Sociologists tell us that if companies want to obtain introductions to other companies through social networks to generate more business, “weak ties” are more important than “strong ties”. Weak ties are the loose associations between individuals. They can range from someone in another department whom you nod at when you share the lift to your customers or suppliers.
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Strong ties on the other hand are usually found within teams and close professional colleagues. These ties allow for deeper collaboration to occur and are very important in times of severe change or uncertainty.
Both types of ties have their role to play. I am not degrading the effects of strong ties, however it’s the weak ties which allow new ideas, ways of thinking and serendipitous encounters to happen.
The challenge for companies is how to build and maintain networks of weak ties while providing a place for strong ties to form.
Microsoft SharePoint 2013 provides a platform which is more than capable of meeting the challenge. The new social features allow for both strong and weak ties to be formed. There are two elements worth highlighting.
Newsfeeds Newsfeeds are activity streams of updates from the people or items you are following. It can range from profile changes to personal mentions to the company-wide feed. The microblogging platform allows for #hashtagging, @mentions, likes, comments as well as in-place images, video and text. These are the standard tools available in the social media arena and there is an expectation by employees that similar functionality would be available in the workplace. The company feed is the best place for employees to discover what is happening in other parts of the business and provides a place for them to engage or to put their network to work for someone else.
Also new in SharePoint 2013 are the community sites. These are a modern discussion board sites much in the flavour of Yammer, a recent Microsoft purchase. The social experience here is for building strong ties. Community sites build upon the concepts of discussions, likes, ratings and incorporate the use of badges and reputations. People’s reputations are calculated by activities or achievements in the community like adding or replying to posts, receiving 4 or 5 star ratings on a post and by having replies marked by the moderator as “best reply”. Badges are then earned for different achievement levels. Community owners have full control over the point allocated for each activity and when a specific level has been reached. Badges can also be gifted. What this means for end users is increased engagement levels and the ability to raise their profile within the company.
While businesses may wish to create these communities based around product / service offerings or division / branch structure they should think outside the box. A community site is perfect for an “ideas hub” where ideas on how to improve productivity or business practices can be captured, matured and bubbled up to senior management.