A guest post from Brendan Hughes of FBD.ie and chair of the IIA’s Social Media Working Group.The IIA’s social media working group has been up and running now for a few months. We each work in different organisations located in various parts of the country and the group was configured so that there would not only be social media experts, but also business professionals with relatively little knowledge or expertise to date. For many of us the group has provided a great opportunity to learn by doing since we decided from the outset that we would seek to use social media as much as possible to support our collaborative working. The following are some of the social media tools we have used to support our endeavours.
The online hub of our collaboration has been the online project management tool Basecamp from 37signals.com. I’ve seen companies use this to communicate their project timelines with clients but it comes into its own when you need to collaborate with a dispersed group. Each member of the working group can post messages for the entire group or to just a few. Members of the group can reply or comment, just like on a blog. There are whiteboards where ideas can be teased out. Everyone is kept up to date by email and all communications are tracked. It gives great transparency on everything we do.
We decided that we would initially write 4 white papers on particular aspects of social media that we felt would be of primary interest to the business community in Ireland. To support the task of up to 16 people working on a single document we set up a wiki. A wiki is essentially a tool that allows anyone to edit an online document and have their edits tracked. There is a complete audit trail of who does what and changes can be easily rolled back. Notifications, or “watchlists” can be set up so that whenever a change is made to a particular document you can receive an email. While we struggled with the first version of the wiki we used since it was not very intuitive to use, we have since moved onto a new version – SocialText – that meets our needs better.
Rather than dragging everyone into the Digital Hub in Dublin every time we needed to meet we agreed to hold Skype conference meetings when we needed to. As smaller groups this worked well but when I personally tried to organise a full group Skype meeting I managed to leave most of the group out of the conversation for 20 minutes or so. I had an older version of Skype installed than was necessary to host the full meeting. Thanks to Skype’s instant messaging facility I was alerted to the problem by the excluded members and was able to get someone else to host the meeting.
In between meetings we’ve all been keeping in touch and letting each other know about useful resources or activities via social network websites such as FriendFeed and Twitter. These have been really useful ways of providing information quickly. Many of us have our own blogs and we’ve been using these and the IIA blog to try and keep people outside the group up to date. The social networking tools have been great for us individually in creating links with interested people outside of the working group. It was great to go to the Podcamp event in Kilkenny and to meet most of the working group there, as well as many of the other people I’ve connected with online over the past while.
Our white papers are now coming close to publication. We intend to widen the circle of collaboration and with this in mind we plan to publish the documents (via the wiki) in draft format. We will then invite people to review and post comments directly to the wiki. We also intend to host a review session for each document, online of course, using the services offered by OnlineMeetingRooms.com. I’m personally very excited about this as it provides the opportunity to gather the expertise from practitioners and interested business professionals in a constructive and engaging manner.
We’re also planning to host an open meeting with social media expert Neville Hobson from the UK to discuss the business case for social media. Neville is coming to Ireland on November 5th and we’ve managed to secure a few hours out of his busy schedule. The meeting will be organised via the social media website upcoming.org, allowing anyone who’s interested in attending to register for free and see who else is attending. We’ll post more information on this later.
We certainly haven’t exhausted the range of online collaborative tools available out there, but what we have used to date has proved very useful for maintaining the momentum of activities of a diverse group of individuals. What’s more, we have done it all with minimal cost. Learning the new technologies is not without its sometimes humbling (and frustrating) moments, but thankfully there is never a shortage of knowledgeable people only too willing to help out.
As an footnote, I came across a interesting video-cast from BT on their BiggerThinking website talking about how companies can collaborate with customers, using social media technologies, to build better products. Well worth a few minutes of your time.