Implementing an intra-organizational social network
1 June 2010
The web 2.0 has arrived. This is a fact we all feel and experience everywhere we turn in the virtual world of the internet. This is an undisputed fact. The Web 2.0 is a phenomenon of expansion, merging and infiltration and as such many of the KM experts are viewing from aside, waiting to see whether it will infiltrate into the intra-organizational world. Almost everyone expected it to do so, yet now some claim it won't. Like many of the world's most interesting phenomena- we probably simple don't know yet.
Most factors are beyond our control. Are social networks, blogs, ranking and Wiki steps away from becoming central elements in the intra-organizational world? The answer will have to wait several years. What is in our control? The decision whether to introduce a social network into our organization. Organizations have been contemplating this issue lately.
So, here's my two-cents on this hot topic:
First and possibly foremost, make sure you don't introduce a social network into the organization solely for the purpose of feeling as a promotor of progress as an individual or organization. Introducing an intra-organizational social network has many implications on the organization's informal structure. Wanting to be "technological" or "advanced" isn't sufficient reason for this drastic move.
Introducing a social network to the organization must have substantial organizational added value. A social network can serve as an excellent expert map. Organizations that invest much energy and effort in an attempt to locate the right expert in the right place or organizations based on singular experts with lots of unique experience yet the new workers don't even know to whom to turn, can certainly use a social network as a dynamic expert map in which each expert offers their "services" and people are linked to each other, creating a knowledge network to which workers could never be exposed otherwise.
Organizations that find they have a need or added value in reporting online reporting of intra-organizational and extra-organizational news mainly when the possibility to receive a full update on what's happening is created by collecting and receiving information from other parties (some even disseminated throughout the field) and not solely from management down to the workers. Close your eyes and envision your organization's marketing, finance and project management personnel "tweeting" from anywhere in the world and creating an amazing, updated puzzle of updated "fresh" updated knowledge.
Changing or establishing intra-organizational patterns of communication is another possibility. A social network that is by-definition not compartmentalized crosses boundaries and undermines hierarchical structures can contribute to organizations that attempt to "flatten out" the organizational structure or establish and deepen this trait as well as organizations that are characterized by openness and multi-channel communication.
Your organizational culture can contain a real social network. Dr. Yaron Lewinski has recently wrote: "we invest many years in creating and maintaining limits. It isn't easy to reach a level of trust that enables intimacy. The problem is that the same mechanisms that tell us who we can be intimate with and who we can we trust don't apply to the internet. All websites, services, and technologies (like Facebook and others) encourage us to be almost completely transparent".
Is your organization ready for this? Is it open and trusting enough for its workers to feel written trails to their work? To share their work? To know that even if they make mistakes, they won't pay a price for posting it in the social network?
If we introduce a social network to an organization not yet culturally prepared for it, it will simply serve as a daily reminder for the worker's lack of trust in the system.
I must admit that the more I write on the subject the more I ponder on the differentiation between professional and personal, a dichotomy necessarily blurred when using an organizational social network. What are the business implications of this "virtual intimacy" generated by a social network?
Another important issue is the initiation efforts organization must invest when setting up a social network to generate trust while maintaining content quality.
I'll just finish off with saying that will all the beauty, flow and added value of an intra-organizational network- it is better to invest thought in the mosaic of implications it might usher in.
I wish you luck!