Lotus Connections by IBM was just deployed where I work. It is a social media tool for the workplace. While it has collaboration features like Wikis, shared files and shared activities, it also has more social features like status updates, blogs, discussions, communities and news feeds like you would find on Facebook or something similar. While blocking access to Facebook from your desk, they deploy something like this. It is interesting.
I can see how a tool like this would allow for public, but casual, conversations with co-workers. This would be like a hallway conversation or group discussion between cubicles I suppose, except on the record. I am both thrilled and terrified. Saying something within earshot of co-workers is not the same as publishing online. You have to choose your words carefully and not just blurt out stuff. It’s like learning how to use email all over again.
I can see how this could improve communication between people that don’t sit near each other. By seeing posts and status updates, your co-workers can get to know you better. People can imagine all sorts of things about someone they don’t know very well or have never seen. Just posting a picture on your profile can help if your organization is large or spread out geographically. Trust between people should improve because of this. That will result in fewer squabbles about things that don’t matter and fewer misunderstandings. Just learning the vocabulary and jargon of other people about work issues by seeing frequent updates from them will help prevent miscommunication. Better communication will result in better efficiency because of less wasted effort and energy as well as happier people.
I am also frightened. Like other media, this could — and probably will — be misused. It is important to be professional when interacting with your co-workers. This social media gives you the opportunity to look bad to a lot of people at the same time. It is sort of like sending broadcast emails all the time. I have used Facebook for years and have several hundred friends there. I have seen people post stuff that they shouldn’t because they were mad and wanted to embarrass someone else in front of their friends. I could see it happening in the workplace too. I also wonder if information that isn’t ready for publication will be casually posted and get to the wrong people because people are not aware of the span of a social network. I’m not talking about trade secrets or social security numbers, but rather projected finish dates on projects or the cost of a new piece of equipment. Just as people had to learn what is appropriate to put in email, they will also have to learn about the new workplace social media. Some will have to learn the hard way.
There is also the barrier to adoption. People will hesitate to use it and it is not that easy to mandate. They will hesitate not just because they don’t like to change, but because they don’t know how it is supposed to be used. There is not a lot of precedent yet in the workplace world for this type of media. Being a social tool, it is much less valuable until most people use it. I predict it will take several years before it becomes fully adopted. I don’t think it will take off like Facebook did.
Those that can express themselves well in writing will have an advantage over those that do not. Everyone can participate since everyone can read, but some will have a louder voice on the social media and perhaps more influence in the organization as a result. This may change the balance of power somewhat in some organizations.
If you were to write blog post for your co-workers to read, what would it be about? What would be your status update today for them?