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andrew-mcafee's picture

Do's and Don'ts for Your Work's Social Platforms

Emergent social software platforms — the enabling technologies of the 2.0 Era — are being deployed by enterprises at a rapid rate. Companies as varied as Microsoft, Spigit, Salesforce, Jive, Socialtext, and IBM now all offer enterprise social offerings for customers.

This brings up an important question: what are Enterprise 2.0 best practices for individuals? Should an employee use her company's social networking software just like she uses her Facebook account? Should she microblog the same way she uses Twitter?

I say no. Enterprise 2.0 is not Web 2.0; corporate technologies are different than personal ones, even if they look and feel the same. They're there to support the work of the organization, not to let individuals do and say whatever they want.

As I've argued for some time, though, there's no deep incompatibility between these two use cases. The autonomous and personalized actions and interactions of people, facilitated by technology, can be a great benefit to the enterprise, because this work creates new knowledge and fosters novel connections.

So here are some recommendations about how to use these tools to simultaneously advance your own work, make your existence and expertise better known throughout a digital community, and benefit the organization as a whole. I'll divide them into three categories: things to do (in other words, positive ways to use Enterprise 2.0 technologies), things not to do, and gray areas — use cases I'm not sure about.

Things To Do

  • Narrate your work. Talk both about work in progress (the projects you're in the middle of, how they're coming, what you're learning, and so on), and finished goods (the projects, reports, presentations, etc. you've executed). This lets others discover what you know and what you're good at. It also makes you easier to find, and so increases the chances you can be a helpful colleague to someone. Finally, it builds your personal reputation and 'brand.'
  • Point to others' work, and provide commentary on it. When you come across something noteworthy, point to it and discuss why you think it's important. Chances are others would like to know about it. And include a link to the original source; people love links.
  • Comment and discuss. Post comments to others' blogs, join the conversations taking place on forums, and keep the social media discussions lively. Doing so will let others hear your voice, and also make them more likely to participate themselves.
  • Ask and answer questions. Don't just broadcast what you know; also broadcast your ignorance from time to time. Let the crowd help you if you're stuck. Most people and organizations are very pleasantly surprised by the amount of altruism unlocked by Enterprise 2.0.
  • Vote, like, give kudos, etc. Lots of social software platforms these days have tools for voting or signaling that you like something. Use them; they help provide structure to the community as a whole and let people know where the good stuff and real experts are. They also make you more popular.
  • Talk about social stuff going on at the company. Give a recap of the softball game, talk about plans for the holiday party, show how close the group is to its fundraising goal, and so on. Organizations are social places, and I think it's a shortsighted shame when E2.0 platforms are all business, all the time. However, it's often a good idea to give non-work stuff its own dedicated place on the platform so that people can avoid it if they want to.

Things Not To Do

  • Be narcissistic. Don't talk about what you had for lunch or how you're peeved that one more of your flights got delayed. It's selfish clutter, and serves no larger purpose. We all have lunches and delayed flights.
  • Gossip. Why on Earth would you want to be publicly identified as a rumormonger?
  • Be unsubstantiated. Your unsupported, shoot-from-the-hip, fact-and-logic free arguments and opinions are really uninteresting and unhelpful. If you're not willing to do the homework necessary to back up your points, don't bother making them.
  • Mock others or launch personal attacks. I had a friend who walked out of his performance review and tweeted about his boss's bad cufflinks. I thought this was a deeply bad idea. So are flame wars and trolling. Debates and disagreements are vital components of E2.0 communities, but like Samuel Johnson said, "honesty is not greater where elegance is less."
  • Discuss sex, politics, or religion. My dad tells me that these were the three taboo topics in the officer's mess when he was in the Navy. They seem like good taboos to keep in place with E2.0; it's just too easy to upset people and start nasty, pointless fights on these subjects. Of course, this these taboos don't really apply if you work at Playboy Enterprises or Focus on the Family.

Gray Areas

  • Humor. We all like a good laugh, but we also all have different and deeply-held notions about the boundaries among funny, unfunny, and offensive. Sharing humor with colleagues you don't know well is a stroll through a minefield.
  • Self-praise. It's great to hear positive things about our own work, and the temptation to pass them on is strong. I've given in to this temptation, but afterward I've felt like I've blown my own horn a little too loud. So these days I'm trying not to retweet compliments.
  • Unsolicited opinions on topics far from your own work. The CIO of a large retail insurance company told me a little while back that he was tired of employees using his blog's comment section to offer their views on the company's latest advertising campaign. I feel his pain. At the same time, however, I think it's critical that people not feel constrained to use E2.0 platforms to only talk about the stuff in their job descriptions. Maybe one way forward here is to stress that people's contributions need to be substantiated, as discussed above.

What do you think of these recommendations? Am I on track, or way off? And how do you handle the gray areas? Leave a comment, please, and let me know.

This post was originally published on Harvard Business Review.com.

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bernd-nurnberger's picture
Good guidance, looks to me fairly complete. Actually, I was just ready to give a rating or like, searched for the button, but unlike over in Hacks, there is no rating for Blogs here. Where is the place to propose this?

 

About handling gray areas, multilplied in a multi-cultural workplace, I approach with intuition, check for possible misunderstanding first, and apply the Golden Rule - what if I were on the other side? What would be fair and amicable? If in doubt, confirm with a higher-up in the trust network. Best with someone from the culture in which the event occurred.

 

The assumption you were understood is a gray area I would like to add here. It appears amplified in a multicultural workplace, because the tacit set of commonly understood cues is way smaller. But even within a fairly mono-culture organization, too much reliance on textual messaging breeds seeds of misunderstanding and can escalate to flaming. Looks like I need a recalibrated approach beyond the old e-mail rule: at the second "reply to all" or seeing a big or growing cc list, get on the phone, or meet. Face to face is best, virtually by video works almost as well.

 

What are corresponding cues in the Enterprise 2.0 context?