Social Networking – A Contrarian View

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Today, I’m going to adopt a contrarian view. We all know social networks promote learning; while the mechanisms aren’t documented or well-understood, that it works isn’t in doubt anymore. But we must ask, are the ‘social media/networking systems’ out there promoting this learning? Or does it happen in spite of these systems?

Sure, lots of companies want to replicate ‘Facebook’ behind the firewall; safe from prying eyes, but open enough for employees to freely express themselves. They hope that by just implementing such a system learning will ‘happen’; does it?

I have seen that early attempts to bring social networking inside companies as a work tool have failed. They probably failed because they didn’t really have a focus on the companies’ true ethos – making money. Perhaps they lacked the required understanding of business processes, the systems used to enable these and the ‘culture’ that each company develops over time. Social networks are about connecting people, about creating an ‘ambient awareness’ of what’s happening and where with reference to the people around us. Such networks come into their own when you want to find people who can help you solve problems, provide insights, or provide expertise you may not have.

Given the way social networking tools are at this time, connecting people is the easy part – the systems facilitate the connections easily and effectively. But how does one track the data exchange and activity on these systems to glean usable knowledge (further solves problem, provides an insight or expertise) – it is only this knowledge that people are interested in – knowledge that affects business process execution, social networking tools as we know it fail miserably in this area. People need to be motivated to change, and that isn’t going to happen overnight. Social technologies are going to take time to be adopted, just like it too years before people thought email.

Till that time, I wouldn’t be relying on them for much more than connecting and communicating, another tool like IM, video chat, VoIP etc. This of course, does not mean that you ignore the potential of such tools/platforms/systems. In the years to come, as people change their attitude and mind-sets about the tools, they are sure to have an impact. Has your organization implemented a social networking platform? What’s been your experience?

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