How to Handle Social Applications in Your Environment

What are social applications?

Social applications, also known as social software, include communication and interactive tools often based on the Internet. These tools typically handle the capturing, storing, and presentation of communications, whether written, audio, or video.

Example social applications include:

Types of Social Application Environments

We work with multiple types of environments within organizations that incorporate social applications. Some organizations provide the applications to their users and it evolves naturally. Others plan out the introduction of an application to their environment. These are known as Free Environments and Controlled Environments, respectively.

Free Environments

These environments can be a free-for-all. These environments are where employees use the applications with no constraints. Your user community can create their own social avenues within these applications. They can create their own channels/groups, and message anyone that they can access within the application.

As with any solution, there are pros and cons to this type of open and free communication. For instance, a positive feature of a free environment is the obvious cost savings to the business. Another benefit is that it can lead to shortcuts for established processes and procedures. However, the caveat is that “unofficial” processes are harder to control and measure and usually reduce the utilization of existing official channels.

If not properly monitored, free environments can quickly get out of control and are very hard to constrain once established. When users are given the option to go around official channels, IT and other support groups may get distracted and bogged down and chaos quickly ensues.  This process can become inefficient and overwhelming if not monitored and measured.

Controlled Environments

Controlled environments are those that are established by companies with a specific purpose and are implemented and monitored to ensure that purpose is met.

There are some key things to be aware of when introducing a social application. Since social applications include direct messaging, sometimes support staff can get bombarded with individual messages for help. When introducing social applications, expectations should be set for response times and correct channels in which to contact support, like IT.  These guidelines and clearly defined procedures help control the flow of communication and keep support teams from being inundated with messages from users. Communicating such guidelines across the business will create proper user expectations, aid in alleviating user frustrations, and help users understand the channel communication.

Hybrid Environments

These are environments have a combination of free spaces and controlled spaces. For example, inter- and intra-departmental communication may be free and open, but when needing assistance from HR or IT, there are set rules and expectations when communicating through the social channel. This allows teams to develop workflows and communication cadences that work best for them, as well as protecting support teams from the too many arrant requests that take them away from more strategic projects. This type of environment tends to form out of free environments that organizations try to regain control of due to security concerns, best practice implementation, or other changes that affect the environment, like the addition of mobile devices.

Tips and Tricks

Successful use of social applications can create a more efficient business, streamline communication and support, and even act as part of teambuilding. Here are some tips that will help your teams use these types of applications effectively.

New Social Applications

Adding a social application to your business environment can have many of the benefits outlined above. The best way to realize these is to institute controlled environments from the beginning. Here are four steps to implementing a controlled environment:

  • Plan and design the social application spaces with workflows in mind.
  • Communicate the purpose of application or channel, and usage expectations with the entire organization early on.
  • Roll the application out to pilot groups, and then to wider populations.
  • Check-in with teams and send surveys verifying appropriate utilization of the application(s).

Communicating the intended use is extremely important. Establishing this will not only set the expectations of users and support staff, but governance of the application is much easier when the intended use has already been outlined. Following the steps above, businesses can avoid some of the pitfalls outlined in previous sections.

Previously Established Free Environments

Problems tend to arise when businesses try to enforce new rules on previously used free environments. Teams will have already figured out their preferred ways of using the applications. There are two main ways to ease the transition to a more controlled environment:

  • Communication and education
  • Creation of a hybrid environment

Communicating the reasons behind the switch makes changes to the rules feel less arbitrary, especially if they are intended to help alleviate pressure or stress from another team.  Training sessions can also set expectations and demonstrate the types of changes that are to be implemented. This alleviates the frustration and anxiety that can be associated with the change.

Creating a hybrid environment will alleviate many issues that could arise from the addition of new governance rules into a social application environment. This disturbs the least amount of established workflows and personal preferences.  As outlined within the Hybrid Environment section above, restrictions to specific teams provides them the opportunity to establish procedures and the processes that better address their channels on the social application.

Your support staff can help implement these changes. Canned responses should be created and used when individual direct messages are received by the support staff, that advise the user to contact the Help/Service desk for assistance. Another suggestion would be to create an IT Channel. Funnel all IT communications from users to this channel. This creates a “deli counter protocol” which will allow your support staff to focus on one item at a time and reach out to the individual outside of the channel to assist further.

Future of Social Applications and Support

In the very near future, most controlled environments around these applications will start to feature A.I. assistants and bots to help users with their general questions or more intricate issues. Meaning that the bots drive users to knowledge base articles to resolve their issues, or walk the users through step-by-step directions. A.I. and bots will also be able to provide contact information or numbers for staff to call when they have a particular issue or question.

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