By Kate Dobbertin, Communication & Collaboration Project Manager, Xerox Corporate Communications

Let’s face it: we could all work better together. Unless everyone in your company sits in the same room and focuses on the same task, there is probably a better way to stay connected with your colleagues than what you’re doing today.

Fortunately, there’s an entire up-and-coming industry of collaborative software (aka “Social Media for Business”) companies working round the clock to design that better way.  Unfortunately, because this industry is new, nothing’s tried-and-true.  It’s hard to tell the gems from the junk.Colleagues meeting to collaborate on a project

So how do you pick the solution that’s right for your company?

If you’re considering investing in an internal social media platform, think about one that:

  • Is really, really light – Many programs are just too complicated. If the average employee can’t look at a tool and figure out the basic functionality within 30 seconds, she will not use it. This does not mean you don’t need to train employees – still hold those sessions! But as soon as you start showing “how to,” your audience will start to ask what they really need to know:  “why?” “how secure is it?” and “are we allowed?” (Here’s a fun rule of thumb:  as you evaluate tools, ask yourself, “Would I ask a senior executive to do that?” If the answer is no, then move on – it’s too complicated.)
  • Looks and feels like Facebook – Facebook continually strives to be as intuitive as possible.  Employees already know how to use Facebook. If you can find a tool that leverages Facebook’s design principles, you can leverage that employee knowledge. Just don’t make the mistake of promoting this as “Facebook for our company.” While the functionality may be similar, the conversations shouldn’t be.
  • Acknowledges the human factor If a company tells you that plugging in their software will result in spontaneous outpourings of employee collaboration – run! You need a partner who will help you to build and manage an engaged employee community. This will definitely require time, patience, and some dedicated internal resources.
  • Offers a freemium version – If you need some help convincing the powers-that-be that social collaboration is the way to go, test-drive a cloud-based tool like Yammer. This isn’t a limited-time, limited-population pilot; you can start a private community accessible by anyone in your email domain for free. The best part: if it takes off and you think it’s worth a serious investment, you’ll have an armload of use cases to take to management. (Are you wondering what’s in it for these companies?  Results are often so good, this crazy business plan actually works.)