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Social Media as Collaboration

Page history last edited by Joanne Merkle 10 years ago



WEB 2.0 technologies introduced interactive capabilities to websites.  The ability to input information on a website launched a new era for social networking.  Social media is about people having conversations online.  Think of regular media as a one-way street where you can read a newspaper or listen to a report on television, but you have very limited ability to give your thoughts on the matter. Social media, on the other hand, is a two-way street that gives you the ability to communicate too. (Nations, 2010)

Social media provides the means to build online communities and communication, two necessary components for successful virtual teaming and collaboration.  Learn how to use social media (blogging, Twitter, FaceBook) and you learn the skills to succeed in virtual teams. (Bas De Baar, 2009)


Several types of social media applications exist. Each type enables it’s users to interact with one another. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, allow users to create profiles and connect with individuals or groups.  Social bookmarking sites such as Digg, allow users to share favorite content. Blogs such as Wordpress or Typepad, are online journals.  Wikis, such as Wikipedia, provide content sharing for multiple contributors.  Photo sharing sites, such Flickr, allow users to share photos.  YouTube is a popular video sharing site. Collaboration and brainstorming tools such Facilitate and Streamwork enable users to brainstorm and rank ideas.  SharePoint provides content management collaboration capabilities.  These are just a few examples of the many types of applications that support social media. (McIntosh, 2009)


Businesses use social media in several ways.  Marketing and sales departments can reach out to customers.  Human resource departments can recruit new employees and stay in touch with current employees.  Information technology departments can deploy social media for managing projects and sharing information about systems.  Large organizations can use social media to connect internally. Small organizations find social media an inexpensive way to reach out to larger communities. 


This section on using social media as a collaboration tool will cover the following topics:  history and background of social media, adoption of social media by individuals and businesses, crowdsourcing, legal issues and privacy issues with social media.






By Individuals


Younger generations use social media more than older generations.  According to eMarketer, six percent of people in the age group of 44 – 62 years, and around 61% of those aged 27 to 43 years, are socially networked.  In addition, younger users tend to be early adopters of new social media platforms but older generations require more time. The top countries for monthly social media usage in February 2010, according to The Nielsen Company, were Italy, Australia, and the United States.   These statistics should come as no surprise, but an interesting trend is in the growth of social media on mobile devices in developing countries. According to a report from Opera, the year over year growth rate of Facebook in 2009 on Opera Mobile was 4717% in Ukraine, 2100% in Vietnam, and 1083% in Nigeria.  Because many of these households do not have a computer, the adoption of the internet has gone directly to mobile devices. In markets where the internet is relatively new, most consumers don't have a good idea of what the internet is or what value it provides.  About one third of offline consumers in Mexico and Brazil state that they will never use the internet.  This resistance to adopt and barriers to entry present an issue for widespread adoption of social media in some countries. China has a large and rapidly growing internet market.  It presents a unique challenge though because many western sites are blocked by their national firewall.  This means that China has separate tools for social media, making global collaboration on public platforms challenging.




By Businesses


When businesses invest in social media, it can dramatically transform how they approach recruiting, PR, marketing, and other functions.  For this reason, they want to make sure that both the tools they are using and social media itself will be relevant to their target audience in the future.  In an article by Christopher Rollyson on Socialmedia.biz, he explains the social media adoption curve, and feels that the hype of Web 2.0 peaked in 2009.  He estimates that 2010 will be a year of failure and disappointment, and many Web 2.0 initiatives will fail.  Businesses adopting social media need to be cognizant of this and select their tools wisely to ensure they are investing in technologies that will be relevant for several years.  Below is his adoption curve estimate:



According to research performed by MarketingProfs in the Fall of 2009, the majority of businesses are not using social media, meaning there is still substantial opportunity for growth and adoption.  The research found that the largest category of social media usage by businesses was B2C marketing through Facebook.  Below is a graphic from the research:


Pasted Graphic_social media.pdf


Large organizations, especially Fortune 500 companies, are notoriously slow to adopt new technologies.  With the exception of organizations such as IBM and Microsoft, who sell social media products and services, many organizations are still only adopting these new technologies sporadically.  The main barriers to adoption are estimating and selling the value of implementation and getting over corporate culture issues.Certain industries are more likely than others to adopt social media and Web 2.0 technologies.  According to a report by the Society for New Communications Research, media, entertainment, and technology industries are the most likely to use social media.  Heavy manufacturing, materials management, and construction are the least likely.As adoption accelerates from 2010 - 2015, social media will transform how industries operate and many of them will be forced to adapt or die.  According to an article on simplyzesty.com by Lauren Fisher, these industries include print media, politics, television, hospitality, sports, music, recruitment, advertising, public relations, and shopping.  The common thread among the change in all of these industries will be that the social media channel and internet at large will be the primary method for communicating with consumers. ccording to a blog post by David Armano on the The Harvard Business Review, social media will become more specialized in 2010 and beyond.  New platforms and adoption strategies by organizations will become more targeted in purpose.  Corporations will become more accepting of social media but will develop stricter usage policies.  In addition, social media will eventually replace email as the primary platform for sharing information to large groups.




Leveraging Social Media for Corporate Recruitment, Business Development, and Academic Learning

Today’s businesses utilize social media platforms to increase operational efficiency.  Likewise, the academia arena uses social media to foster interactive learning. The idea of leveraging social media in business and academic learning is to engage the user or student to the point where meaningful results are achieved.  The areas to be discussed here are social media’s impact on corporate recruitment, business development, and academic learning for pre-college students.


Facebook, arguably the most popular social media platform currently, is widely used by organizations across the world for recruiting employees.  These organizations leverage Facebook’s Page capabilities for content sharing which ultimately leads to brand empowerment.  Once a user becomes a fan of the company’s Page, he/she can follow all news and content that is posted.  Organizations are using this powerful tool to post messages about job openings and links to the corporate careers page of the position.  A page’s fan can share the job posting message with those in his/her own network and thus begin viral marketing.  Similarly, organizations use Pages to share information about employee referral incentives, which can be shared over again between infinite Facebook networks.  Ultimately, all the recruiting facets of Facebook Pages can lead to the overall employment brand of the company (Charney 2010).

It is safe to say many organizations have a strong desire not only to hire talented workers, but people who fit in culturally and ethically.  These organizations are turning to social media to learn more about the personal lives of potential employees.  Quite simply, all that needs to be done is type in the name of the potential employee in Google and his/her profile from all of the major social networks and blogs/wikis will display in the search results.  HR Departments are increasingly examining these profiles to learn more about the character of a potential employee (Du 2007).  There is also the story about an employee of the NFL team Philadelphia Eagles in which the employee vented about the team on a Facebook status, which resulted in termination of from the job (MJD 2009).


LinkedIn, a professional networking site, is known to be the ultimate tool for sales people to develop new business.  Quite simply, the user can conduct a People Search by inputting certain key words and pages full of possible prospects will appear.  The user can browse the profiles and choose to target the ones that seemingly can benefit from what is being offered.  Now, the user has the name, title, company name, and experience details of the prospect.  LinkedIn has the capabilities to allow common contacts to make introductions, which can sometimes work better then a cold call.  Or alternately, the user can send a direct message to the prospect and start interacting (LinkedIn Learning Center).

Social media tools for academic learning have recently become more popular.  A tool that is being widely used now is called socialmediaclassroom.com.  This is essentially a free web-based service that brings together teachers and learners and provide blogs, forums/wikis, comment, wiki, chat, social bookmarking, RSS, microblogging, widgets , and video commenting.  For teachers, resources such as syllabi, lesson plans, resource repositories, screencasts and videosare included (socialmediaclassroom.com).







Jeff Howe, a writer for Wired Magazine, sensed that he had stumbled upon a social media phenomenon while working on a story about rock bands that achieved fame through MySpace. He pitched another article to his editor at Wired.  This time the topic was about “outsourcing to the crowds”.  In June 2006, Wired magazine published Howe’s article “The Rise of Crowdsourcing”, which coined the term and offered several classic examples of crowdsourcing.  (Zuckerman, 2009)

Howe provides two definitions for crowdsourcing.

     “The White Paper Version: Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an      employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined,        generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

     “The Soundbyte Version: The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.” (Howe, 2006)


Crowdsourcing can be broken down into these categories: creation, prediction and organization (Catone, 2007).  Wikipedia, with many sources of user defined content, is a well know and successful example of creation crowdsourcing (Catone, 2007).  Marketocracy, an example of prediction crowdsourcing, is a community of 60,000 online stock traders that tracks the decisions of its top 100 portfolios to set the investment strategy for its mutual fund (Howe, 2006).  Digg is news social networking site that gives it members the opportunity to “digg” or “bury” headline news stories.  Digg is an example of organization crowdsourcing (Catone, 2007).  


One additional crowdsourcing category is entertainment.  Second Opinion is an iPhone app that provides users with the ability to ask a yes or no question, and then crowdsource for the answer. (Tamburro, 2010).




Who Uses Crowdsourcing?


Companies in a wide array of industries are devising ways to harness the intelligence and creativity of distributed labor. (Howe, 2006).  Listed below are several examples of corporate crowdsourcing initiatives. (openinnovators.net)



Product Ideas crowdsourcing

    * Fiat Mio - create a car
    * Open Innovation Sara Lee - open innovation portal of Sara Lee
    * P&G Open Innovation Challenge - external idea sourcing in Britain
    * Ideas4Unilever - corporate venturing
    * BMW Customer Innovation Lab - in german
    * LeadUsers.nl & Live Simplicity - Philips’ crowdsourcing platforms
    * Kraft - innovate with Kraft
    * InnovationJam* - IBM’s more internally focussed idea generation project
    * Dell IdeaStorm - external idea sourcing
    * Vocalpoint - P&G’s network for women
    * Betavine - Vodafone’s mobile app community
    * My Startbucks Idea - shaping the future of Starbucks

Branding & Design crowdsourcing

    * Spreadshirt Logo Design Contest - let community design new logo
    * Gmail M-Velope Video Competition - viral video competition
    * LEGO Factory - LEGO co-creation tool
    * Peugeot - Peugeot’s design contest
    * Muji - improving and suggesting new designs
    * Electrolux Design Lab - annual design competition for students
    * Fluevog - open shoe design
    * LEGO Mindstorms - open source robots
    * BurdaStyle - open source sewing
    * GoldCorp - the famous GoldCorp Challenge


One notable trend in crowdsourcing is using “consumers as creators” (Boutin, 2006).  Every business has customers who are sure they could design the products better themselves. So why not let them? (Boutin, 2006) 


“Crowdsourcing is a subset of what Eric von Hippel calls ‘user-centered innovation,’ in which manufacturers rely on customers not just to define their needs, but to define the products or enhancements to meet them. But unlike the bottom-up, ad-hoc communities that develop open-source software or better windsurfing gear, crowdsourced work is managed and owned by a single company that sells the results”. To paraphrase von Hippel, it relies on would-be customers' willingness to hand over their ideas to the company, either cheaply or for free, in order to see them go into production”. (Boutin, 2006) 


The idea is that if the customer designs a product, then it will be exactly what the customer wants to buy which translates into guaranteed sales. 


“Threadless, is a Chicago-based T-shirt maker whose design process consists entirely of an online contest. Each week the company receives hundreds of submissions from amateur and professional artists. Threadless posts these to its Web site, where anyone who signs up may give each shirt a score. The four to six highest-rated designs each week are put into production, but only after enough customers have pre-ordered the design to ensure it won't be a money-loser”. (Boutin, 2006)


Language translation is another widely used practice of crowdsourcing.  Twitter announced that it was crowdsourcing Tweeter volunteer linguists to translate itself into French, Italian, German and Spanish. (Grunwald, 2010)  Facebook has a similar project.


Finally, there are many examples of crowdsourcing for the common good.  The “Extraordinaries”  is an iPhone app and a micro-volunteer movement whose members use their smart phones to assist in a variety of ways.


“During your lunch break you could snap a picture of a pothole that needs patching and zap it to the proper authorities. You could report a dying elm to the parks-and-recreation department or spot a rare woodpecker for the Audubon Society.”  (Weeks, 2009)

MoveOn.org also uses crowdsourcing to assist people. HurricaneHousing.org connected displaced people with MoveOn.org members who were offering a place to stay in their homes. "With crowdsourcing in general, said [Peter] Koechley, you think, 'What time, efforts, or assets does this big group of people have, and how can they use them to the most effect?' In this case, it was an extra room." Nearly 30,000 people were housed through connections made on HurricaneHousing.org. (Bravo, 2009)




Crowdsourcing Tools

Examples of software applications that can be used to assist organizations with crowdsourcing are: Charordix, IdeaScale, Smartsheet and Imaginatik’s Idea Central Software.  Smartsheet is mainly focused in connecting the workforce.  The other applications provide the ability to collect ideas, vote on ideas, and report on winning ideas.  Charodix is the creation of the crowdsourcing software company Cambrian House.  Each tool is summarized below.





“Chaordix delivers the technology and know-how to help organizations use crowdsourcing to better perform. Delivered in a software-as-a-service model, the Chaordix crowdsourcing platform™ is an engine to call to the crowd for collective intelligence for innovation, market prediction, research discovery and brand input.” (chaordix.com)


Crowdsourcing – A simple sample

There are lots of models and variations to open innovation, but crowdsourcing in its simplest form invites crowds to submit, discuss, refine and rank ideas or other contributions via the web to arrive at what have been proven economically as the most-likely-to-succeed solutions.

simple sampel.bmp


Idea Scale

IdeaScale claims to “empower communities to drive innovation.  It provides the functionality to “collect ideas from customers [and] gives them a platform to vote, the most important ideas bubble to the top”.

 “Users--also known as the crowd--typically form into online communities, and the crowd submits solutions. The crowd also sorts through the solutions, finding the best ones.  These best solutions are then owned by the entity that broadcast the problem in the first place--the crowdsourcer--and the winning individuals in the crowd are sometimes rewarded. In some cases, this labor is well compensated, either monetarily, with prizes, or with recognition. In other cases, the only rewards may be kudos or intellectual satisfaction. Crowdsourcing may produce solutions from amateurs or volunteers working in their spare time, or from experts or small businesses which were unknown to the initiating organization. You can use IdeaScale to create your own crowdsourcing community.” (ideascale.com)



Smartsheet is the only collaboration tool that makes it possible to connect to an on-demand workforce. We make it easy for you to get work done with co-workers, clients, and vendors so it made sense to us to take it to the next step – we make it easy for you to get work done with a global workforce that’s always available. You may have heard of crowdsourcing, for example Wikipedia, where people do work for free. Smartsheet has created Smartsourcing, which is a form of paid crowdsourcing where you pay for the work to be done and have much more control over the quality of the results. Smartsourcing is a great way to expand your capacity to get work done at an affordable price. (smartsheet.com)




Idea Central Software

Idea Central Software is a robust and scalable web-based application for Collaborative Innovation and Idea Management. It is an enterprise crowdsourcing platform that allows organizations to maximize the benefits from the Collective Intelligence of their employees, customers, suppliers and other third parties. Idea Central leverages the combined brainpower of an organization to boost revenue growth and profitability, increase collaboration, build sustainability, and streamline process improvements. Its recent releases have been developed in deep collaboration with Imaginatik’s customers.

The software contains specialized features to help focus idea generation toward strategic business objectives, and to capture, develop, and share those ideas securely across an organization. Idea Central also provides a state-of-the-art review process designed to elicit high-quality insight and evaluations from decision makers, with minimum administrative overhead. Add-on modules extend the functionality and use of the system. (imaginatik.com)




Crowdsourcing Advantages

“Crowdsourcing can improve productivity and creativity while minimizing labor and research expenses. Using the Internet to solicit feedback from an active and passionate community of customers can reduce the amount of time spent collecting data through formal focus groups or trend research, while also seeding enthusiasm for upcoming products. By involving a cadre of customers in key marketing, branding, and product-development processes, managers can reduce both staffing costs and the risks associated with uncertain marketplace demand.” (Alsever, 2010)

“Crowdsourcing works well for large-scale initiatives where gathering data would be otherwise impossible. For instance, the vastness of space makes it impossible for a single astrological organization to chart. With so many amateur astronomers pointing their telescopes to the sky the odds of catching an astrological phenomenon greatly increases. And when professionals share their astrological data, the community benefits on a whole.”  (Gallagher and Savard, 2010)




Wisdom or Just Plain Dumbness

Crowdsourcing has been called the “wisdom of the crowds”.  But is it always? 

Crowdsourcing sounds good in theory—pull together a bunch of smart, motivated individuals from across the Web to create a new product or business—but in practice it is not so easy to pull off. (Schoenfeld, 2008) 

Cambrian House is a crowdsourcing business that elicited the masses for web application ideas.  The business failed, not due to a lack of ideas, but poor execution of those ideas. (Schoenfeld, 2008). 

So what does it take to make crowdsourcing work? 

Opening the corporate doors to ideas and inspiration from the collective crowd holds great potential, but there are pitfalls, warns Henry Chesbrough, executive director of the Center for Open Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley. To succeed, Mr. Chesbrough said, a company must have a culture open to outside ideas and a system for vetting and acting on them.  “In business, it’s not how many ideas you have,’ he observed. ‘What matters is how many ideas you translate into products and services.” (Lohr, 2009)

Josh Catone (2007) provides some rules for effective crowdsourcing:

  1.  Crowds should operate within constraints. To harness the collective intelligence of crowds, there need to be rules in place to maintain order.
  2. Not everything can be democratic. Sometimes a decision needs to be made, and having a core team (or single person) make the ultimate decision can provide the guidance necessary to get things done and prevent crazy ideas and groupthink from wreaking havoc on your product.
  3. Crowds must retain their individuality. Encourage your group to disagree, and try not to let any members of the group disproportionately influence the rest.
  4. Crowds are better at vetting content than creating it. It is important to note that in most of the above projects, the group merely votes on the final product; they do not actually create it (even at Cambrian House, where the group collaborates to create the product, individuals are still creating each piece on their own and the group votes on whose implementation of an idea is best).

In Kathy Sierra’s often quoted blog post called “The Dumbness of Crowds” she quotes Jaron Lanier:

"Every authentic example of collective intelligence that I am aware of also shows how that collective was guided or inspired by well-meaning individuals. These people focused the collective and in some cases also corrected for some of the common hive mind failure modes."

Sierra concludes, “No matter what, I believe that in our quest to exploit the "We" in Web, we must not sacrifice the "I" in Internet”.



The Future of Social Media and Web 3.0


Web 2.0 opened the door for social media, so what are the predictions for Web 3.0.  Current Web 2.0 search capabilities are limited.  Keyword searching can return thousands of entries, with several that are useless.  Web 3.0 promises searching that better captures the intent of the request.  While Web 2.0 uses the Internet to make connections between people, Web 3.0 will use the Internet to make connections with information.  Extending Web connections beyond computers and mobile devices is another change that may be down the road. (Strickland, 2010).




Crowdsourcing:  “The White Paper Version: Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call. The Soundbyte Version: The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.”




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Schonfeld, Erick, When Crowdsourcing Fails:  Cambrian House Headed to the Deadpool, Tech Crunch, May 12, 2008, http://techcrunch.com/2008/05/12/when-crowdsourcing-fails-cambrian-house-headed-to-the-deadpool/

Sierra, Kathy, The Dumbness of the Crowds, Creating Passionate Users Blog, 2007 January 2,  http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/01/the_dumbness_of.html

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Du, Wei, “Job Candidates Getting Tripped up by Facebook”, 14 August 2007,


MJD, “Eagles Fire Employee for Calling them “retarted” on Facebook”, March 2009,




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