Breaking Cliques with Enterprise Micro-Blogging

old-tvPublic service announcement:  On June 12, 2009 broadcast analog television signals in the U.S. will cease as the spectrum is repurposed and television signals go all digital.  This poses a major disruption to some people.  

The rest of us are flabbergasted, nay,  gobsmacked to learn that this poses a major disruption to some people.  Who are these people who aren’t using cable/satellite feeds?  Nevertheless, these folk will require assistance to successfully make the switch from analog to digital.  We need to be gentle with the late adopters, and aware of the less-advantaged.

Likewise, some people require assistance to understand the advent of social media.  This morning I was alerted to a most unfortunate example.

In “the case against enterprise micro-blogging” we find the following:

As a consistent Twitter user, I’ve the found the service to be a valuable marketing tool as well as an entertaining pastime for my friends and I to shoot one-liners at each other.

Off the bat, this gentleman uses Twitter for marketing and jokes.   For some reason, he then decides to try it among his team of five, one can only guess he needed to market them and tell better jokes.

My recent short-lived experience showed me that enterprise micro-blogging provides minimal benefits to the organization. If our group had been much larger and we wanted to do some kind of short announcements, it might prove useful, though hardly compelling.

So large teams communicate through “some kind of short announcements?”  That’s the value seen beyond marketing and jokes?  What if you wanted to pose a question and didn’t know who may have the answer?

When it comes to business, you don’t want to read between the lines as you do in your personal Twitter-verse. Even with enterprise email overload, and a never ending-supply of documents flying back and forth, at least you have the ability to state and substantiate a point.

And here we have it.   If the purpose of communication in the enterprise is to “state and substantiate a point,” yes, I expect micro-blogging will not be your weapon of choice.  However, if you want to be able to get a sense about what your colleagues are facing, if you want to open a stream of awareness across your team for a relatively low transaction cost, if you want to enable swarm intelligence in your enterprise – you may want to disregard the “advice” in this gentleman’s article.  You will notice the comments to the CNET piece are fairly scathing.

A clique of young people ostracize another youth

I managed a small team for a mid-sized firm for eight years.  Beginning in 2000, I enforced the use of instant messaging (IM) and e-mail across the team as we grew from three to (at one point) twenty-two souls.  When I had a question to pose, I selected from among my list and began chatting.  As I did, I learned which people were available and responsive and began to – unconsciously and unfortunately – call upon them more often.  The people who were perhaps not as attentive to my insistent IMs were not called on as much as others.  

While we did also engage in chat rooms (and actual rooms) on occasion, I never successfuly got the entire team to engage on IM once we exceeded five or so members.  Instead of analyzing this, I fell back on the natural tendency towards hierarchy and power laws within social networks and unwittingly began to alienate the people I was treating as “lesser” members.  In doing this, I missed out on business value and the opportunity to enable contributions from across my team on an equal basis.  Much later, I heard casual comments to a “clique” within my team, but by then I had already shaped behaviors by my communications style.  Who knows what contributions were missed, as team members declined to volunteer their knowledge?

Using micro-blogging, I am learning to appreciate fragments and ideas from across thousands of voices.  If I had micro-blogging for my team back then, I may have posed questions and listened to the “small cloud” rather than calling on the “best and brightest.”  In doing so, I may have led an even more successful team as we would have been able to make use of all the voices to address the team’s challenges and opportunities.  I still have a smaller network of people I engage on a more frequent basis, but I can hear also and talk with people on the fringe of my network.  More importantly, I can hear people who are simply talking about things about which I care who are not remotely in my network/culture/continent.  

Even for smaller teams, we move from point-to-point communications, which (sometimes arrogantly) presupposes you know who has “the answer,” to discovery.  In fact, presuming you know who has your answer can be very limiting.  Likewise, presuming you know precisely the right question to ask in all circumstances helps you to thwart serendipity.  Have you memorized the resumes of your colleagues?  Do you know how to unlock all the potentially useful information that flows across their interpersonal networks?  

Social media, quite simply, is opening my mind to new tactics for team management.  To consign it to the dustbin because you cannot control the message  is extraordinarily short-sighted, and misses the value proposition of social media, inside and outside the “enterprise.”

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10 Responses to Breaking Cliques with Enterprise Micro-Blogging

  1. John,
    Nice post. After you pointed out i went through the comments on that yammer post and you are right it does seem ill-informed.

    As for my assertion about critical mass i dont think your post answers that with evidence. In my experience because social is a new thing it has an adoption curve (similar to the one Geoffrey Moore used in Crossing the Chasm). In other words people adopt it in varying rates. This means that you need to have a critical mass. I have several evidences where small groups failed to adopt it effectively. I don’t know what the critical mass number is? But i definitely think there is a critical mass needed. Even in your example you mentioned several didn’t adopt IM. In the same way twitter will also have varying adoption levels.

  2. John says:

    Thank you. I agree I did not fully address your assertion regarding critical mass, I focused on trying to respond to the poor argument made by the CNET article.

    I would be interested in exploring your examples where teams failed to adopt social media. IM and Twitter are fundamentally different tools – point-to-point versus many-to-many. The behaviors associated with these two tools are very different, and I suspect (but cannot yet prove) that the critical mass needed for adoption will be much lower.

  3. John,
    Thanks. I could be wrong here. But I have 2 thoughts:
    1. both IM and twitter and wikis and blogs and others are new things (you can eliminate the word technology). Any new thing goes through an adoption curve. Due to that benefits received by the participants will vary.
    2. If you look at blogs and twitter, experience (both mine and the world in general) success depends on feedback received by the blogger or twitterer in the form pageviews, links, comments, @replies, retweeets, #of followers etc (call them feedback devices). When you have a small group adopting blogging or twittering, there is a high likelihood that a few in the group have not adopted it due to reason no.1 above. Additionally, if people don’t respond using the feedback devices, the blogger/twitterer will stop using it.

    I have observed that when you have a critical mass, this problem doesn’t happen because lot of people are blogging/twittering and even if a few people drop out it wouldn’t matter.

    I have found that wikis and forums work better in small groups because the expectation of feedback is not there. But i wouldn’t call wikis and forums social media.

    If you have found small groups that have used blogging/microblogging effectively over a long period of time (more than 18 months), i will be happy to learn more.

  4. Allan says:

    I think social media, as any new idea, is first viewed as a facilitator of the old process. We are a long way from fully discerning the freedom and value inherent in our new systems. I do like the idea of enabling swarm intelligence, I will have to consider how best to appropriate it – and still have fun.

  5. Khürt says:

    Quite frankly I think the reluctance to adopt of social media in the enterprise is related to social risk. When I participate in the sea of conversions on the public twitter I am less likley to be worried about what and how I say things. My conversations are somewhat ‘anonymous”. Most of the people I follow on twitter or who follow me are unknown. We have never met and our interactions are solely via the twitter box.

    However, within the enterprise I would be conversing with people I actually do know and have met and perhaps works with closely. I may be promoting a particularly unpopular idea or challenging positional authority. That may be political suicide and I may find myself shut-out or worse kicked out.

    In my experience corporate culture is not amenable to open and honest discourse.

  6. Pingback: Linkpost: Community management already on the decline? Infographics in support of social learning; Office microblogs enable ever more powerful teamwork | Sharing at Work

  7. srxdba says:

    how is tweeting about your business affected by e-discovery rules?

    What happens with employees that tweet negatively about the company, or worse, about another employee? If the tweet is entered from a company-owned computer, what is the obligation or liability of the company?

    Is due diligence getting in the way of businesses adopting the social networking tools?

    We’ve all heard about the drunk pictures on Facebook affecting employment…when will the obnoxious tweets start affecting jobs?

  8. Sam says:

    Nice post and i found the part about IM in your work force quite interesting. Over time i have also found that some people on my list get called upon less and less whilst others i turn to on a regular basis maybe i am losing out on valuable knowledge! You may be interested to read the Zeta micro blogging article that has been recently published here:
    http://www.zeta.net/blog/2009/04/why-microblogging-could-be-the-next-email/

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