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 KMers.org 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?
- (Primary) To create new social connections within the workplace
- (Secondary) To utilise crowdsourcing techniques to improve business processes and solve business challenges
- (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 http://oratweet.com 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:
- This type of crowdsourcing solution is not for everyone
- Set initial expectations for newcomers as it is a unique style of conversation
- 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!")
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- Do not try to follow every tweet during the conversation
- 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!)
- 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 KMers.org (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?