All That Glitters is Not Social Gold

What if everyone in your organization was regularly engaging on your ESN? And not just the ESN but also in a Chat platform too? You’d be pretty excited. And when I say “engaging” I mean more than a GIF here and a “like” there but real responses and content in text form, sentences written with multiple people replying also in multiple words, a conversation. You’d think THIS is the epitome of a Social Organization!

But then you scratch at that shimmering surface and see underneath what it is and what it isn’t.

Photo by Chelle at

You find that actually it’s just chock full of birthday wishes, out sick notifications and vacation pictures. At best you see requests for something to be done by another or a question such as “where can I find the xyz file?” Scratching further you find an innovative, business challenging idea with numerous peers asking detailed questions or adding to it… but then realized there was not one among them from an executive or even a simple “like” from a higher-up. Even the layer right below the executives is void of a response… as if they were awaiting a sign that it’s safe to respond before doing so. Beyond this most leader involvement appears only to be company updates (think newsletter fodder).

Still excited?

I know, one can argue that this IS social behavior and they’d be right. But is this THE social we really want and need? Is this all it can be?

This is what I’d call Gilded Social.

Def: Gild : to give an attractive but often deceptive appearance to. (Merriam-Webster)

As it pertains to organizational social this definition fits. Gilded Social is a thin layer, the shiny appearance of deeper connection, window dressing. Yet there IS actually some real gold here – knowing that this is what most Social Media is doing in/for organizations, exposing the organization for what it really is; clock punching, cautious employees with flippant leadership. The engagement type and levels indicate an organization where the top can’t be bothered by lower-level employees sponsoring ideas, a sort of Machiavellian attitude with only the appearance of openness and transparency without being truly being open and transparent. It also reveals employees unsure of expressing their true voices. If there is anything deeper, it’s happening in private spaces (physical and virtual), not seeing the light of day until fully vetted. It’s all just business as usual with only the added convenience features found in using social media. Simply, this is a Social Media using Organization, not a Social Organization.

There will be little transformation here, little agility or responsiveness happening. Without those things, born of a highly connect AND open workforce, you’re really just not that social. But take it for what it is – the tech did its job, revealing a culture that’s not healthy. Now what do you do?