to accurately identify trends. That said, happy to help in this regard. Would be interesting to present this concept to members or possibly participants. Let me know what you think.

October 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Jankowski

@frank.bradley That's a good point. The conversational style is quite unique and the organiser has to set expectations at the beginning. It is ok to break off into sub-groups (just like you do down the pub or in the canteen) and have sideline conversations around the main topic. In fact it is encouraged, as it provides different perspectives to enable to draw better conclusions.

October 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstopthinksocial

@Ivan Thanks for the comment. Yes, the transcript is really important because of the style of conversation. The number of people who read the transcript who don't necessarily partake in all or any of the conversation is quite surprising. For those that have partook in the Social Chat, when they read the transcript they find interesting pieces of information that they missed during the chat itself.

October 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstopthinksocial

@Amy.Luddington Glad to hear you like Social Chat, but then as the owner and organiser I would expect nothing else ;-)

October 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstopthinksocial

@mprove Thanks for the comment and link. Interesting article. I guess Steve Jobs is on a mission when it comes to Adobe Flash and Apple ;-)

October 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstopthinksocial

@Andy.Jankowski - Thanks for the comment, and great to hear from you. It has been a while. Social Chat has not been taken to other enterprises yet (though I did demo this to PA Consulting a few weeks ago who loved it), and is something that we recently finished trialling at Oracle to see what sort of reaction we would get. It has taken a few months to perfect the process and embed it into the organisation but it has definitely been worth it.

We haven't done any trend analysis yet (I would like to wait a little longer to get more statistical data in first) but I think this would be a very good exercise to do even in a single organisation.

The purpose of posting information about Social Chat here is to hopefully encourage other organisations to think about crowd-sourcing techniques and to utilise their most valuable asset, the tacit and explicit knowledge of their own employees. If any organisation is interested in implementing Social chat within their own organisation then I would be more than happy to work with them on a consultancy basis.

Yes, be much appreciated if you were able to present this concept to and If you need anything from me just give me a shout.

October 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstopthinksocial

Hi David

I hope my cheekiness will be rewarded by you not deleting my post. I work for a water cooler company called AquAid (http:\\, who supply water coolers whilst working in support of the two charities Christian Aid and Pump Aid. To date the company has donated more than £5,000,000 to charity simply through selling water coolers.

When reading your post I thought that there surely could be nothing better than that the water cooler being drunk from when having discussions about how to remove world hunger actually helped remove world hunger - I'm sure you agree :)

November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Hansen

Chatting is very common in our daily routine,but sometimes we didn't notice how much it is important form of communication.What you said is true it is the modern way of communicating all over the world.In just a minute we can easily extend our feelings or emotions through chatting.even business chatting plays the main tools in communicating and improving business.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

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