It's always been part of my professional life to introduce new technologies to unsuspecting industries. Most recently, social media has been high on my to-integrate list. There are always challenges in introducing a new technology and I've noticed a few distinct ones in mainstreaming social media.
Inherently, Social Media are a commons-style tools. You have to have buy-in from the group in order to get maximum or sometimes any benefit. And when groups are skeptical, they often band together and reinforce the skepticism - even when individually they may see the wisdom of an idea. So let's hit them one by one:
"Social Media" can encompass a huge number of tools that have a wide-array of functions. Social Media isn't a bicycle or a car or a Monopoly board. It's more like an ingredient or a language. It's a means to an end and can be used in any number of applications.
This means that external features have a great impact on the social media tools you choose. Let's take, for example, a bug tracking tool. At my company we use Bugzilla, but we have access to bug tracking systems in VersionOne, Microsoft Visual Studio, and other applications. We use Bugzilla because it gives the best overall value to us as a group.
But Bugzilla is also a social media tool. Bugzilla offers ample opportunities for users to converse, share information, vote for the importance of an object, and exchange responsibilities.
As we can barely see in the screenshot above, Bugzilla has a wide array of social media tools including ad-hoc contribution requests, of hours, voting, tagging and communal notation.
These are great Social Media tools, but they were chosen because of all the other features of Bugzilla, not as a social media package.
The other features can and are often an extension of personal or group taste. We had other avenues of issue and bug tracking, but chose this one because the group preferred it.
This extends to more "traditional" social media packages like del.icio.us or Digg. Tagging applications have a wide array of UI choices and user experiences. But tagging for the sake of tagging is just not a natural act for most people. For still others, they have almost a religious bond to the tagging services they've subscribed to outside the organization.
Stumbleupon users resist Digging. Diggers resisting using Del.icio.us.
Non-Techies are big initial resisters of social media. They tend to see it as a fad and not a tool. In my mind, if the tool lasts longer than the project, it doesn't matter if it was a tool - it had value.
I have had great results getting people to use del.icio.us for a specific task. They even enjoy it.
Usually, in the beginning of a project - where we are all learning - I'll set everyone off to scour the Internet to find relevant information. It's just amazing to see the amount of information that four to eight people can amass in just a few hours.
The team members are all armed with Del.icio.us tags and off they go. At the end of the exercise we have what would have been months' worth of research that was gathered in such little time.
People get efficiency drunk.
But then it wears off. And they quickly forget - or they don't apply it to every day.
It is not uncommon to hear a previous del.icio.us task member lament "Oh, I was reading something about this on the net the other day. I wonder if I can find it again..." or worse yet ... "Does anyone know anywhere on the Net where I can find a list of links dealing with <insert new thing here>".
And, shockingly, programmers are the biggest non-techies of them all.
Well, hey, it's Social Media, and what would any social activity be without some good old-fashioned Group Dynamics. We have free-riders, dominant participants, influencers, high quality, low quality, and so forth .. We have tit-for-tats, tit-for-two-tats, all-takers, and the rest.
Social Media is a great tool to help alleviate some of the negative group interaction traits. Social Media generally operates as a database of interaction. It's a lot harder to be manipulative in Social Media because people can search for your actions.
Social Media abhors an asshole.
People who previously could free-ride in an organization, find it harder to do so in an environment where their posts, contributions and conversations are so easily counted and analyzed.
In our most recent project, we had a group of contractors who previously had not used agile methodologies. But the social media nature of the tools we used were self-reinforcing. If they adhered to agile principles, the social media system immediately told them they were successful (good build!) and let everyone else know that as well.
The social media system also allowed the programmers to quickly figure out who had worked on what elements of the software. This led to immediate conversations to enhance features, fix problems, or get vital background.
The social media system also brilliantly illustrated the conversion of the programming staff to agile principles. It was easy to spot in the number of unit tests being run, the frequency of the check-ins and, after a time, the success rate of the check-ins.
Without the social media elements of our coding platform, this never would have been possible.
Blogged at my house in Seattle with Live Writer