I seem to have acquired the habit of reading alot about social media and how it’s being applied in organizations. Somehow, this reading is more interesting to me than the latest novel or non-fiction best seller, although admittedly most of my friends think that showing up at the beach with a social media book instead of something of the NYT Bestseller list is totally messed up. Anyway, I’m creating this post, after quite a long hiatus on this blog, to impart a few nuggets of wisdom about the first of two of my recent SM reads that I have found particularly inspiring.
“Social Learning,” by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner
This book does a really good job of connecting the dots between the old “Learning Organization” that we all wanted our companies to become, and the world of collaborative possibilities in the new and social media sphere. I have to confess, I really went highlighter-crazy on this one, and one of the first pieces of text I found insightful for me was this:
“A research program at IBM’s Institute for Knowledge-Based Organizations, further supported by work done between the Network Roundtable led by Rob Cross at the University of Virginia and Bill Kahn of Boston University, consistently found that better-connected people enjoy substantial performance, learning, and decision-making benefits. The research showed that people use communities to find others who provide resources, career development, personal support, and context. The depth and breadth of these relationships, whether they are serendipitous or planned, predicts performance, innovation, employee commitment, and job satisfaction.”
If you are a social media champion at your organization you have probably already witnessed at least some of these benefits in action. But haven’t you always wished you had real, evidence-based research results you could quote chapter and verse to those who still don’t believe these benefits exist? How many of your friends and colleagues have decided its a good idea to open some social media accounts but because they don’t believe in these benefits, they are permanent lurkers (ie., they watch and listen but never reveal anything of themselves… P.S. my husband is one of those!)
But bigger companies are starting to get it: Maybe that’s a reason some of the largest and most successful companies in the world are now using social media INTERNALLY to provide their human assets with a way to connect and synergize their knowledge. But still, there are those who say, “How can these meaningless micro updates possibly turn into something productive? Who cares what I ate for lunch or which project I’m working on this afternoon?” I like Clay Shirky’s answer to this question about why we should compose “status updates” internally, and he coins some pretty nifty language:”
“This is the paradox of AMBIENT AWARENESS. Each little update – each individual bit of social information – is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your colleagues’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. The AMBIENT INFORMATION becomes a ‘type of ESP,’ an invisible dimension floating over us . . .”
Furthermore, Shirky goes on to say that this awareness constitutes an “algorithmic authority,” which I THINK means that if many people are pointing to the same thing at the same time, it just might be worth paying attention to. Doesn’t this ring true? (Plus its just such a cool phrase. . . ). By the way, if you don’t know who Clay Shirky is, the video below is one you really should take a look at, and pass around to your own social sphere:
Finally, since I’m in the business of government healthcare now, I would be remiss if I didn’t cite the use case provided in this book that’s most relevant to my space: that of microblogging by the Mayo Clinic. In Chapter Four of this book, entitled “Microsharing for a Healthy Culture,” we get to see how a world class healthcare organization uses social media internally to build a culture of sharing and personal connection that increases productivity and employee engagement amongst one of the toughest audience groups for all of social media: scientists and physicians. Here’s a nifty quote from the book about one of Mayo’s doc’s, who also happens to lead many of Mayo’s technical initiatives:
“Monty Flinsch, a physical scientist by training, likens microsharing to cloud seeding, the distribution of silver iodine that changes the energy in clouds and leads to rain. When people ask a question or post a link to a resource across Mayo’s internal microsharing tools, their open sharing creates a place where ideas get crystallized. Ideas ignite more sharing, and then normal human relationships take off. People go to lunch, talk on the phone, or invite each other to see something they are working on.”
I believe the many of the benefits of this social learning are real, tangible, and yes even measurable (although not ALL are measurable.) But many organizations will never experience those benefits because they are basically risk averse and don’t want to attempt social media internally because they are stuck on the idea that it will DECREASE productivity because employees will abuse it, rather than INCREASE productivity, because employees are connected and empowered. Sad for those guys, but opportunities galore for those who are willing to take calculated risks and manage them appropriately.
How are you and your company/organization embracing the idea of social learning?