Not-So Social Networking

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Social networking, for better or worse, is here for the next few years.  I saw a poll last week that indicated that access to social networking tools from work (in the UK) was considered a “right” and would influence a young-person’s decision to work at a company.  I have no doubt that younger American employees feel the same way.

Organizations can smell this desire and of course want to harness this for purely evil purposes, that is to say, work.  So, one of the latest trends in the past few years is for companies to attempt to capture the experience of social networking at work.  This is not intended for anything social as it is another guise for “collaboration.”  These behind-the-firewall social networking tools are deployed with the hopes that people will invest the same time, effort, energy, and enthusiasm they show for applications like Facebook or Twitter only at work – about work.  It’s an insidious concept, slightly evil, so I respect it.  “Maybe if we put up a tool that looks and smells like Facebook, they’ll use it to get work done!”

Or not.  Realistically most of these efforts fail.  There’s a few reasons for this:

1.  People go to social networking sites to get away from the real world and work.  The moment you try and make social networking an aspect of work, it ceases to be “getting away.” Most of us talk about work around 8-12 hours a day as it is. Many don’t want to squeeze in posting about it.

2.  Organizations struggle with the freedom that social networks offer.  Let’s be honest, any idiot can post just about anything up on social networking sites – and they often do.  Move that into a corporate environment and you run into problems.  Companies only want certain things on their private social networks.  They hire people to monitor (snoop) and curtain activities they deem non-productive (or worse).  Suddenly there’s the feeling that Big Brother is out there, so employees begin to avoid the company-sponsored social networking site.

3.  Few people understand how they can use social networking at work, to get work done.  It’s a confusing concept and without some guidance that makes sense, it is often seen as just another tool that none of us have time for.   Most people have at least a dozen software tools/applications they have to utilize to get work done.  Toss in one more optional tool, and well, it gets ignored.

4.  In public sites, people get to choose who they are connected with.  On work-based social networking sites, you are forcibly connected to your peers and colleagues.  Let’s face it, a lot of them are not your friends.  Like most people, you are unsure just how much of what you should share with these people.

5.  The office is a competitive environment.  On Facebook, people can post garbage (like this blog entry).  You can look at the 236 photos of Bob’s pet cat dressed as various superheroes, or you can ignore them.  No harm is done.  But at work, you are in competition with others for raises, bonuses, promotions, positions, etc..  This drives a certain amount of self-editing and inhibits sharing.  Why should I share my shortcut process with you, when you might use it to get a promotion?  Yeah, we don’t talk about the competition, but it is out there.

The bottom line is this – social networking is a tough nut to crack in the workplace.  Often times it is not worth the time, effort, or consideration.  If you don’t have a clearly defined strategy, good goals and guidelines around usage, and the willingness to let employees be free with their posts – it is probably not a strategy worth pursuing.

Interested in more?  Check out my book, Business Rules.

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