In a recent post, I argued that engaging on the social web for official purposes is “integral to success in the work environment.” This line of argument is based on three linked premises:
- À la Euan Semple, “Manager’s authority is being replaced by the need to influence.” (Semple, Euan. (2012) Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do [Kindle version] (p. 115). Retrieved from Amazon.com). In this sense, increased influence translates to increased effectiveness and team performance. The Social web provides the means to form and nurture the formal and informal networks required to exert influence;
- One needs to leverage the collective knowledge of the network to remain current; and
- Engaging on the social web drives innovation, and synergistic knowledge development and social learning.
And yet despite the growing evidence of the value of applying the social web at work, there can be significant reluctance to do so:
- Outside of perhaps the marketing and public information departments, management often view social media as a distraction and waste of time;
- Staff become frustrated by the prospect of having to communicate through and monitor multiple social web applications, with dubious utility since email is the overwhelmingly preferred platform to manage all relationships; and
- For both management and staff, the social web is a source of seemingly infinite reputational risk. It is like the space beyond email and intranet sites is marked, “Here Be Dragons.”
Resistance aside, this is an exciting time. Comprised of a thousand flavours depicted in the above graphic, the social web removes the obstacles of physical and organizational distance, connecting people and allowing them to virtually convene to share and produce knowledge. There are significant potential benefits from this process, which come with some risks. Let’s look at these in more detail.
Benefits for the organization:
- Social networks connect people separated by geography and the organigram, allowing them to share what they are doing with those they would never meet otherwise, and to find common elements around which they can collaborate.
- Sharing experience with colleagues is a source of inspiration and innovation, which, if nurtured and supported, can transmogrify into a virtuous cycle of creativity and productivity.
- Interactions will also result in serendipity: you will discover work being done by others that you would never have met otherwise, from which you (both) can benefit by capturing economies of scale and scope, providing mutual support, or improving your initiatives by getting feedback and incorporating new ideas. In Enterprise Risk Management we say that anytime you have a conversation around risk, good things happen. The same principle applies here. Communicating, networking and collaborating with others will make your work better. Those that can communicate cannot help but be successful.
- Role-based communities of practice can develop best practices that can improve policy and procedure, leading to significant ROI. For example, on his blog John Stepper describes a story of how Shell communities gathered material that helped them avoid drilling ‘dry wells’, saving the company a significant amount of money.
- By harnessing the collective knowledge of the crowd around a particular issue, managers can develop better designed programs and take better decisions.
- In an environment in which staff are encouraged to engage, networks can act as an early warning system, identifying risks and emerging trends.
- Much of the learning that takes place in an organization does not occur during formal courses, but informally through staff interaction; this is also known as social learning. Communities of Practice, and all collaborative platforms in general, promote social learning, and offer a potent vector to train staff and develop their skills. As noted by Harold Jarche, “it is now a significant disadvantage to not actively participate in social learning networks.”
Benefits for the staff member:
- It’s fun: human beings are social animals and hard-wired to connect. As the success of Facebook will attest, if given the tools people will spontaneously connect.
- By connecting with staff outside of one’s functional area, you can develop new knowledge and skills, helping you find synergies between projects. Obtaining new experience and skills will also expand your employ-ability.
- The ability to influence is a key to success. Achieving this requires a diverse, dynamic network. The social web provides the tools to nurture and expand your professional links.
- Data security: it is impossible to eradicate something once it is published on the net. One must be careful not to post information that may damage the Organization or sensitive material, such as personal data.
- Posting Inappropriate Content: this is often the result of a mistake (see the next bullet for another cause) stemming from the ‘Avatar Effect’ – “The merging of the fantasy world and real world.” – such as staff send personal messages from official accounts, which can damage an organization’s reputation. Although the impact of posting inappropriate content can be significant, nimble organizations can turn an adverse event into a coup. Read about the positive Red Cross example here.
- Mental lapses: this is the source of almost all social media disasters. BBC Editors provide sound advice on how to combat this in paragraph 1.a of the BBC News social media guidance: “Don’t do anything stupid.”; This advice is so elegant, it can be recast it as Social Web Rule #1.
- Not everyone is reasonable: by engaging with others on the social web you will come into contact with lots of people. Your interactions with some will be unpleasant. It is best that you keep these engagements short. You can help make sure they do not happen again by the liberal use of the ‘Block’ feature.
Casting a social media shadow by exposing your thoughts and ideas to scrutiny is anxiety producing, both for the organization and staff members. However, the potential benefits far outweigh the risks. We cannot be sure what we will encounter during our journey to integrate the social web into the work environment, but like the explorers of old, we can be sure that the monsters we imagined are far worse than the ones we actually face.
This post was taken from Brian Gray's blog, Buridansblog. For more of Gray's posts visit http://buridansblog.wordpress.com/. Gray will be presenting at the Continuity Insights New York conference, October 29-30, 2012, on the topic of The Rise of Social Media in Emergency Management. For more information go to http://www.continuitynewyork.com.