Embracing Social Networking

You can use social networking to build individual excellence, facilitate learning, promote communication, and provide equal access to opportunity.

By Michel Koopman, CEO, getAbstract.com

Social networking within organizations has risen so quickly it is now standard practice. Smart companies use it to facilitate and encourage the internal exchange and social learning needed to remain competitive and profitable.

Social networking’s workplace acceptance tracks the way the world of business embraced e-mail, instant messaging, and the Web. At first, some people saw social media as a productivity killer. Instead, Web-enabled networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and LinkedIn, are permanent communication methods that already have proven to be dynamic tools for collaboration and information sharing.

Social networking is increasingly relevant for corporations. As Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon,stated, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.”

Getting Past Your Fears

Most companies want their employees to learn on all levels, but some managers still hesitate to implement internal social networking due to fears about brand protection, data leakage, lack of control over corporate content, negative comments, and decreased productivity.

To some of the hesitators, “social” means “leisure.” Work and learning are social in nature, but not leisurely. Employees are not goofing off when they obtain crucial information or brainstorm with their co-workers. This is the most effective type of learning because its impact lasts longer than the lingering effects of formal learning. If companies called “social networking” perhaps “networking leveraging technology,” maybe more business leaders would see its value immediately.

Social networking prospers even where other corporate knowledge management and training may fail. It generates engagement. People love its simple, far-flung distribution of information and appreciate the cooperation it fosters among users.

Why You Should Get Onboard

Social networking lets your company provide immediate answers to employees’ inquiries. You can use it to build individual excellence, facilitate learning, promote communication, and provide equal access to opportunity. Your employees are using social networking at work anyway, so take advantage of it. Bill Jensen and Josh Klein’s groundbreaking book, “Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results,” validates the use of social media at work. They describe these examples to illustrate how essential, powerful, effective, and—admittedly—uncontrollable workplace social media can be:

  • An Apple employee couldn’t get anyone to change a piece of faulty product documentation, so he copied Steve Jobs on an e-mail about it. Within minutes, people stampeded to fix the error.
  • A manager ordered an employee not to mention reports from unhappy customers. Instead, the employee slipped the customers’ filmed testimonials onto YouTube. In the face of a huge public outcry, the company fixed the problem.

“Hacking Work” confirms that anyone with Web access can assemble, manage, and distribute information on a nearly unlimited scale, and that online resources usually outperform corporate programming. Savvy companies know how to use social media and understand that the old firewall between external and internal audiences is increasingly permeable. Now, companies can use social media to talk with customer and stakeholders and, thus, achieve better results, for example:

PepsiCo: In response to the global “Pepsi Refresh” campaign, people submitted charitable project proposals to a Pepsi Website. Then, online voters selected the winning projects, which received Pepsi grants from $5,000 to $250,000.

Starbucks: The coffee shop chain asked patrons how it could improve. The CIO read the suggestions, discussed the ideas on a corporate Website, and explained why he implemented some suggestions and not others.

McDonald’s: The fast-food chain used Facebook to explain its “Day of Change” philanthropic campaign. The viral message helped boost 2010 donations 130 percent above the amount given in 2009.

Preparing for Implementation

A 2010 study by Cisco and the Rochester Institute of Technology found that social networking is proliferating, but companies are struggling with its lack of governance and IT involvement. Many companies don’t yet have a formal process for using social networking for business. First, establish a framework that inspires your employees about representing your brand. Empower them to communicate internally with each other and externally with customers. Continue to use a professional media spokesperson when appropriate. When employees address the public, they need the structure of a companywide policy on the best practices to follow as your representatives. To protect your firm from misstatements, establish social media guidelines and inform staffers about potential repercussions of problematic online messages. Define what is and isn’t open to discussion in terms of trade secrets, future strategies, competitive planning, corporate earnings, and the like.

Social media communication often is naturally self-regulating. Most professionals know that a careless public statement—and social media is totally public—could backfire, harm their careers, or even result in legal or marketplace ramifications.

Learning in This “New World”

Information and learning are created and consumed differently in this “new world” where employees—especially members of Generation Y—thirst for immediacy and useful knowledge. Consider this example: A photographer captures a compelling moment after the Haitian earthquake. A journalist writes a short article describing the events it shows. A broadcaster discusses the article in a 60-second news bite that someone posts on YouTube, where it generates countless Facebook links. A social media user comments with a 140-character tweet, followed by hundreds more tweets. Of course, a 140-character tweet isn’t as specific as an article or TV spot, so the information is truncated, but the tweet uses the reader’s time with sophisticated intensity. Social media users who see 100 tweets receive many small, tight bits of specific data—and possibly a richer viewpoint than the “traditional” way—with easy links back to the original photo, story, and video.

Now, swap the photo for a noteworthy business book presented in a relevant, concise summary. If you read 10 high-quality book summaries on related topics, you’ll absorb the aggregate lesson instantly, without restless time in a classroom. A reader who wants more on the subject need only read a few summaries to decide which book offers exactly the right information and tone.

In this and many other ways, social networking’s impact on learning is unfolding faster than ever. Now, embrace the online world and leverage it within your organization. Knowledge is everywhere and social media can take you to it. With familiarity, you will find that social media is the stepping-stone to endless great connections that are effortless to sustain.

Michel Koopman is CEO of getAbstract.com, which finds, compresses, and provides universal access to critical business knowledge in a format learners can quickly and easily absorb. Its solutions include more than 8,000 business book summaries, in text and audio, which more than 10 million subscribers use, including 20 percent of the Fortune 500 companies.getAbstract is an excellent tool for online communicating, learning, and social networking. For example, its Virtual Business Forum enables employees to learn socially, work with each other and share ideas.

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