Productivity Goes Social with Jive

[qi:021] Can social web applications like blogs, wikis, and online communities make a company more productive? Enterprise collaboration company Jive Software thinks they can, by enabling social productivity — making things happen across ad hoc social networks instead of just relying on individual progress or within-the-workgroup collaboration.

But because social productivity, in contrast to individual or team productivity, aims more at innovation and insight than efficiency and economy, Jive faces a big challenge in demonstrating the benefits of their Clearspace collaboration software to potential customers.

What’s social productivity good for?

Jive Chief Marketing Officer Sam Lawrence defines social productivity like this:

[It’s] about getting work done outside the team of like-minded people you work with everyday. With social productivity, an idea is introduced and all sorts of people get to chime in on it. These could be people you work with a lot, people you’ve never worked with or even people outside your company. Now all of a sudden your idea has been developed openly by all sorts of people who bring their own, valuable perspective.

When would you need this kind of ad hoc collaboration across organizational boundaries? Maybe for ambiguous and uncertain projects and tasks where next steps and eventual destinations aren’t at all obvious — designing a breakthrough product or solving an especially thorny customer problem, for example. Such projects require conversations with people outside your workgroup, bursts of insight, and creative problem-solving, rather than discussions with current teammates, static knowledge, and pre-defined processes.

Using features like discussion forums, blogs, wikis, and document management, Clearspace links together corporate employees and their work processes with customers, prospects, developers, and other external collaborators and stakeholders. Clearspace offers both outward-facing online community capabilities along the lines of Drupal or Ning and internally-deployed knowledge management that competes with the likes of Microsoft’s (MSFT) Sharepoint.

Calculating ROI for social productivity tools

Here’s the challenge facing Jive: Demonstrate the benefits of social productivity in a way that makes sense to corporate executives. The enterprise IT market demands quantifiable return on investment, which is difficult to show when you’re talking about encouraging innovation and solving ambiguous problems rather than just making well-understood individual or workgroup processes more efficient and economical.

If the promises of social productivity tools prove out, companies deploying them should see improved customer responsiveness, more successful products, more enthusiastic user communities, and better financial results. Tying such benefits back to the use of social web tools won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible either, as early efforts to calculate the ROI of corporate blogging show (though granted, those emphasize public relations benefits rather than business productivity).

Jive’s Lawrence told me that his potential customers want social networking and other social tools but aren’t quite sure why yet. Let’s see if Jive can convince them that social productivity really is productive.