Social collaboration tools have been used inside organisations for roughly the last decade but in recent years there has been a lot of interest around the concept of enterprise social networks that have microblogging at their core. Microblogging is the ability for users to quickly and easily share a short update or message with a group of people or network. In contrast to traditional long-form blogging, microblogs are usually fairly short and designed to be consumed quickly.
The concept of microblogging was popularised by social networks such as Facebook and Twitter in the mid-late 2000s which gave their users the ability to post status updates or tweets that are quick to post, easy to read and accessible. In some cases these posts are trivial, others can be quite profound.
What has become clear over time is that people find this way of communicating and interacting very effective. This is borne out by the fact that Facebook now has 1.65 billion active monthly users, which is more than half of the world’s online population, and on Twitter there are now well over 310 million active users creating over 300 million tweets each day.
Clearly they are doing something right. But what has made consumer microblogging tools so successful and what can we learn from them and apply to the enterprise today?
Connections – the ability to find and connect with interesting people you know (your friends) and people you don’t know but are interested in (bands, sports stars, celebrities).
Real-time communication – the fact that everything happens nearly instantly and you don’t have to wait to hear it from someone in person, see it on the news or read it in print.
Social interaction – it’s very easy to engage with others, you can actually have a conversation and interact with people through likes, retweets, comments and replies.
Ease of use – designed to be frictionless, social networks live or die by how easy it is for non-technical users to quickly find and engage with the information they are looking for.
If we take these same principles and apply them to law firms, what benefits do we derive from enterprise social networks and, more specifically, enterprise microblogging?
1. Encourage connections across organisational boundaries
Large law firms are usually very hierarchical and siloed. It’s very difficult to find people if you don’t know they exist! Microblogging allows you to discover, connect with and follow people in the organisation with similar interests to you. It flattens hierarchies and breaks down organisational barriers so you can interact with the Managing Partner or a colleague on the other side of the world as easily as you can chat to the person sitting next to you.
2. Follow thought leaders and experts
Within every firm there are thought leaders and experts in various fields. If they are engaged in microblogging you have the opportunity to follow them and learn from their experience and expertise in particular areas of law or industries. It allows for the capture and transfer of tacit knowledge and information much more quickly and effectively.
3. Share ideas
Great ideas are meant to be shared and law firms are no different. A healthy forum for ideation and feedback often leads to even better ideas forming out of the discussion and promotes a culture of innovation and progressive thinking.
4. Have group discussions
Facilitate vibrant communities of practice inside the firm by encouraging group discussions around hot topics, practice groups, jurisdictions, areas of law and even clients. It’s easier to administer and organise than email and the discussions will be properly archived and discoverable again in the future.
5. Ask for feedback
If you need feedback on a piece of work or a thought, socialising it via a microblog post is a great way of getting input from a wider group of people much more quickly than you would ordinarily be able to via email or in a face-to-face meeting.
6. Reduce email overload
Email was never designed to do all of the things we use it for today. We overuse it and as a consequence our inboxes are unwieldy, inefficient black holes that make us less productive. Microblogging can help reduce email traffic by moving group conversations and discussions into a more suitable medium where the information is not trapped in people’s inboxes. No more “Reply all” email threads to distract and disrupt you.
7. Share a link or update
People often discover interesting articles, current awareness and other material that would be useful for a wider audience. Share links or updates quickly and easily with colleagues and project teams as a microblog post to instantly disseminate information and promote knowledge sharing.
8. Find expertise quickly
Every user has a bio which can updated with their expertise and experience so other people can find them when needed. If you can’t find the right person, ask the question and you will no doubt get a response from someone who either knows the answer or knows someone else that does. This is much quicker and more likely to succeed compared to calling or emailing around trying to find the right people when you need them in a hurry.
9. Socialise documents and files
If you need to share a document or file with a group, post it as a microblog rather than as an attachment in an email so that you can gather all comments and feedback in one place without clogging up everyone’s inboxes.
10. Post team updates and news
Client relationship teams, project teams or other interest groups can very easily share updates, progress reports and news in a centralised location which can be opened up to a wider audience, including external users, when needed.
11. Share current awareness
Keeping up to date with current awareness in the legal sector is difficult at the best of times. Microblogging can create a channel for sharing current awareness updates in real-time and opening them up to discussion rather than publishing them infrequently via email or newsletters.
12. Participate in firm-wide discussions
With a “firm-wide” stream it’s possible to interact and have discussions right across every practice group and department within the firm. This enables users to discover people and knowledge outside of their normal sphere.
13. Ask a question
If you’re looking for an answer, just ask the question. By posting a question as a microblog, you will have access to the firm’s entire “hive mind” and there will be someone out there that knows the answer and can save you time by giving it to you quickly.
14. Share a photo or image
A picture is worth a thousand words, so convey complex ideas or problems with an image and help people visualise what you are talking about. Whether it’s a photo, screenshot, scan or drawing, visualisation makes it possible for people to absorb large amounts of data quickly.
15. Like something
Help promote the best or most valuable content by “liking” it. This will mean it’s more likely to be found by others and shows the author that you have read something or appreciate their work.
16. Broadcast your working life
Working out in the open has many advantages, particularly in knowledge-intensive organisations such as law firms. By “broadcasting” what you’re working on (assuming it’s not sensitive) you give other people an insight into what you’re doing. This will allow users with similar interests or problems to discover each other, solve problems more quickly and help prevent reinvention of the wheel.
17. Gain a peripheral vision of what’s happening across the firm
With a healthy and vibrant microblogging community across the firm, anyone can gain a good understanding of what people are working on and what issues they are facing. It’s just as easy to discover what someone on the other side of the world is doing as it is the person sitting next to you. This is as beneficial to the firm’s leadership team as it is to the lawyers and support staff.