Bradley, and his colleague, Mark P. McDonald, offer that understanding in their recent book The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of your Customers and Employees, published by Harvard Business Review Press.
Don't just think Twitter for Facebook here. In the social organization context, social media includes the spectrum of group communications, authoring and organization tools that enable large groups to collaborate: wikis, blogs, microblogs, social networking, social bookmarking, tagging, social feedback, idea engines, answer marketplaces, prediction markets and virtual worlds.
It's this large group engagement that Bradley and McDonald describe as mass collaboration. Mass collaboration, in their definition "is a large, diverse group of people pursuing a mutual purpose that creates value..yet...who act independently to contribute open and complementary information" and thereby becomes a "collaboration community that enlists the interests, knowledge, talent and experience of everyone along its value chain to create results that exceed those possible using traditional process and small-group collaboration"
- ensuring that a community is mobilized around a business relevant purpose,
- supporting the community engagement through a collaboration cycle,
- bringing the results of the collaboration community into relevant business processes.
Social media is often used in marketing for mass communications, or support for one-to-one interactions, but effectively managing mass collaboration processes can result in accelerated and improved performance.
Bradley and McDonald's most compelling case study is of CEMEX, a global cement and building materials manufacturer - 47,000 employees, in 100 countries and $14.5B in revenue in 2009. CEMEX, launched, through multiple mass collaboration cycles, a strategic initiative to increase the use of alternate fuels in their plants.
Through three cycles of engagement, CEMEX put out a global call for input to 500 engineers and plant managers, who quickly coalesced around a process to assess all plants and identify those with leading best practice. A second cycle brought the community together to review, comment and refine the practice information contributed by the plant manager and engineers - issues were raised, clarified and discussed transparently in the process. Finally, in a third cycle of community collaboration, the results of the practice review process resulted in a community-wide knowledge sharing with questions, comments and new material shared in a community forum. By using the community or mass collaboration process, CEMEX collapsed into six weeks what would have traditionally been a two-year process.
CEMEX garnered successful mass collaboration through collaboration cycle - a process articulated by Bradley and McDonald - that supports a large and diverse group to engage and contribute productively to a mutual purpose.
- Participation-Value is achieved through participation-a community must be catalyzed and mobilized for participation through purpose
- Collective-A mass collaboration effort is actively created and expanded through the continues widely-cast contributions of the participants
- Transparency–all participants see each other’s contributions – to view, re-use, augment, validate, critique and rate
- Independence-participants can engage anytime, anyplace – Any member of the collective contributes, completely independently of any other (i.e., not directed to do so by a manager, etc).
- Persistence-contributions are captured for others in the community to view and share
- Emergence-behaviors cannot be modeled, designed, optimized or controlled like a traditional system – value emerges from the collective interactions
Besides clarifying an effective model of collaboration, Bradley and McDonald provide specific, focused advice for managing collaboration - what they term "guiding from the middle."
Senior executives have to ensure that the collaboration cycle works well - and functions along the six principles noted above. They offer specific guidance for managers to ensure the environment for productive participation, business aligned purpose and continued productive performance of the community. But managers also have to allow the ownership of the community to shift to the community itself, acknowledge and encourage the emergent nature of a community, ensure the inherent transparency of the community process, and keep the community connected to the organization.
The Social Organization provides a well-articulated approach for senior leaders in companies and organizations that will help them understand the strategic importance and effective management of collaboration at scale.