I was amazed a couple weeks ago when a younger coworker engaged in a conversation (um… debate) about whether Facebook was a viable business tool. Now, somehow I got baited into this discussion, probably on a quest to figure out why a Gen Y type would think Facebook didn’t belong behind the firewall.
During the conversation, I started to identify what was really going on. The problem wasn’t the tool (I knew this going into it), but again was perception. You see, the corporate information technology industry has done the same thing as every other professional industry. They’ve put blinders on and have had years and healthy budgets to define what “professional” conduct looks like. Moreover, because they can point to years of supposed successes in fighting (gasp!) antivirus, malware, and (more realistically) external facing security vulnerabilities, they have the gravitas within organizations to make (dictate) business policies in the boardroom.
Through all of this, the real needs of the business get molded and formed into highly structured processes that can more easily be measured or manipulated. Of course, I have to admit these methods allow businesses to conform to compliance and regulatory requirements more easily – an unfortunate reality. Because everything is so structured, the perception is that everything in business needs to be as organized and controlled. The problem is that communication is not the same thing as information.
Communication needs to happen quickly, getting to the right person at the right time to make a difference. This need is impeded by too much structure, too much process. You can see that already on the marketing & PR side of social media. The traditional release isn’t as powerful as it once was (though it hasn’t been negated either) because of the nimble adaptability of online sharing tools. This is one of many places where IT simply gets it wrong. The idea that communication and the sharing of ideas needs to be managed is a sure sign that the organization is fighting itself.
So what was the outcome of that conversation with my coworker? He still thinks Facebook isn’t a viable business tool. What it really boils down to is that he didn’t like the idea that his “professional” life could so easily collide with his “personal” life, that people could actually discover he had fun in college. Heck, who didn’t?
Photo courtesy ant.photos
I’d like to take a minute and tell you a bit about the concept of Behind The Firewall and what this project is about.
Behind The Firewall is an ongoing project of Arik Hanson and myself to explore the uses of social media inside companies. Our goal is to uncover the ideas, recommendations, solutions, and experiences of internal communicators, marketers, collaboration experts, team & project leads, and really anyone who is working to empower their organization through the use of social media.
There are always challenges in doing something new. Inside a large corporation, we run across a number of things that can keep innovation from occurring, or at least, minimizes the change brought about by innovation.
Social media is one of those combination’s of skills, tool-sets, and creativity. It challenges the accepted practices of the old guard and makes companies (i.e. groups of people working together) uncomfortable.
Of course, a discussion of the challenges of social media within an organization has to start somewhere, and one of the most critical things folks will run across is it’s perception. Many people already have an idea of what social media is, what it’s used for, and who uses it.
Of course, the problem with perceptions is that they’re often wrong. It’s your first job to start either changing the perception, or more importantly, setting them. People usually will give you a chance to explain something new before really making a judgment call on it. Give them the wrong impression, and you’ve then set a perception about what you’re doing that you’ll have to work hard to overcome. Take the time to really understand who you’re talking to before trying to tell people about what social media can do.
Another challenge to exploring corporate social media use is the culture in that company. Many conservative organizations have very rigid structures, several management levels, and an entrenched bureaucracy to deal with. Overcoming this impediment takes time, once again to learn the culture and how it works.
The opportunity in this should be to make connections to the influencers in the company. These folks are usually more open to new ideas, and can often be approachable, even if some of their team says otherwise. Most people that gain attention inside any organization have good ideas and management pays attention to folks with good ideas. Work on developing a relationship with these folks because they have the potential to become your most powerful advocates for change.
This is key and one of the more important things to focus on. When given the chance, always try to educate rather than preach – we all hear enough hype and buzz already. Education on the value of social media is crucial to gaining trust on the topic with middle management. Keep the explanations simple, to the point, and most importantly, relevant to either the business or the manager’s scope of responsibility. Anything more than that can sometimes confuse the point you’re trying to share.
Secondly on the point of education, make sure to keep it short. Don’t expect managers to appreciate a two hour or longer training session. If you can’t communicate that in an hour, you’re being too verbose. Actually, figure only 30 minutes for a 1 hour session because of the overhead of training managers.
More to Come
Of course, there’s much more to it all and even the points talked about here offer themselves to additional detail and discussion. I look to continue delving into the challenges & opportunities of bringing social media inside companies, behind the firewall.
Behind The Firewall is an ongoing series of blog posts, Twitter chats and more. Created and lead by Arik Hanson and Rick Mahn, these discussions explore the world of the social web inside companies & organizations, “Behind The Firewall” if you will.
Doesn’t it seem like we talk a lot about social media as a tool for sales or marketing? It certainly is a great channel for that in the right context, and the right usage. I’m curious how many folks who talk about building a community for their customers have thought about building community for their employees. Take that external viewpoint and turn around… apply it internally… what do you think could happen?
The idea is nothing new, and actually pre-dates "social media" by a long time. We’ve all been part of special groups within other organizations. I’m sure the companies you’ve worked for have had groups that range from bowling leagues to cross-functional project groups, to cost-reduction purchase management councils. Groups take many different forms, but these examples don’t really represent "community" as we use the term for social media.
I was reminded during the "Behind The Firewall" chat on Twitter last night (#btf every Thursday at 8pm CT) that IBM had done a lot of this work in the late 90s using Lotus Notes. That was probably one of the first packaged tools available that allowed for both free form and structured interactions.
Businesses have been looking for ways to build more productive teams. Social Media, er… I mean collaboration, (no they’re not the same, but many folks confuse the issue – we’ll roll with it for now), is one of those methodologies that can accomplish multiple tasks. If you remove the technology portion for a minute, and the marketing perspective, you can start to focus on solving business issues. This is where social media can prove it’s adaptability to an organization.
Building community inside most large organizations is difficult, but no more so than building community in a public forum. You have several different interest groups, and numerous points of view in every organization, these aspects and others make up the great diversity that companies can draw on to power their internal communities. Building collaborative environments that allow for socialization of profiles and interaction enables employees to find like-minded folks elsewhere in the company. These folks are having conversations about work, life, projects, challenges, problems and much more. These conversations already take place at the "water cooler", in the cube farms, on the loading docks, in the lunch room and anywhere else employees feel comfortable talking.
That’s the key to it too, comfort level. Providing an environment that people can speak their mind can be a larger productivity boost than a time waster. Create that space using social media tools & ideas, and let folks have a venue for conversations about work, conversations about non-work life, and a anonymous sounding boards that let folks give feedback and even vent frustrations a little bit.
Collaboration is a key piece of the puzzle to be sure, but make sure to include the social part too. "Social" is not a four letter word, and is not exclusive to non work life. We all socialize professionally at work, collaborating on increasing sales, and satisfying customers in one way or another. If everyone is "on the same team", how effective is that team without getting to know each other better? Let those relationships grow organically within the employee population rather than trying to mandate it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Photo credit: torugatoru
Funny how many questions have answer that start with those two words. This tends to be exceptionally true of the coporatization of social media.
- What if I call my boss a jerk on Twitter? It depends…
- What if we find bloggers defacing our product images?Â It depends…
- What if my company finds me posting on Facebook when I’m home sick? It depends…
- How do we monitor the blogosphere for our multiple brands? It depends…
The complexities of the requirements for big business and their employees is not as clear cut as it is for small, aggressive start-ups. In the end, the reality is that discretion is required on both sides; by the people who post or create media, and the people who read or consume media.