Not “social media” but “people at work”

Once you get used to the idea that we have many ways to communicate with different degrees of focus, perspective, and in different time scales using social media, the question, “What is social media good for?” evaporates.  The more interesting, and valuable, inquiry is, “What do people at work need that they’re not getting enough of?”   Here are three further reflections from the ASTD day-long conference, Learning 2.0: Don’t Get Left Behind.

Tools don’t matter

Because we all have challenging day jobs, some people were relieved to finally ask, What good is Twitter, really?  It’s a good question.  After talking about approaches to using it, LinkedIn, Facebook, Yammer, wiki, blog, [insert your platform here] all day, it became clear that you can use them all to foster relationships for and about learning.  The purpose and ingenuity that learning pros bring to them is the defining value of each.  Experiment, measure, refine, persist, and let it teach you what it can do well in your context.

Link social learning to motivation

Social media takes effort from everyone involved except the lurkers.  To get a foothold as a useful tool, online norms and conventions should reflect the motivations of community members.  The great news is that we already know something about their motivations: they value achievement, affiliation, influence, expertise, team cohesion and support, innovation. Use these motivations to lure them to participate.

In my organization, there is a strong desire for a definitive answer to new, gray-area cases.  For social media interactions to work, we suspect that people need to know whether the current discussion of the case is more or less done: How baked is our cake?  And what are the issues in play that make it only 60 percent done?

Social media interactions produce emergent qualities

Communities are organizations – or maybe better – organisms in a constant state of development, deterioration, and renewal.  The vitality of the communities will emerge as people begin to feel they trust each other and start hinting – or demanding – that the community could do more.  Without taking ownership from community members, there’s opportunity to breathe life into these emergent properties by skillful facilitation.  To detect these emerging qualities, we’ll have to listen, test hypotheses without rushing to solutions, and keep responsibility for running the community in the community.

As a final observation, no one at the conference talked about using social media to promote their elearning.  No one mentioned elearning from the podium or over coffee.  Does that tell us something?  It’s a hypothesis worth testing.

2 Replies to “Not “social media” but “people at work””

  1. Good observations on social media and learning … but let me put this into the context of organizational learning or organizational development. I find that social media now impacts the interventions we create in organizations in important ways we are just beginning to understand. For example, the large group meetings we design to get everyone on board may seem to build engagement, but we don’t really know the whole conversation without also participating in whatever social media exchanges are occurring during or shortly after the event. How do we do this effectively and with integrity? I find the situation is analogous to what the early practitioners of organizational learning discovered: namely that the important interactions happened in the hallways outside of the training room. The development of “T-Groups” in the 50s-60s was an effort to take the hallway conversation into the training room. What is the social media equivalent of the T-Group innovation?

  2. Rick, You raise a great question. Our online communities are redefining what we mean when we say “organization.”

    It’s probable that some of the hallway discussions are taking place in IM, chat, and texting. The issues may be central, but if they’re side conversations I can envision a role for community gadflies and change agents who earn trust in their online communities. They can invite the side discussions in. It may be that the community has to identify who can play such a role, maybe by acclamation.

    It’s hard to imagine how to overhear the conversations in other technologies without intruding on the little privacy we have left. In online communities, you can signoff whenever you want. You don’t have to sit through uncomfortable silences. Then again, people are notably more confidential online when trust is a reliable feature of the community.

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