Social Medias : being there, doing as usual, doing new things

Everyday we receive new numbers that show that an always increasing number of  people are “on” an increasing number of social networks, that such percentage of an age class is there, that such country is more represented than another or is slowly bridging the gap with the others etc…

Hence the unavoidable conclusion : almost everybody is comfortable with the social logic and the tools that come with and, logically, everybody will be comfortable to use them in the workplace and even ask for them.

A first reflection about the number of users. If we differenciate the number of registered people from the number of active users, the numbers dramatically drop, as we recently sauw with twitter. If I had to sum the number of services where I have an account I oppened just to try or to be findable whenever someone looks for me, the number of services I actually use may be less than 10%. If I consider the average user who finally accepted an invitation because he was fed up with receiving tens or hundreds of invitations from his friends to join the last trendy platform…and who forgot both is password and the fact he had an account there…

What matters when it comes to assess the wealth of social medias is not the number of users but what they actually do (provided they do anything). So let’s focus on those who are really active.

Consider Facebook for instance. Look at the most common usage. Say what you’re doing, what you’re thinging. Share a joke. Share something you’ve seen elsewhere on the web. Does it remind you of something ? It’s exactly what we used to do with emails in the late 90s. Today, instead of sending a joke or a video to our whole address book by email why share it one Facebook. We also play on Facebook. In the 2000s, games were standalone services. We used to play and invite friends to the game… Now everything happens in the same environment. As for really new usages, some are very interesting but only concern a little minority of users.

Now, let’s consider more business oriented social networks, like linkedIn. Many are “on”, use them to push their applications when they are looking for a job (sometimes in a clumsy way without understanding that networks work differently than conventional ways), to push their product when they have something to sell. Some participate in groups, but not everybody. Some use the social filter to qualify their contacts…but a few people really do that.

There is a big difference between being on a social network and using it. Then, there is a difference that is at least as big between using them to make things “as usual” and using them to do new things or old things in a new way.

Now, let’s have a look at the workplace…Everyone now agree that bringing this personal practices into the workplace is not that easy. It’s sometime caused by cultural issues than can be explained by local issues.

Another part of the problem comes from the difficulty to clear the enterprise wall, to turn personal practices into professional ones. Local factors may, once again, explain part of the problem but, more globally, it’s about a frontier between the world of entertainment et the world of business [translation by Google of a french paper.]

Last, but not least, it’s, in my opinion, due to the fact that employees’ individual case, their needs and ability to change are not taken into account (what beats everything knowing we’re talking about user-centric concepts).

Even if web 2.0 and the enterprise are different, there are some common logics. On the web, most people use the new tools to do what they used to be with other tools before. Only a very small number of users naturally develop new practices. What makes most people develop new pratices is a learning period that helps to make them transpose old practices on new tools and, only then, invent new practices that are made possible by these tools. They need to start from their zone of comfort, grow bolder, watch what the others are doing and then follow them.

This progress used to be poorly taken into account in the enterprise. Old and new practices were often opposed instead of being shown as complementary. What, as a consequence, prevented from thinking this progress that helps employees to gain maturity and self-insurance as they did on the web. Thus, structured groups have been set against networks, documents against conversations, processes to freeform collaboration etc… the first being “has been” and the second being the future. And people didn’t have the impression that doing what they were used to do would be that simple in what was shown as the future. Yet, in order to use “future tools” people need feel they can transpose their present into them.

Work is not in one or the other proposition but in both and in order to embrace novelty, employees need the proof that it’s the logical rest of the present, an evolution that will happen step by step.

How to avoid this dead end ? Users need to be accompanied through a logic of progress instead of  break. They should start from what they know and walk step by step toward what they don’t know. Enrich their present instead of jumping into a future they don’t master. Technically speaking, they must not feel that each step brings them into another “bubble tool” that’s disconnected from the others but must have the impression of walking through a suite of tools that follow their own steps.

In short, enterprises should build at the same same time a “world of tools” and an adoption and understanding process where each step is seen as an enrichment to the previous one, an extension to what they know.  An unified environment where anyone will be be able to adopt the practices that fit each situation without wondering if it’s social or not social. As a matter of fact the “social or not” question has to be asked at a macro level but not at the user’s level. Employees must not have to care about that and have been forced think in terms of “social / not social” because of the manichean nature of many approaches. End users should only have to ask “how to go one step further to overcome an issue” and not “will I find what I need in this unknown paradigm and what kind of risk I am taking if I explore it”.

We are thinking about the future. But when this future is shown to any employee he first takes into account his present and current constraints. And if the path does not look clear enough, he won’t make one step ahead. To bring more than a minority to jump into the social ocean, we first have to show them how these new tools can improve their present with the least risk.

Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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