Ready or Not
Whether we like it or not, whether we use it or not, social media is changing the way we work
|George Orwell was dead wrong. Big Brother is not watching us as much as we are watching each other. Instead of losing privacy to the government or to an employer, people are tweeting it away at an ever-increasing rate.|
According to Forrester Research, a third of adults post at least once a week to social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Sixty per cent maintain a profile on a social networking site, and 70 per cent read blogs and tweets and watch videos online. It has become commonplace to use the Internet to share what we’re thinking, what we’re reading, what we’re listening to, what we’re seeing, and what we’re having for lunch – and to pay attention to what people in our networks are doing, too.
The rise of social media in the workplace
In 1994, Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired, wrote these prophetic words in his book Out of Control: the New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World: “We underestimate the power of our tools to reshape our minds. Did we really believe we could collaboratively build and inhabit virtual worlds all day, every day, and not have it affect our perspective? “Just as our culture is moving from the printed book to the computer, it is also in the final states of the transition from a hierarchical social order to what we might call a ‘network culture.’ Many-to-many forms of communication will precipitate direct democracy that our ancestors could barely imagine. All of the monopolies and hierarchies and pyramids and power grids of industrial society are going to dissolve.” In the intervening 16 years, reality has caught up with Kelly’s prediction. Although he was writing about the rise of Internet-driven socialism, his words apply to the current workplace where social media is causing upheaval in many areas. The rise of social media is more than a communications trend, a branding tool, or a new way to enable learning at work. It is also changing some entrenched practices in organisations.
Instead of waiting for the annual performance review, people are using social tools to get near-instantaneous feedback from peers, just as companies have done with their customers for many years. Why force employees to wait months for a performance review when there are so many tools around for requesting instant feedback from bosses, peers, and co-workers with opinions to share. Requesting and getting feedback this way takes only a few minutes and can turn performance reviews into more of a continuing conversation among many people instead of the dreaded annual session with the boss.
This kind of feedback has three characteristics that make it different from traditional performance reviews: it is immediate, anonymous, and controlled by us, not our bosses or HR. Jeanne Meister, co-author of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today calls it “anonymous mentoring.” “Because of the anonymity, people will be more blunt and frank with their feedback,” says Meister. “It is ideal for getting real-time updates on how you can be more successful. The single best question a person can ask is, “What’s the one thing I can do to be more effective in my role?”
Digital Networking’s Dark Side: The Rise of the Cyberposse
Before long, the story and calls for justice spread to other websites. The man is widely reviled, and his identity, mobile phone number, work contacts, and the name of his mistress become public. They are both fired from the ad agency where they work, and the man goes into hiding, fearing for his life.
This true story shows the unimaginable power of a particular kind of Internet activity in China called the “human flesh search,” in which largely anonymous posters track down and punish people who violate norms of public decency. An article in The New York Times Magazine about Chinese cyber vigilante sites notes that they are a striking example of how Internet cultures can differ. News sites and personal blogs aren’t as influential in China as in the West, and social networking hasn’t taken off. In the meantime, the Chinese use bulletin board servers to find communities of interest and exchange information.
YouTube, and a slew of videos come up that feature employees singing, dancing, and rapping about what it’s like to work for the large global services firm. Some companies have taken the step to designate people as official posters and bloggers and are training them to deliver consistent, accurate messages. Intel has a five-level certification program for its employee spokespeople, using social media to communicate the Intel brand.
Meister predicts that we will see more companies providing online training for such roles. Performance reviews and recruiting are just two artifacts of the workplace that social media are reinventing, or more accurately, allowing people to reinvent. Take the org chart, for example. Instead of treading its prescribed pathways to reach those presumed to have power, people who want to get things done increasingly depend on networks of their own making to find experts, get answers, and move projects forward. As the use of social tools becomes commonplace—not just for the young and the wired—more companies are providing in-house networking tools for employees to harness not only their brainpower, but their engagement in corporate goals. “They’re going to do it anyway,” is a common argument that proponents use when trying to sell in-house social media to reluctant managers. A survey by Rudder Finn found that 79 per cent of people with desktop computers and 91 per cent of people with mobile devices use them to socialise. According to The Nielsen Company, time spent on social networking sites by Internet users worldwide has increased from 3 hours per month to 5.5 hours per month.
Because the data tells us so
Social tools make informal connections visible, showing far better than an org chart which person in a network is at the centre of many relationships and who has what expertise. Skilled social networkers know that they are never more than a few tweets away from an answer. And collaboration tools are not limited to social networking. They are also powerful ways to shape content collaboratively – with people you don’t even know – into gargantuan digital encyclopaedias, archives, and libraries.
As an example, here’s information from Wikipedia related to this very subject, no doubt honed to a state of trustworthiness by many corrections over time:
Social network analysts-people who examine the relationships in social networks-view networks as collections of nodes and ties. Nodes are the individuals using the networks and ties are the relationships among them. Traditional social scientists assume that it is the attributes of individual actors in a network that matter most-whether they are brainy, extroverted, articulate, and so on. Social network analysts, on the other hand, view the relationships among the actors, as paramount. The structure of the network can-in their view-produce better information than any individual.
Social analytics will play a key role in the workplace of the future, according to Jim Lundy, vice president and general manager for collaboration at Saba (premier people management and collaboration software and services provider). “It’s a new day for analytics. They’re being used to determine how people interact and who key influencers are when a group solves a problem using social media. Companies are already mining their usage data to see what teams or departments are first to come up with the best ideas. Social network analysis maps are going to replace the traditional org chart.”
Lundy also predicts that connecting people to expertise will become an enterprise priority and that learning connections will matter as much as learning transactions (trainers, take note).
Even as social analytics are catching on at work, some people already predict that they will cause the use of social media to plateau. Research group Gartner says that through 2015, only 25 per cent of enterprises will routinely utilise social network analysis to improve performance and productivity.
They say that social network analysis is a useful methodology for examining the interaction patterns and information flows among the people and groups in an organisation, as well as among business partners and customers. However, when surveys are used for data collection, users may be reluctant to provide accurate responses. “When automated tools perform the analysis, users may resent knowing that software is analysing their behaviour”, suggests these researchers. For these reasons, social network analysis will remain an untapped source of insight in most organisations, according to Gartner’s report, “Predictions 2010: Social Software in an Enterprise Reality.”
Before undertaking social network analysis, Gartner recommends that the organisation ensure that it has the trust and buy-in of the people it hopes to include in the analysis. Issues of privacy and confidentiality must be addressed, and companies must be clear about how the information will be used and communicated. Establishing the ground rules upfront will encourage more open and honest participation and reduce the resistance to on-going relationship monitoring, says Gartner’s analysts.
Perhaps because social media are upending such fixtures as the performance review and the org chart as a portrait of power, managers resist their introduction, saying that they waste time and put company secrets at risk. But the case for using them is growing as companies discover that their value can outweigh potential risks.
Meister advises social media advocates to focus on how it contributes to business results. She notes many examples of companies that use social media for new-hire orientation. “New hires represent an underserved population in many companies”, says Meister. “With social tools, you can begin building them into a community before their first day on the job. Companies taking this approach are finding that it reduces new hires’ time to competency.”
Log on to LinkedIn and you will instantly be informed of all the people who know people you know. Google’s Circles, recently introduced as a way to socialise its email service, automatically and publically connects people to their email contacts, raising the question: How social is too social?
David Armano, senior vice president of Edelman Digital, is one of a growing number of observers who ask how many of our activities should be socialised. “Which of our relationships should be part of a social ecosystem available to all?”
Armano asserts that the increasing socialisation of our activities “isn’t a technological issue. It’s an anthropological one.” And he adds, “Businesses that are going to benefit from social technologies are going to need better and more intimate understandings of the people and cultures of those they hope will leverage their services. As social technologies progress, valuable and meaningful engagements will become more important than just connecting with friends.”
Pat Galaghan is editor-at-large for the American Society of Training & Development.
email@example.com | Knowledge Economy Zambia | Issue Seven, July 2012