The explosion of social media use over the past couple of years suggests a fundamental change in the way that we relate to one another. Information sharing is instantaneous, it’s easy, it’s interactive. And there’s more of it. We’re now a society, a culture, that caters to a social experience, through and through. Despite that, I have been overly disappointed with the social tools and uptake within the one place where we spend a good majority of our time – the workplace. Social media and the workplace have yet to produce that perfect mixture of ease, instantaneousness, interactivity.
There are tons of tools available, and it seems every enterprise service is now integrating social media components into it. From Salesforce.com buying Radian6 to Monster.com launching a Facebook application to establish itself as the social network for job seekers. Social media integration is, if not old hat, something no longer seen as tangential but rather critical.
So what’s my gripe with social integration in the office? I just referenced Salesforce.com making efforts to get more social, and they’re certainly at the cutting edge. But I still think these companies are missing something key. It can’t just be a copycat of how we use social media in our personal lives translated to the office. Rather, we need something that integrates seamlessly with the current office environment.
It’s no secret that people behave differently at home and at work. The very things people claim to hate – beurocracy, hierarchies, closedness – are all things that are seemingly inescapable in the average office. The majority of companies operate in a hierarchical fashion, and with that comes layers of people, approvals, need-to-know bases, etc. It’s an environment that’s inherently non-social. Sure, people collaborate in small groups, but the fight for resources often means that people are competing with one another internally. That push-pull can be beneficial for pushing people to innovate, but it also creates an environment that isn’t conducive to openness.
And here’s where the problem comes with just copycatting personal social network features into the office environment. Social media is only as useful as what is brought to it by the community members. Facebook is so valuable because all of your friends are on it and they update daily – it’s the best way to keep up with your friends, family, acquaintances. A Facebook for the office doesn’t have the same appeal because it’s not part of the current corporate culture and therefore would be used far less frequently. A corporate social network isn’t worth much if there’s only new information added once a month.
Ah, but you say, we must change the corporate culture! Good luck. For some reason, people are inherently reluctant to change in the workplace. We have our way of doing things, it’s been working for years, why change? What I find is that often the socializing of the workplace gets a few backers, a proclamation of change, then a few months later it’s just another failed corporate initiative.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re making progress. And there are some companies doing it better than others. Cisco is one that comes to mind. There are others. But I think the vast majority of companies wouldn’t even try this kind of technology, and those that do face huge hurdles implementing it. There is a culture change needed, but it won’t come from some feature-rich technology, it needs to come from the company leadership – they need to not only champion the benefits of social integration, but be using it. If the CEO is doing something, people are a lot more likely to follow. If some fledgling group within the company is doing it, people are a lot more apt to ignore it. It’s simple logic – following the CEO will get me promoted, following this group of people probably won’t.
I really hope to see an overall culture shift in the way the American workplace operates, a shift from a close, hierarchical structure to a more open, collaborative and social system that not only encourages the use of social media but thrives because of it.