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.

Jun 022011
Stranger Danger

Have you noticed that no matter how close together seats are in a theater, in a café or on a bus, people manage, or try, to sit side by side but without actually touching the stranger beside them. Likewise we generally go out of our way to avoid making eye-contact or having to engage with strangers unless we have to. Now I don’t claim to know why this is, or whether it’s a new phenomenon of not. Maybe it’s just a sign of the times. However it does result in those awkward moments when we are forced to unexpectedly interact with each other.

You know the moments, like when you’re walking down the corridor and a stranger is walking towards you and you both move to the same side in order to pass by and end up hopping from foot to foot in front of each other as you both try to dodge past getting more and more embarrassed the longer the jig goes on.

Another example could be when you and a stranger both reach for something on the supermarket shelf resulting in unprotected hand contact. You each quickly pull back and say “after you”, then go and do exactly the same thing again. Of course, this situation would never happen between Chavs at a Primark sale but you get the point.

These moments are unavoidable so the best thing to do is try and make the most of them and treat them as opportunities. If you can end the awkwardness with a quip or even an obviously over the top cheesy line, you not only break through the awkwardness but you may even make a friend.

If during the passing by jig you stop and say “Thanks for the dance” and wave them past it’s usually received with a smile. If an accidental touch of the hand is met with a “Hmm…. What nice soft hands you have”, you never know you might even pull. Although I wouldn’t try that last one on a bloke if I were you, then again, whatever floats your boat.

Our reluctance to engage with others in this way makes it difficult to expand a circle of friends beyond formal environments such a school, work or clubs where people are brought together in a safe environment. I can’t help thinking that society is becoming more and more socially insular.

In these days when friends can apparently be made at the press of a button even though you never actually need to meet anyone. The definition of a friend has become a grey area and we risk losing the ability to interact with strangers in anything but a formal setting. This will continue to make us all even more insular and nervous about “stranger danger”.

Before long people will become so afraid of anyone outside their small social groups that they’ll start to shop online and have their groceries delivered instead of going to the supermarket. Pubs and Cinemas will close as more people stay at home with a bottle of wine and a movie on demand. Playgrounds will go unused because we won’t let our kids play outside, instead we’ll keep them at home and the schools will hammer home the “stranger danger” message.

Sound familiar?