Long Post Warning
You can read any business book since the dawn of printing and, regardless of the new technique being promoted, the goal is to enhance communication. It could be top-down, bottom-up, flat, cascading, peer-to-peer, internal, external, feedback-driven, active-listening, or intimidation techniques but it's only talk.
Talk is essential to human understanding and growth. When communication is stifled, people react in a variety of ways.
1. Suspicion -- Why are they not letting us communicate? What are they afraid of? What aren't they telling me?
2. Fear -- Are they doing this because I'm going to be fired? Did we do something wrong?
3. Anger -- Screw them.
In 1 and 2, we have all questions. We have the thirst for the communication that is not supplied. The brain is an organ that needs to be fed. It eats communication.
In 3 we see the brain start to shut down. "Screw them" means "They do not care about me and therefore I don't care about them. I'll do only what I have to, when I have to, and not give them any more."
Also telling is "they" or "them" - the people in a position of power have separated themselves from their own business by unwisely exercising their power. They have lost the respect and trust of those in the organization.
Focused Social Media can provide tools to foster rapid communication in the course of doing normal business. A well crafted system includes social media components into applications used every day.
Social media tools should be useful. That sounds obvious, but current hype suggests that they are useful by design. Not so.
A hammer is useful when hammering, useless when driving a car, and dangerous to have around in a bar fight. Tools have context, in other words.
Social media tools need a context in which to work. Context is more than a defined function. For example:
I mentioned in an earlier post that a client of mine installed a wiki and was discouraged when people didn't actively use it. The wiki had a clear function within the organization - to store information vital to the company's functioning. In this case we'll say it needed to include user feedback for products that could be used for sales, development, management, service, and all other sectors of the company.
This is vital information everyone needs, so why don't people use the system?
The reason is this particular wiki had no context. It suddenly appeared and no one knew particularly how, when, or why to use it. In principle they liked it, but the wiki was so outside their normal procedures there was no clear time or place for their participation.
At best everyone ignored it, at worst everyone said, "You go first, no you go first, NO! You go first!, etc." No one wanted to get it wrong. No one knew how to get it right.
How do you find real context in a way that your organization can use? That takes a bit of work and would make this blog post impossibly long. Suffice it to say, it is surely not something you are going to install from a CD. It's about communication.
The kicker is this ... context changes. Context isn't something you can box up and ship around from plant to plant. It's not something you can toss in a Harvard Business Press book and be done with.
Context changes because conditions change, people change, business needs change, your competition changes, the market changes, the economy changes, or even just the weather changes.
In tracking effectiveness in process analysis, my friend David Anderson is fond of saying, "I don't care what you track, just track something and stick with it." Unusually glib for David, but accurate.
Obviously David isn't recommending that you could track something meaningless, like number of coffee cups left unwashed at the end of the work week. He is noting, however, that often considerable effort goes into over-analyzing what to analyze. Insodoing, nothing is analyzed at all.
He would rather you get moving on tracking conveniently gathered metrics on your performance than go crazy building a system that will track the perfect metric. There just isn't time.
Conveniently measured metrics have the added benefit of usually being contextually relelvant. If it's conveniently measured it will often be of value to your team, a figure that is generated automatically, and a figure that comes out of existing and accepted processes.
Tracking these processes will give you insight into your organization's context. How do people work? What sub-groups do they naturally gravitate toward? How do these natural flows conflict with existing tools or corporate structure and how do they enhance them? Where is information being hoarded? Where are people starved for information? And why?
When you understand elements like these, the successful application of social media becomes nearly assured. You will quickly find yourself mending the organization with non-technical means and employing new technology only where it will truly help.
Social media isn't a band-aid or a salve. It isn't Jonas Salk or Mother Theresa. It's a really good tool.
People who try to sell it as something that will help without an organization being ready for it are doing a disservice to both your business and social media. Many organizations simply aren't set up for good internal communication.
Social Media is one of the most effective tools I've ever seen, but ultimately it is "Social". It will save you money, make your workers happier, and provide ancillary benefits a plenty. But your people have to know how to (or even be allowed to) talk to each other first.
Blogged at 36,000 feet above Southern Oregon on Alaska Flight 375 one hour late using Microsoft Live Writer.