Big Social Isn’t Always Best

I’ve been thinking more about how Social has become SO big, so fast. Maybe it’s having been in Texas recently (where everything is bigger!) for mLearnCon last week or it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of Stowe Boyd‘s reviews and research tied into his ideas on “sets vs. scenes.” Social is not necessarily getting bigger in the sense of popularity but in the sense that enterprise social, to be deemed successful today, has to involve the entire organization – the scene as Stowe would call it.
My observations and conversations have led me to believe that technology is ruling the day and leading the narrative. And having a vibrant ESN is the golden calf (or is that hippo?). Successful social is not however in the depth and number of connections but in the meaningfulness of the social activity. Often, unfortunately, the larger the networks, the more superficial the relationships can be. Whereas In organizations, our closest, most impactful relationships are those that are around the work we do. A simple principle to grasp is that Social forms around objects, and the object in organizations is the work. The farther one is removed from the work we do, the farther they are from our interests and that is quite natural.
By PJ KAPDostie CC BY-SA 3.0 

In my work promoting “social” in my various organizations, I found another principle to be true; the smaller the better. Specific groups, already with a clear “object”, be it shared work (department, project, program) shared experience (on-boarding, training), or shared problem (solutioning, crisis) were most successful. Larger roll-outs, not so much. Social technology success was achieved when it was used as a tool to solve small specific problems. From here it could scale, but please don’t call it a community. People sharing, collaborating, and conversing should not instantly be seen as a community. A feature in a tool called a “community” is not a community, it is marketing spin by ESN vendors. True communities form when their is trust, common purpose and mutual support. This takes time, not tools. Can these gatherings in virtual places become communities? Absolutely. They can also scale but that takes nurturing and attention, support and communication. If your organization is not ready for this, it’s OK. Organizations as community is not always the end goal or often immediately realistic. If groups come in and out of interactions using social tools to solve business problems then this should be seen as successful social too.


Maybe the message is as simple as the one I tell my kids; don’t let others define what success is. Celebrate the small wins, they add up.

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