Measuring online collaboration
This week Craig chats to Cai Kjaer who is Co-founder and CEO at SWOOP Analytics about the importance of measuring online collaboration. SWOOP is a leading enterprise social network analytics platform that uses data from Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Workplace by Facebook to help organisations and their people to become better collaborators. Cai has been involved in improving business relationships using Social Network Analysis since 2006 and is also involved in the Danish Chamber of Commerce – Australia.
When they met Craig and Cai connected immediately over their shared view that change happens when communicators within organisations create the opportunity for conversations and dialogue rather than relying on download or broadcasts only. Cai has a strong passion to help people in organisations to become better at collaborating.
How do we establish an authentic line of communication?
Cai explains that when clients come to them at SWOOP, what typically stands out is an interest from their employees to have a better connection to the leadership team and colleagues in other parts of the business. They often stress the desire to have a two-way conversation rather than a one-way broadcast. They want to know how to establish an authentic line of engagement between the CEO and the frontline.
There is a deep-rooted requirement to establish a conversational tone, especially with self-managed teams where knowledge flows much more freely and they are also dealing with rapid changes in the business environment. Gone are the days of a senior leader sending an email to engage their team and catching up with them later. Tools are needed to establish a conversational tone at scale.
The importance of measuring online collaboration
Craig asks Cai, that even though we can measure the ebb and flow of communication is that enough detail? Cai gives an example of an organisation that appeared to have a particularly collaborative platform with a really high use and lots of messages. However, when they looked at how people interacted with each other there wasn’t a lot of two-way interactions, just a lot of one-way communication; this is a bit like shouting from the rooftop and no one listening. So, you need to be careful about what you measure to get accurate and measurable insights into collaboration.
Another issue to be conscious of is not to use these platforms as a type of ‘Big Brother’. In Europe GDPR has focused everyone to think about what we’re doing with data and whether it is ethical, but we need to be aware that this isn’t always the case outside Europe where there may be different attitudes and laws.
How to get from one way transmission to two-way communication
The important question therefore is how do we get away from one-way transmission and into a two-way flow of communication and how would we measure that? There are signals that organisations are having good, strong conversations and one of them is how many posts get a reply.
The top 20% of organisations who collaborate successfully online follow the 1,2,3 rule. This means that when you are interacting online you want to have a balance in your conversations of one post, two replies and three likes. Imagine a face-to-face conversation where no one gets the chance to reply? It’s important to not only post but to reply as that’s when the conversations start to happen. To have a balanced conversation, you need twice as many replies as posts. As there is no body language online this is where ‘like’ comes in, this is the only way you can show someone you are actually there. It is an important signal that people are paying attention and also stimulating for discussion.
Engager or broadcaster?
Think about what you are publishing and what you want other people to do with that information. Research has found that when you post a question, you get twice as many replies as when you don’t. Senior leaders need to think about starting conversations with questions rather than broadcasts, this also gives psychological safety for people to engage with the senior leaders.
You have to make sure you ask the right questions. Smart executives team up with their internal communications team who help them move on from just delivering a message to starting a conversation.
Cai sums it up nicely with a quote from Carrie Basham Marshall, founder of Talk Social to Me, “is the platform a megaphone or a hearing aid?”.
Insights from benchmarking data
The benchmark report published by SWOOP in April 2020 looked at 9,000 teams and provided some interesting data. The vast majority of Microsoft Teams groups were private with only 5-6 active members, usually all from the same part of the organisation – like lots of tiny, disconnected islands. It showed that while it is a great collaboration platform, it didn’t appear to be connecting people across the organisation. Conversely in Yammer, most of the groups were public, much bigger and representative across the organisation. Conversations tended to be longer in time on Yammer and shorter in Teams though the messages had larger word counts in Teams. Facebook Workplace appeared to be a mixture of both.
Cai suggested the analogy of a school where the private conversations were taking place in the classrooms (Teams) but all the interesting stuff takes place in the schoolyard (Yammer) where you generally also make friends.
Therefore, if you’re an internal communicator Teams is a powerful platform but don’t expect it to be the place you publish content to reach everyone. You need to be mindful of the platforms that can be used, not just what they can do but what people are using them for.
Is there fragmentation when more than one online platform is used for collaboration?
Data from the organisations taking part in the benchmarking report measuring online collaboration shows use of Yammer didn’t drop when Microsoft Teams was introduced and in fact use of both grew. Maybe we are finding a way where we are identifying the real unique benefits that each of these tools have and a high degree of overlapping functionality. We are perhaps also becoming more familiar with when to use which platform – becoming ‘digitally mature’.
Cai sums up by saying if you have a senior role, or impact to influence other people, start using the platform to ask questions and @ mentioning people as this gives people the safety to reply. Asking questions gets 150% more replies and @ mentioning people 76% more. Find an issue that is important for the organisation and raise it as a question to get feedback.
Cai finishes the interview with this thought “It is only through conversation that we can take people with us and generate the change we are seeking”.
You might like our blog The Communication Strategy Challenge which examines this subject further.
Related podcast episode: Effective use of digital comms | S1 E7