Sep 262011
Scocial Networks

Many companies are trying to jump on the Social Networking bandwagon in the belief that they can harness the power of social networking. There are several reasons touted for doing so such as empowering their employees, generating innovative ways of working and improving communications among a diverse workforce. Companies are investing big money in implementing social networking solutions in the belief that we, the workers, will all subscribe and collaborate to improve our productivity and therefore improve the company.

The key thing about a social network is the people in your network are there because you want them to be. On Facebook you invite people into your network or require someone accept you.  On twitter you Follow people you find interesting and ignore the rest. You can’t just connect strangers and expect them to collaborate in same ways a social network does.

Most people consciously (and correctly) separate their Social life from their working life. This doesn’t mean we can’t have real friends at work or that we can’t talk about work when we’re out with them. It’s the way we interact, and the fact we feel at ease while doing so. Anyone who’s ever been on an Office night out or a Team Building event will attest that, as fun as such events can be, they fall a bit short a truly “social” event.

You get the guy who tries to impress the boss at the bar by talking the talk, vis-à-vis value stream objectives within the delivery space from the product development perspective in a consumer driven schema across the global enterprise. (Yawn!).

You get the guy who wants to be talent spotted and immediately, annoyingly and loudly tries to take charge whenever the opportunity arises to take a leading role making sure that anyone in authority notices him.

You get the includer who goes around making sure everyone joins in (whether they want to be or not) forcing you to comment just to make them leave you alone only to leap on every syllable as if it’s the most profound thing they’ve ever heard, thus making the shyer victims recoil even further in embarrassment.

Then there’s the old guy who seen it all before and dismisses everything with a “been there, done that” or starts every sentence with “In my day” and constantly goes on about how things should be done and/or how the management are doing it all wrong. These guy’s are often accompanied by the enthusiasts who are usually novices who hang on every word and if they could, would follow the old guy around with a notebook. These are our future captains of industry and the reason we keep going around in circles.

You can probably think of quite a few other “types” to add to this list. The point is, that the way we interact with these types is totally different from the way we interact with our friends. In fact, other than the brief interactions demanded by social etiquette we probably wouldn’t socialise at all outside of work. We also know that during these events we too are being observed and typed and we subconsciously, or even consciously, adapt our behaviours accordingly. A company provided forum or social networking platform is exactly the same.

So why would anyone actually subscribe to a company social network (assuming it’s not compulsory, but let’s not even go there)?

Initially curiosity will get the better of most people, especially those who already use social networks anyway. The company involved will perceive this as a successful launch and announce it as such to the world. “Look at us, we’re a futuristic company with hip technologies!”

However once they start gathering metrics and measuring everything as all companies do, they will come to realise how many of these subscribers actually continue to contribute in the longer term. I suspect very few will for the reasons discussed above and then the reality will hit that they’ve spent shed loads of money on a party nobody wants to go to apart from a few “types” of employee . Meanwhile all the other users are just watching and making fun of the “ types” with their friends on Facebook.

The companies will then subtlety and quietly cut their losses and retreat from the social network arena and go back to doing what they do best. Telling us what to do and then making sure we get on with it.

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