Baldwin and I were carpooling down the 101 when a billboard caught my eye. It said, “don’t suffer from premature collaboration.” As someone who has the maturity of a fifth grader, I was 100% confident that somewhere in a marketing agency there was a guy just like me who thought that was super funny. And it kind of is. I chuckled utilizing my inside voice (which is Beavis and Butthead btw) and said, “huh huh, he said premature collaboration.” Baldwin smiled patiently as he wondered whether or not carpooling with me was actually worth it.
But, at that very moment I had that feeling of panic you get when you might have discovered a competitor! Collaboration - either premature or on-time - is what Tomfoolery is supposed to be about. And these people are using humor! Weak sexual humor but, hey, that’s my mainstay. That doesn’t happen in the Enterprise. I was concerned. Luckily, Baldwin was there to humor me.
Me: Dude, go to prematurecollaboration.com and see what we’re dealing with. (I was driving)
Baldwin: Um, alright.
Me: Do they have a mobile site?
Baldwin: Well, no it’s not bad on mobile but it’s not mobile-specific.
Me: Are there good looking “work” people wearing “professional” clothing?
Baldwin: Yes. They are advertising something called Samepage. Everyone seems to be sharing things. Ever heard of it?
Me: No, is there a screenshot?
Me: Okay, let me describe it…
Now we break from the awesome recounting of this exciting dialogue. I can describe this or any enterprise app with shockingly accurate detail. I’ve now seen so many of these collaboration tools that I know what they look like. They all look the same. Now, I’m not harping on SamePage (which is an ironic name). It actually looks like one of the better tools out there (look for yourself). And, they have entertaining marketing (at least to me). My job is to struggle with making tools that appeal to people at work. I can’t help but think that everyone is building the same basic collaboration tool over and over again. The following is a description of the pattern we are witnessing in the “Social” Enterprise.
How to Make an Enterprise Collaboration Tool in Four Easy Steps
Cut a hole in the box. Make a BIG Page!
A BIG PAGE that might be iPad optimized but definitely isn’t mobile:
Step Two: Decide how the employees work and put it on the left.
Okay! Now you add a nice left table - make it like a quarter of the page. This is your organizing principle! So, however you want to divide up what you perceive “employees” do. This might be groups of people, tags, folders, projects or the very raw hierarchy of the workplace.
Step Three: Put a feed in the middle of the page
Good job on the left table thing. You had to make a tough decision there because you want people to collaborate and the organizing principle can be limiting. Now comes the moment of truth. I want you to take the rest of the available page and divide it in half. You’re going to put posts in the middle of the page. Everyone is just going to work here. No one is going to post pictures of their children or anything like that. We don’t care about people’s kittens. Everything must be all about work. So, files, files, files. Nothing says “work” like documents. There’s the occasional screenshot when things get super crazy. But, no one is at lunch or at Starbucks wondering if they can pick something up for someone else. No one is doing tequila shots or making fun of each other. So, let’s share some files. Socially. You know, let’s collaborate!
Step Four: People are going to comment on feed items like crazy-time.
Alright, last but not least, you need to add an area for comments. People are going to be all over the posts because they like files so much that they can’t help themselves. These are super addicted employees who are more productive because you’re speaking their language. You’re building inspiring products with purpose. Whoa!
You’re going to have to do the usual things - registration, login, etc. But, you’re going to do one thing that is going to be very important to your success. Do everything you can to make it viral like an outbreak. This includes trying to get people to invite other people at every turn and emails with updates, digests and notifications. You have to get this thing everywhere as fast as possible. Remember: the real money is in making your not-so-secure social thing, super secure as an upgrade path. That’s your sales channel.
Companies are struggling with this idea of social at work. But, social at work isn’t anything new. People who believe they have a best friend at work are 7 times more likely to be engaged. That’s the tangible benefit of social at work, and has been since the day people left their homes to go to work. One of the reasons I love the Tomfoolery team so much is that most of us have a consumer background. While this provides other challenges, we’re able to focus on key behaviors that inform our strategy. Our approach is to stop separating consumer and enterprise apps into two buckets. The same people will use both and those people are using beautiful social applications in their day-to-day life. Those social apps make people happy and create strong connections. Why do we abandon that for 10+ hours a day? And why aren’t “work” tools made for mobile? That’s the most social tool we possess and it’s so commonly a strategic afterthought.
Finally, I reserve the right to build a product that looks exactly like every other enterprise product out there so you can’t throw those screens back at me if our stuff looks something like that. :)