It’s time to encourage people to use social media tools – not ban them

Elearning Age Magazine, October 2010

There has recently been more talk and blog postings about the need for banning public social media tools inside the organisation. This happens on a regular basis when some report is able to highlight some issue or other. A few weeks ago Cisco study reported that employees were ignoring social media policies and playing the Facebook game, FarmVille, on company time. Many commentators have quite rightly pointed out that employees will get distracted by anything – if their work is boring, and others that if they can spend hours on Facebook during the working day and still do their job, then there is also something fundamentally wrong!

However, many managers reading the report, who do not understand the value of social media in the enterprise will take the “easy” way out and ban access to public social media sites. Commercial vendors of enterprise social systems will be quick to step in and say that use of their private, secure, behind-the-firewall system is the only viable way forward for an enterprise.

Social media has been a real revolution in that it has happened at the grass roots by individuals using these tools for their own purposes – to make friends, build networks and create and share personal content. As individuals have realised these tools are also valuable for professional use they are using them in the workplace too – to build professional networks and create and share professional content with others both within and outside the organisation. The reason they have done this, is because enterprise systems have lagged so far behind in terms of the functionality and ease of use they require, and as everything is locked down, public tools and services provide an easy solution.

So instead of going to the intranet or the LMS to look for help, individuals go to Google or YouTube – to get immediate access to relevant content – or Facebook and Twitter to ask their networks for help. They use tools like Google Docs and wikis to work collaborate with one another, and use RSS readers to keep up to date with new stuff. These sites, tools and professional networks have become so powerful that many could no longer do without them, and simply replacing them with enterprise-only social and collaboration tools will not be enough.

Although internal social collaboration systems or platforms might be useful as a core enterprise system, on their own they cannot provide everything many employees now need to do their jobs effectively in the 21st century; individuals and teams also need access to the Social Web both for content as well as interaction with people outside the organisation – whether it be customers, partners or professional colleagues.

As more and more organisations recognise the value of the use of public social media sites for their business – and not just for marketing but for working and learning too – and actively encourage their people to use them, there will be a new role for Learning & Development departments to help individuals and teams, who are unfamiliar with social media, understand how to use these new tools effectively and responsibly.

But are you confused with all the talk about social media and want to find out how it can help you? Social media is not something you just read about; it’s something you do … and by demonstrating the value of social media in your own professional practice, you will then be able to help others benefit from it too. So how and where do you start?

The Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies offers a free online programme called How to use Social Media in your job – in 30 days. Every day, for 30 days, we send participants an email with a link to the day’s materials where we discuss a different social media tool or service. There is also an activity to work on and participants are encouraged to share their experiences and thoughts with others working on the programme.

The programme covers seven key aspects of using social media in your job:

  1. Finding things out on the Web
  2. Keeping up to date with new Web content
  3. Building a trusted network of colleagues
  4. Communicating with your colleagues
  5. Sharing resources, ideas and experiences with your colleagues
  6. Collaborating with your colleagues
  7. Improving your personal productivity

To find out more and/or to sign up for the next programme, go here.

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