Social Carves Its Own Path

Thousands of people recently commented (most agreeing) with a post on LinkedIn about how awful it was that posts on LinkedIn were no longer business related. Oh the irony.

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They were upset that LinkedIn was being used like Facebook; status updates and photos of the non-work related type dominating their network updates. (Huh, maybe it’s just what Microsoft wanted though?)

Let’s step out of the social platform mindset for a moment and return to just being social, sans tools. In my experience, as yours, the majority of business setting conversations don’t have much to do with the business. The sports talk, the sarcastic joke, the quick verbal jab, the nod, the wink, the stories of children, parents and pets are not only accepted but expected. This informal conversation is the glue that holds together the formal pieces and this is where LinkedIn conversations are going. For some, LinkedIn has strayed from a place with a distinct purpose. This disturbs them and they will leave. But honestly the “rules” were never there, only expectation and expectations can certainly change faster than rules… and they did.

There is a lesson here for organizational leaders looking to adopt social technology, it is of course a lesson in expectation and rules. It is that social carves its own path. The conversation should not be controlled. Efforts to do so will certainly kill it. It’s movement, like that of water, is critical for survival. Healthy social is natural and unchanneled, for if the sharing and conversation were strictly business related and devoid of the elements that truly unite people, form trust, and build relationships, organizations would ultimately suffer in areas of innovation, creativity, and problem solving.

It’s important to note that people connect with people, not content and that all conversations in business is the conversation of business.

A Lesser Known Benefit of Enterprise Social Tools

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Naturally much of the talk, and vendor pitch, around organizational social tools is about the tangible value they can bring to the work being done; reducing emails, eliminating meetings, working out loud, collaboration, innovation, etc. What is not often noted however is how these tools can reveal the heart of the organization in the stories that are shared within.

Our enterprise social tool existed at my current employer before my arrival. It’s been growing in use and today most have adopted it for various purposes. Together we are focusing more on adaptation and working within it as well as stretching it’s capabilities beyond employees (more on that another time).

Early on, as I perused the conversations within, I came across one that our CEO began when an employee, who was there from the start, was leaving to embark on a new adventure. He reflected openly on the early days, painting a vivid picture of small office spaces and bleak surrounding that spoke to what every start-up probably physically looks like. It was written with a nostalgic emotion as it conjured images of a business struggling to survive, hope, partnerships and the profound belief in an idea. I found it refreshing to see an organizational leader opening up for all to see, sharing a story and just being real. As a new employee I was instantly able to feel like I was there in this simple exchange between founder and employee. It was the epitome of what these tools provide us; 1. transparency, where I could peer into the past and see how people were connected beyond work and 2. openness, where I and others could contribute to the story and even reawaken the conversation well after it had paused.

As an organization grows it risks social atrophy, where the space between us widens and the humanity is sucked out  – leaving a void which is usually filled with rigid hierarchy and the departmentalization of work. Social tools however can keep the arteries open and be a window into the past. They make visible the small flecks of culture found within each conversation, enabling new employees to learn who the organization really is beyond the titles and org chart. In essence, they can keep an organization small even as it grows bigger by helping all to never forget where they came from.

The “Too Many Social Tools” Problem

In a recent morning buzz session I led at the DevLearn Conference titled “Social at the Center“, a few attendees presented a common problem happening in their organization – having too many social tools available and in use. They were frustrated that people were entrenched in small, separated, collaborative pockets with a variety of social tools in use to get their work done. It’s actually a good problem to have, as I have shared in a previous post, Big Social Isn’t Always Best, however their desire was to reap the rewards of a largely connected company. For them, the conversations are happening just as silo’d as before social tools were adopted. Their initial reaction to this was the antithesis of social and sadly the common action of the status quo – shutting down unsanctioned/ unsupported tools.

That is the easy answer.  However it’s not the correct answer.

For starters, give credit to social technology for doing what it does best, making the invisible visible. Social technology can teach you more about your culture than can actually transform it. In this case just the availability of social tools may be revealing that there is no strong desire for these employees to share beyond their immediate team needs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this organization having individual sales goal awards, a single winners of some golden customer service trophy, and a hierarchical system where advancement is made by those who were savvy enough to out maneuver their peers. These are all strong indicators of an organization that values competition over collaboration and cooperation.

It’s rare that organizations significantly recognized those that help one another or  reward the process just as much as the product. Yet this is the correct answer if they want to realize the benefits of a social business. It’s simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy – social tools do not make an organization more social, more transparent, open or connected, people do.

Social Media Is Like a Light

Social media is often criticized for bringing out the ugliness of society. But isn’t that what we want!? What we need?! Racism, sexism, ageism, the “isms” have been able to hide for far to long and social media works to ferret them out for everyone to see. The latest example was brought to light by the posting of a quote by Engineer, Isis Wegner of OneLogin along with her image in a recruitment advertisement. The post, reaction and commentary leads one to examine their own actions and words. Being brought into the light, the average person perpetuates the discussion online, traditional media picks it up, hashtags invite participation, and the conversation reverberates across the globe.

Imagine if we didn’t have social media? This story goes away in a day, maybe it doesn’t happen at all and are we any better as a society? Without social media, it, like all it’s related isms, sits and festers for years, periodically popping up in small disconnected pockets and quickly dissipating like puddles after a summer shower… only to return again and again.

Social media gets none of the credit, nor does it seek it. It’s a mere tool extending and expanding our humanity where I suspect ultimately good will triumph over evil with its unrecognized help.

Using social media and networking is like a light. It spreads and illuminates that which it is focused on and all objects around it. The spread breathes life into new forms of learning and growing and being and connecting.    – Kevin Jones

Choices, Choices

When I was a kid we had about 7 maybe 8 television channels (I grew up somewhere between rabbit ears and cable). It was easy then to decide what to watch or if to watch at all. Today though I can have options of up to 650 channels. Do I need that many? No. Are most worth my time? No. But I will experiment and give some a chance. If I find value, they stay in my line up. If not they are quickly removed. I learn which channels present the best content, consistently and some I just visit from time to time. Some I’ve never selected based on title alone; just not of interest to me. New channels appear and others disappear, I make room when I can. This is not difficult even with hundreds of channels to choose from. To me that number could be 60,000 and I feel no stress in the fact that I can’t watch them all or that I’ll miss something important.

We know what moves us. We know what we need or want. We learn and can separate the good from the bad. We find something we treasure and we tune in. We talk to our friends, those people who’s opinions we trust, and get their take on different programs and make choices from that. Who have you ever heard say TV is information overload or that they were suffering from a form of TV filter failure? Online time is the new TV time and yes, it’s all the time but we have choices. And yet people speak of too much information, unreliable content, and going down rabbit holes online but not of television. I find it interesting that the technology parallels of broadcasting ideas and opinions are eerily similar, yet the societal complaints aren’t at all.