The Social Collaboration Dilemma

by in Information Management & Governance

The meteoric rise of social collaboration tools has largely been a positive enabler for corporate productivity. Unfortunately, however, its broad adoption brings new risks and costs for organizations in highly regulated industries. Ed Gavin, Micro Focus' product manager for Social Collaboration Archiving & Supervision, shares his insights on how to maintain your compliance imperatives while leveraging these transformational tools.

What is Social Collaboration?

 Social collaboration is the category applied to a range of social media and collaboration tools. Some – such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and WhatsApp – simplify online meetings and collaboration. Others – including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – simplify connection and communication across online communities. Collectively, social collaboration tools now define business communications in many profound ways.

As with all disruptive innovations, these technologies present a mix of opportunity and risk to the organizations that embrace them.

Forming, Storming, and Norming

The principal advantages these technologies deliver to workers and their employers lie in their ability to simplify and expedite communications. Indeed, a study of 1,100 US-based companies found those that used Slack reported an average 49% reduction in email volumes, a 25% decline in the number of meetings, and a 32% increase in productivity.

As a group, social collaboration tools help workers (especially knowledge workers) tackle the process described in Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development as Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Forming is the process wherein a team meets, agrees upon a set of opportunities and challenges before them, defines goals, and begins the work at hand. Storming, the second stage, applies to the process where group members get to know one another and gain each other’s trust. Norming is the stage of increased focus and collaboration that follows the more tentative interactions in the Storming stage.

It’s easy to see how the IRC-style chat, group, and direct messaging features common to many of these tools accelerate these processes. Increasingly, even social media pioneers such as Facebook and LinkedIn now incorporate similar features, extending their utility for collaboration and group formation.

The “Social” in Social Collaboration

Yet the tools on the social media end of the social collaboration spectrum serve an increasingly vital role in business, one not foreseen in the Tuckman model. This is the process of broadcasting messages and content via web-enabled media to inform and influence the attitudes and behaviors of targeted segments of the general public. As pointed out earlier, the fast-paced addition of new features and capabilities to these platforms makes the distinction between social media and collaboration platforms increasingly blurry.

Compliance Risk Exposure

This said, compliance risks can occur over any of the social collaboration tools used by businesses today. In part, this owes to the numerous regulations organizations need to heed – including SEC, FINRA IIROC, GDPR, and HIPAA – relating to the proper handling of protected or sensitive information. These regulations govern both communications within the organization and those between employees and non-employees, such as prospects and customers.

Of course, the relentless addition of new features and capabilities to these tools complicates compliance risk management even further, effectively creating new violation scenarios for both willful and well-intentioned workers. This is not hyperbole: in a survey conducted by Osterman Research, over 25% of respondents said one or more employees used Microsoft Teams to attempt to circumvent compliance requirements.

Managing Three Challenges

The robust adoption of social collaboration raises three major challenges for legal and compliance professionals.

Solution Sprawl

This is the situation we’ve seen where organizations have responded to the adoption of a new platform by purchasing or building a compliance solution specific to that platform. When that mushrooms to 4 or 5 platforms, that approach raises all kinds of inconsistencies, costs, and risks. To this point, the Osterman Research white paper mentioned above points out, “Different tools will offer varying capabilities and approaches for archiving, data protection, legal hold, supervision, and eDiscover, making it difficult to gain unified controls across all content.”

Data Explosion

Social collaboration is very different from email. Different platforms offer different ways to communicate and collaborate, which can include instant messaging, voice, video, stickers, and emojis. This mashup of formats (e.g., text, images, voice, and video), contexts (1:1 chats, group meetings, and topical channels), and sentiment signals (emojis, stickers, animated GIFs, and text formatting) require advanced analysis to ensure compliance.

Crisis-Mode Management

This is the challenge of managing compliance for these social collaboration platforms, most of which are in a constant state of change, adding new features and capabilities, often with no advance warning.

The essential components of an effective management strategy include standing up a single, centrally-managed archiving (and where needed, supervision) solution; state-of-the-art AI technologies; advanced, high-performance search capabilities; and 24 x 7 operations monitoring to minimize the impact of social collaboration tool changes on compliance risk exposure.


The social collaboration era is upon us. Not only have these tools made a measurable improvement on productivity and efficiency; they were instrumental in keeping businesses alive during the COVID pandemic crisis and integral to the continued evolution of the way we work.

Unfortunately, for all their benefits, social collaboration tools have exposed a host of new compliance challenges and threats to organizations in highly regulated industries. While they pose challenges that range from novel to unprecedented, there are strategies and approaches that organizations can adopt to leverage these tools while keeping compliance risk at bay.

What’s clear is that companies and organizations now have an urgent need to deploy solutions specifically designed to handle the challenges posed by social collaboration platforms.

Download your free copy of the Osterman Research white paper, Archiving and Data Protection with Microsoft Teams now.