I wondered aloud on Twitter last week about the supposed 80% fail rate of ESNs that many publications have reported in recent years. This thought was further spurred on by this CMS Wire article The Smoke and Mirrors of Enterprise Social Networking Metrics. Of course the word “fail” has a connotation that 1. NOBODY is using the platform and/or 2. an expectation (usually of the purse string holding executive) wasn’t met. I tend to think it’s the latter as the tech and maybe even your culture is just fine… your measurement may be wrong.
All enterprise social platforms come with a dashboard of metrics of their own definition. Engagement is typically the golden calf as adoption, measured in things like “likes”, “shares”, “posts”, etc all add up to success of the tool. But is it tool success that drove the desire to have a tool in the first place?? Add in whiz-bang features like badges (eh-hem, stickers) and maybe “sentiment” metrics (which something tells me can’t identify sarcasm) and VIOLA! you have even more to measure. They make it simple. But as we know simple isn’t easy and in this case it isn’t right either. Used in isolation and these metrics are the equivalent of what traditional training measures – butts in seats or “if you attended you must have learned.” A fallacy of course as all it means is one was present and the default metrics for ESN platform are similarly a false prophet.
Frankly, the only measure you can gain from the tool is about the tool. The measures that matter can’t be seen in an ESN dashboard and there are way too many other variables contributing to the outcomes that really matter in the workplace. Social interaction is a key piece however and if a platform is used by some to make them feel a part of something bigger, if it helps a handful of people find innovative solutions, and if it actually helps a team to get work done faster, easier and in the open – well that’s far from a failure.
A few thoughts to help you shift away from the lure of the default settings:
First, an ESN platform certainly helps extend and expand social interaction, but it should never be the measure of “social success”! Second, social is bigger than your business, and it carves it’s own path. If you attempt to channel conversations in the direction of business only, you are in essence sucking the soul out because all conversations in business are the conversations of business. Accept that social is important but it’s not going to be all shop talk and if it were forced to be, the relationships (so critical to organizational health) would disappear… looking much like an ESN failure.
The real failure we hear of is certainly not the technology, it’s also not that your culture isn’t collaborative either. Rather, it’s a failure in expectation and in effectively communicating what social is really about. It’s a failure in not having (or not having the ability to have) the necessary, deeper conversation with leaders that (sorry) aren’t as black and white, and easy as all those default dashboard metrics tout.
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.
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.
Even after over 10 years of Social Media being in the public consciousness, organizations still struggle to see how it differs from other technology in the workplace. Most often they implement it as they would any other IT project. They wrongly lead with technology, the features and the functions. But it’s not media, it’s social media. The term “social media” begins with the most human of behaviors; personal interaction. But if IT horse blinders weren’t enough, many also have a limited understanding of what’s behind the word “social.” Yes, social is communication, it’s sharing and collaboration but it’s also humor, it’s snark, it’s empathy, it’s thoughtful, it’s spontaneous and it can be calculated. Behind all social interaction is emotion, social media is affective media.
Successfully supporting social in an organization is first about understanding psychology, sociology and then technology. It’s about the voices that will be on the wire, not just the wire. So listen in now. What do you hear? Are the voices in your organization open? Are they honest? Are they cooperative rather than competitive? If they’re not, shouldn’t the wire wait?
The singularity, or the union of humans and machine/AI, for me always conjures images of embedded machines within our skin helping us think faster, move easier, monitoring minute vitals and ensuring our system performs optimally. But before all this I think we’ll see our union with machines through an emotional connection, and one that is more than the affections we see people have for their devices today. It’s actually already happening with Bots, the software programs that appear in our social tools like SlackBot does in the Slack platform. It’s easy to see how they will only continue to grow in acceptance and presents us with some interesting scenarios.
For starters, social referral is surpassing web search as we are turning to others more online to not only share but to find. We are retreating into smaller, trusted communities, sets versus our scenes as Stowe Boyd once wrote, to gain better insights in the face of increasing amounts of information and often dubious information. Bots, like SlackBot are useful in these “sets” as today they can be summoned to assist in our activities and point us to timely, targeted resources. And as machine learning and natural language processing advance, it will make it increasingly difficult to distinguish Bots from our virtual human connections – even when we know we are interacting with a one, our trust in them will only grow through the value they continually bring. A Bot has the advantage of appearing as any other disembodied community member, without a face, just an avatar with only its written word and deeds seen. It won’t suffer the Uncanny Valley fate as robots in more human form do, and in this state it would pass theTuring Test with flying colors.
As Bots become deeply embedded in our network interactions and people continue to move to more fragmented conversational apps, it’s obvious that data seeking organization’s (Google, Facebook, etc) will need to get closer to the action… and Bots are their in. No more promoted ads, instead Bots will present just the right solution or product suggestion in the most natural rhythm of our emotion laden conversations. And as covert as this is, they will be an undeniable performance support agent. I can foresee where they will seek answers from us in more qualitative forms so as to better understand our emotional state, our relationships and our needs beyond the professional. Maybe Bots will serve as coaches to hone our personal knowledge management skills. And will complex community work, work of community managers, ultimately be outsourced to the automated?
Of course all this demands a bit more in the way of Artificial Intelligence, but are we really that far off from Bots becoming an indistinguishable and trusted member of our communities – learning along with us as they learn about us?
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.