Putting social media to work

By Perry Timms, CIPD Social Media Engagement Adviser@PerryTimms

It's really good to see not only a piece of research into the macro issues and benefits of applying social media in the workplace but more so a range of case studies from different organisations that are putting social technologies to use.

So when I read this latest report by Jonny Gifford for the CIPD, I had an immediate positive reaction. Because this isn't about the liberalisation, democratisation or even casualisation of the workforce this is about trust and application. Humanity at work through digital connectivity.

Watching a TED.com talk from Del Harvey VP of trust & safety at Twitter, makes you realise that yes - inappropriate posts are to be stamped out and acted upon - yet they are a very very very small percentage of otherwise helpful and energising posts.

And so it should be with work-related use of social technologies.

With this report’s primary focus on internal use of social media (enterprise social networks or ESNs is the recognisable term now used) we are potentially looking at the safest deployment of social technologies for the workplace which in turn should help all people at work with responsible and useful use of social media in the external world through the plethora of platforms on our tablets and smartphones.

No anxiety to be had about Facebook or Twitter posts about poor management or lame decisions, these posts on ESNs will occur inside the firewall and can be acted upon without external reputational harm.

As I read the report the insight that leaped at me was in 4 areas.

Firstly efficiency. Let's face it the opposite of what most people will say about social media.  That it's a distraction from real work and therefore a drain on efficiency.

Yet some of these case studies are showing the collaboration, openness, sharing and working "out loud" that are making efficiency gains. Response to customer needs (M&S and the shoes example) and acting upon new demands / improvements to services and products lines, happen quicker and with more involvement when using internal social networking platforms.

"Tick" maybe, but the doubters will still have their doubts because this is a different way to work. Meanwhile email is still proving to be one of the biggest drains on efficiency at work, because of overload and irresponsible CCing to people amongst other things.

Innovation next. People sharing ideas in the open space and then having others ‘like’, iterate and challenge is helping companies create a differentiation. It also FEELS more inclusive and presents an energising way to develop a new idea and not a bureaucratic way to test concepts. Instead of hoarding and then petri-dish growing ideas in some dark lab, it's more about release, test, enhance, deploy. Less attempting immediate perfection and more about rapid pathways to better.

An example springs to mind here - the P51 Mustang 1940s fighter plane in the US - built on existing platforms but tweaked for rapid build and deployment and in use for over 20 years. Versus the F22 Raptor stealth fighter - conceived in a cold war time and took 20 years to perfect before release when the air warfare game had changed beyond recognition. The social web / intranet allows for more P51 thinking than F22.

Nilofer Merchant is an emerging voice on the use of social media and her research and theories say that mistakes conducted in the open actually BUILD trust rather than erode it. Her book the "11 Rules for Creating Value in the #Social Era" chimes with every aspect of this research.

So consider a new process, programme or initiative.  Instead of trying to "hot house" the idea, release it, then fail we should release it before it's perfect (in a controlled way) and people on the social intranet will help improve the proposition and ensure it succeeds.  People will trust you MORE (despite you having some flaws in your thinking) because you allowed others to build with you and use the wisdom of many.

Next let's have a look at learning. I call it a curriculum of chaos - a way of learning where no programme is built but randomised and regular flows of content come across your line of sight. Yes, people will need to still search for learning-related content themselves but this socialised way of sharing information to enable and support learning, means it can be more easily integrated into everyday occurrences and not built around irregular events. Let the experts share, let a new enlightenment come forth.

And finally, trust. Not the last / least but the most underpinning aspect.

In the shift we are seeing from Taylorism and parental controls becoming less desirable and less effective with our more capable selves, it is a huge signal that organisations would trust their staff to use social technologies in the pursuit of their delivery of work.

It is now a noticeable trademark of distrusting and overly-controlling workplaces that social technologies are banned through corporate devices. As Mick Kent, CEO from Bromford puts it "we have a policy - that is, would you walk into a crowded coffee shop and shout what you're about to post? If not, don't post it."

This loose way may seem counter intuitive and have the lawyers, press officers and risk managers running for their manuals. What it says is "you're an adult - act like a professional one and all will be well."

With trust comes engagement (a term disliked by some). Yet this show of trust and the deliberate enabling of people to advocate their place of work, is likely to enhance the company reputation not damage it.

From the report itself, the chart on page 12 is the one diagram to show how all this knits together an organisation.  Not pull it apart social post by social post.

The use of jigsaw pieces and sections corresponding, makes this report a "field guide" for those looking to get started with social technologies at work. Practical help for those willing to go for the social way.

So yes, my conclusion as an advocate of social technologies is bound to support this - but it's not the principles I support or applaud, it's the application.

The benefits being derived and the humanity being restored in the workplace through the use of digital connectivity. Such a diverse range of sizes and sectors for the case studies included here proves it's beyond a fad. It's a way of working.

I'm not just a number. I have a voice, I have ideas, I have the need to be connected. I'm who I am in my profile on the social network of life. I post, therefore I am.

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  • Great blog Perry.

  • Anonymous

    Love the post Perry. I am proud to have had a hand in this case study. I think Jonny did an absolutely excellent job of weaving the stories together to create, as you call it, a field guide for those looking to move into Social Learning.