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The four Cs of workplace social software

Whilst researching my book on social software in the workplace, four primary elements emerged. In this blog post, I present the four Cs of workplace social software, which I hope will serve as a useful framework for CEOs, CIOs, CKOs, and corporate communications departments, providing them with a method to determine their organisational culture’s fit with different kinds of social software. It also provides the basis for developing a focused strategy for social software in the workplace.

The four Cs of workplace social software

Social software cannot just be imposed on the workforce and expected to work. Its success is dependent as much on the culture that is prevalent in the organisation, as the features and functionality of the software itself. When I studied some of the earliest case studies from across the world, I identified four major categories where social software could create organisational value: communication, cooperation, collaboration, and connection.


In organisations there are different types of communication flow, including formal (prescribed and regulated), downward, upward, horizontal and networked, but the communication type most relevant to the application of social software is informal. In his article Informal Social Communication, Leon Festinger (1950) summarised the three motivators behind informal communication:

  1. People need to share with each other and agree on important opinions and attitudes in order to feel that they belong together in the group.
  2. People need to share with superiors and others their hopes and ambitions in satisfaction of needs of achievement, affiliation and power.
  3. People need to express emotions such as joy, anger, hostility and the like as a means of “blowing off steam”.


Cooperative social software is primarily that which supports informal working where there are no pre-defined goals, where each individual contributor retains authority over their contribution, where information is shared as needed, and where the software takes on the job of assembling data in order to show the combined picture. It almost always relies on a network effect to deliver maximum value to the organisation as well as to the individual. In other words, the value of the system to each employee increases as more employees use it, thus increasing the overall value to their company.

The value to an individual from software that depends on these network effects can be both direct and indirect. Direct value results from the individual’s own use of the software, whereas indirect value results from others’ use of the software in a manner that benefits others. It should come as no surprise then that sharing is one of the cornerstones of cooperative social software.


Collaborative social software is distinct from cooperative social software in that it supports the engagement of participants in a coordinated effort to solve a specific problem, with shared commitment and goals. A wiki is a good example of social software that focuses on collaboration – companies using wikis have reported most success when giving participants a specific focus for their collaboration, such as meeting/conference agendas and policy documents.


Social software that connects employees refers primarily to direct, contiguous interaction. Communication is still a key element but it is distributed over time, between multiple individuals and even across different systems. Cooperation and collaboration systems depend on direct interaction between people, whereas connection tools rely as much on connecting employees with the leadership, mission and strategy, and other organisational content, as well as other employees.

A simple framework

There is clearly some overlap between these categories, most notably in the case of cooperation and collaboration: the former focuses on helping individuals work towards a common product, where the knowledge gained from the process is not the goal, whereas the latter focuses on deriving value from the knowledge gained from the process of constructing something. Yet both share the same objective of enabling a group of individuals to produce something better than that which could have been produced alone.

In the context of social software, collaboration and connection generally require a more formal environment than communications and cooperation, because they often depend on employees to do things in a relatively structured manner. Similarly, collaboration and cooperation often require a higher level of interaction than connection and communication, because of the inherent focus on groups rather than individuals.


For example, a company with predominantly formal organisational structures and a culture of group interaction with benefit most from social software that enables collaboration. Conversely, an organisation with an informal structure and a culture that rewards individual effort may prefer to invest in social software to support communication. This framework can help any company decide where to focus their time and effort for most benefit, rather than being led by vendors trying to sell their own solutions without any understanding of the organisational structure or culture into which it will be introduced.

This approach can also be used to support organisational change. For example, if a company is trying to encourage a shift from individual effort to group problem solving, but within the confines of a relatively informal culture, then it should focus on cooperative social software that requires more interaction.

Applying it to your organisation

Using this approach, it is possible to identify the preferred social software footprint for any organisation. The examples below show the social software footprints for three different organisations:

  1. Very informal, collaborative culture
  2. Very formal, highly collaborative culture
  3. Informal and formal, more focus on individual effort but some group problem solving



Organisations are waking up to the opportunities that social software brings to the workplace: more engaged employees, increased productivity, more fruitful collaboration, and solving intranet/email fatigue just some of them. Yet they must resist the temptation to contact the top-rated vendors in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, at least until they have fully understood firstly how different objectives must be met by different categories of solution, and secondly that the ultimate success of implementation will depend as much on organisational culture as the solution chosen.

The four elements presented in this article – communication, cooperation, collaboration, and connection – make up a workplace social software ecosystem, which can create the foundation for a strong strategy. The four Cs provide a hands-on, useful framework to assess and identify the right solutions, for the right purposes, for your organisational culture.

HR: the missing link in social business

It’s now 5 years since I wrote my first book on corporate social networking. At that time, examples of how social computing was impacting on organisations were few and far between, but even so I suggested that it would change the future of work as many of us knew it.

Today, I’m reassured by both data and case studies showing the positive effect it can have – if implemented properly. In particular, I’m noticing three things:

  1. A fundamental change in how technology supports organisational culture is coming, if not already here.
  2. Harnessing and channelling this change can have a positive effect on organisations, but there is no silver bullet.
  3. HR – in my view a critical but far too often neglected function when it comes to exploiting new innovations – has a key role to play in the process

So what’s changing?

Well, employee expectations for a start. If you haven’t read John Smythe’s excellent book ‘CEO: The Chief Engagement Officer’, I highly recommend it. It highlights the changing psychological contract between employer and employees, who – particularly in knowledge-based industries – feel more empowered to think independently, constantly challenging “the way we do things around here”.

It is these expectations that I think are forcing many organisations to start thinking more seriously about how they can help staff communicate, collaborate and connect with each other more quickly and more easily than before.

The underlying role of technology in the workplace is changing too. Staff are “bringing their own devices” to work, not to stay connected socially but because that’s what makes them more productive. Some companies have embraced this change, and saved millions of pounds on computer hardware in the process.

But it’s not just in IT hardware where we are seeing this “consumerisation of the enterprise”. It’s in software too, and this is often the biggest challenge for companies. The unpalatable fact is that enterprise software is, on the whole, pretty damn ugly. Your expensive ERP system is now competing with the slick, intuitive and responsive experiences provided by the likes of Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook. No prizes for guessing which one employees prefer. And as for the intranet… in too many organisations, it’s where documents go to die.

Yet we are still reluctant to let our employees use these tools, even though there is an increasing body of research from the likes of Harvard Business School and McKinsey suggesting that it actually improves productivity. Instead, we continue to block access to external social networks, even though we know they will just whip out their smartphones. A couple of years ago, few could persuade IT to let me get their work email on an iPhone. Now they simply cannot hold the floodgates back.

But enterprise social networking isn’t really about whether or not you let staff access Facebook. It’s about how we take the things that make those platforms so successful and harness them inside organisations to achieve business own goals.

Which leads me on to my second point: every company is different. Each has its own culture and its own objectives and it needs an approach which supports those. What might work for one organisation may not work for another. Even when the same tools are used, the way in which they are introduced, embedded and supported will invariably be different. Sometimes it will be by design, sometimes by accident and sometimes by stealth.

One of the earliest examples I came across of this was in the BBC in the mid 1990s. Euan Semple – the then head of knowledge management and now a leading social computing authority in his own right – noticed that editors and production staff were spending more time in the evenings helping people from other companies asking questions on electronic bulletin boards than they were helping the guy in the cutting room next door. He needed to give them an infrastructure or mechanism to talk to each online.

As a result, their internal community talk.gateway was born. Without any internal marketing, within a year or two, almost 90% of all staff had used it. More importantly, it had surfaced issues, questions and areas of conflict that would have previously become a growing source of frustration, yet never resolved. At first, this was a threat to senior management and corporate functions but, thanks to smart management at the time, it soon provided a rich seam of internal intelligence about the mood and state of the workforce, providing more insight than any employee survey had ever done. It was a great way to support the existing organisational culture using social technologies.

Conversely, take the example of Microsoft. Looking for a way to share best practices amongst a geographically dispersed, busy sales force, they created an internal mobile video and audio sharing platform – which relied on employees viewing, subscribing to and occasionally creating clips. Supported by providing mobile devices with the right software and a rewards programme to incentivise the top contributors, the Microsoft team in charge spent a lot of time and effort engaging their internal community to ensure success.

In other organisations, it’s about creating an entire corporate social networking ecosystem. I spent 10 years in a leading global PR consultancy, with around 2,000 employees in 70 offices in 40 countries. For 5 of those 10 years, I put in place social computing initiatives designed to improve our ability to work together across borders. Experience of external social networks showed me that people could happily cope with multiple platforms for different tasks, so we set about creating a network of blogs, wikis and micro-blogging tools designed to support some aspects of our culture and change others.

So what can we learn from examples like these?

First, it’s important to know what problem you’re trying to solve with corporate social networking. As with other strategic investments, it’s a case of “aim, then fire”.

Second, it’s better to start small and learn quickly than to fail at scale. Pilots in a single office or department can help develop a case for wider adoption.

Third, work bottom up and top down at the same time. Focus on encouraging adoption at the bottom and support from the top.

Finally, don’t forget the need to generate internal awareness, educate staff, and put appropriate support in place to maintain usage.

So what role does HR have to play in all this?

I’ve talked about technology a lot, but the fact is that every successful use of enterprise social networking I have seen has recognised that people are what makes it work. Putting even the best software in place will not work if the people aspect isn’t covered. It is my view that HR should own this part of the process.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, sustained and consistent internal and external use of social technologies requires good internal communication, change management and training, often all things that fall under the HR umbrella.

In short, HR represents the voice of the employee when it comes to corporate social networking, in the same way that marketing represents the voice of the customer when it comes to social media.

And that’s why I believe HR has a key role to play in understanding and applying social technologies to support and change organisational culture.

The social brand value of the world’s biggest brands

I’ve just finished working on a major report for Sociagility, which looks at 50 of the world’s most valuable brands and re-ranks them according to their ‘social brand value’. No prizes for guessing that Google comes out on top, but some quite revealing insight into the others, including:

  • Disney fares pretty well, ranking 2nd overall but being the most consistent performer across all the attributes we evaluated.
  • Way down the ranking at 13th, Johnson & Johnson actually cleans up when it comes to receptiveness – an indicator of the more ’emotional’ side of health care and pharmaceuticals, perhaps?
  • The technology brands in the top 50 – including Apple, BlackBerry, Google and Microsoft – risk a perception of arrogance, having above average popularity scores combined with below average receptiveness scores.
  • Financial services brands (VISA, Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan Chase) are amongst the worst performing brands, but the big surprise is that telecoms brands (Deutsche Telekom, Movistar and China Mobile) are down there too.

A summary report can be downloaded from our website, or you can register to download the full version containing additional data and insight.

Complete a survey on corporate social media challenges

I’m working on a report for my new consultancy, Sociagility, on the internal and external challenges organisations are facing from social media. It looks at how organisations of different sizes and in different sectors and geographies think they are doing against different challenges, and how important these are.

You can contribute to the research by taking this survey. At the end, you can request to see your own report, benchmarking your organisation against others, and can sign up to have the report emailed to you when it goes live.

At the heart of this research is understanding the importance that organisations place on key contributors towards becoming ‘socially advanced’, and how well different types of companies and markets are performing against these. We feel that it’s critical for anyone responsible for social media initiatives in their organisation to know that they are doing the most important things well, but equally there is little point spending time on effort on things that aren’t important, as this could be better directed elsewhere.

This is where we need your help. In order to survey and benchmark the importance and performance of socially advanced organisations, we need to know how and what you think. We are interested in all different points of view, but especially want to hear from corporate social strategists and senior marketing and communications executives in medium to large companies across the globe.

To get you in the mood, here are some early findings so far (and here’s a bit more of the detail):

  • The biggest gap between importance and performance is in the area of metrics and return of investment.
  • Internal issues rank highly – many organisations rate their own social media policies low on the scale, even though most think they are one of the most important elements of becoming socially advanced.
  • Being true to the brand is becoming an increasingly important characteristic – although many organisations don’t think they are achieving it.

Take the survey here – it consist of just 5 questions that should take no more than 10-15 minutes.

And please spread the word too. We’d like as broad a participation as possible across different organisation sizes, sectors and geographies in order for it to be relevant and valuable to as many of you as possible.

Thanks in advance.

Backing the wrong horse

Good to see enterprise social networking getting its due mention in the business pages of the venerable Financial Times, courtesy of Geoff Nairn’s Connected Business column.

He points out what many vendors and buyers of enterprise social networking solutions are discovering – sometimes to their cost – already (my emphasis):

The trials and tribulations of these consumer social networking sites may seem of marginal relevance to mainstream businesses. But the enterprise social networking industry is currently enjoying a boom similar to that experienced by consumer social networking pioneers five years earlier. A shake-out for these business-focused sites may be further out, but business decision-makers need to be aware today of the consequences of backing the wrong social networking horse.

Personally I think we are going to see a few trends in this space over the next 12-18 months:

  1. More fall-out and consolidation amongst enterprise social networking software vendors;
  2. Greater demand from business decision-makers for research and analysis of the options they face;
  3. Growth in the number of independent consultants providing evaluation, implementation and adoption services to ensure companies don’t back the wrong horse.

SuperSkills and the future of knowledge work

Friend and connection Antony Mayfield pointed me to his talk at TEDxBrighton on 21 January. Titled SuperSkills he eloquently and, at times, amusingly outlines the three new skills that humanity is going to require as a direct result of the billions of connections that that web has made – and continues to make – possible.

The recording of his talk is 18 and a half minutes of your time very well spent, if only to extrapolate what these news skills – networks, sharing and focus & flow – might mean to the knowledge workers of the future. More importantly in my eyes, though, is who needs to be responsible for teaching these new skills: the education system; employers; or the individuals themselves.

The footage appears below, but I also encourage you to view Antony’s post which provides much more context and useful links to his notes, slides and more TEDxBrighton talks.

Get a free copy of the Enterprise 2.0 eBook

Update 23 Feb 2011: What the hell, everyone who left a comment can have a copy! Will start contacting you all now.

It’s now almost two years since Enterprise 2.0 was published, and a lot has happened in the enterprise social networking and social business spheres since then. And if recent numbers are anything to go by, people are finding just as relevant today.

What I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is the sales of the PDF eBook I put on Today it hit 100 sales, and to celebrate I’m going to send ten people a copy of the eBook absolutely free.

To be in with a chance, leave a comment below with a link to your Twitter account or website, and at 9.00am UK time on Wednesday 23 February 2011, ten commenters will be chosen at random and contacted with their prize.

Feel free to spread the word far and wide.

What is social business?

OK, so you can tell I’m still grappling with this, but regardless of what ‘it’ is called we need an idea of what ‘it’ actually is, right?

Personally, here is the best description of social business that I’ve seen so far (my emphasis):

Social business isn’t a state, it’s an acknowledgement that culture and technology has changed, and that organizations can leverage these changes to solve the same business problems that they have always had and will always have.

It comes from a slide presentation authored by Jacob Morgan. Unlike other quotes in his slides, it’s unattributed so I assume it’s his own. The rest of the presentation isn’t too sloppy either:

The thing that still doesn’t sit quite right with me, though, is the apparent amalgamation of the internal and external aspects that these changes bring about, and that seems to be where ‘social business’ is increasingly positioning itself. Whilst I completely support that one impacts the other and often an external problem requires an internal solution, I don’t think that they always have to be part of the same equation. It seems more like land grab from social business consultants and consultancies attempting to expand their remits.