Napier University, in partnership with TFPL,
are researching the opportunities and threats posed to organisations by
Last night we had the pleasure of hosting one of the focus groups of the project. Twenty information professionals came to the St Bride's Institute in London to discuss the use of social computing tools within organisations.
Here are some of the comments made in the discussions that took place:
- The government has published advice for civil servants on blogging and contributing to other online forums. It is only six bullet points long, but if you stick within those guidelines it is OK for a civil servant to blog (you can read the principles here)
- People put more care into their blogposts than they do into writing an e-mail. Instant messaging and e-mail are more of a risk than blogposts because employees fire them off so quickly.
- If you want to pursuade a company of the importance of engaging with blogs ask them what they would do if a nightmare customer blogged a complaint about them. Give them the example of Kryptonite, a company that suffered when a video showing how to unpick one of their best selling locks with a biro circulated the blogsphere (you can read a blogger's view of the Kryptonite episode here . The view of Kryptonite's public relations manager is represented here)
- Blogging is a good teacher for online life. Once you have received flame comments in reply to one of your blog posts you learn what you can write and what will land you in trouble.
- Blogs provide a flexible medium with which to communicate to stakeholders, additionally acting as publicity organs for personalities whether corporate, political or celebrity ("image management"). Not having a blog may diminish an individual's reputation among peers.
- It is important to have Subject Matter Experts moderating wikis so that errors are identified and corrected. It is better that an error is made in a wiki (where at least it is visible) than in an e-mail.
- The email burden in one organisation was markedly reduced by the use of wiki posts in the place of mass general information emails. Additionally, the use of a wiki as an intranet benefited another organisation through its ease of update
- Wikis benefit product/proposal/document development and collaboration provided that audit trails are incorporated.
- One company has a Facebook Friday - they are happy for employees to use Facebook at work on that one day of the week (here is a blogpost about Serena Software's use of Facebook Friday)
- BT were surprised to find that its employees had set up a FaceBook group and 4,000 of its staff had joined it. (Richard Dennison has posted a good case study about the BT Facebook group here)
- I use Facebook to organize my social life, I set up an event and invite my friends to it.
- I complained about a company using Twitter and found that they responded to my Tweet quicker than they replied to an e-mail I had sent to them directly.
- I get my news from BBC’s Twitter news feeds, it is the fastest way of being informed of things.
- Prediction markets are a great way of capturing the grass roots knowledge of the organization. One company’s senior managers rejected a product idea, but when they put it to a prediction market it was voted for by staff. They reversed their decision and it ended up being their best selling product. (there is a good blogpost about prediction markets inside organisations by Tom Davenport here)
- Is it better to allow people to vote on a prediction market anonymously? I think people should make proposals to prediction markets anonymously because that reduces the risk of the market being swayed by the proposer’s status/personality.
Attitudes to social computing
- One respondent reported a continuum of enthusiasm for social computing tools in their organisation: Colleagues in marketing were enthusiastic users because they wanted to effectively communicate with their target audience. Colleagues in IT were indifferent. Colleagues in Legal were hesitant on account of the potential minefield of litigation to which social computing tools may expose the organisation.
- The polarised positive and negative views of social computing tools stemmed from the collective view of specific departments and the personal attitudes of individuals, rather than from age differences or status differences.
- Graduates (generation Y) entering the job market expect that they will use SC tools in their workplace and a failure to accommodate this expectation may prejudice them against employers which do not utilise such tools. Additionally, the tools may benefit an organisation in employee retention efforts in the current "transient employment market" - not only by just offering use of the tools in themselves - but by perpetuating a more accommodating corporate culture.
Business case for social computing
- I keep in contact with my children through web 2.0 tools but am struggling to come up with a business case that will persuade managers to trial them in our office.
- Sometimes not having a big budget is beneficial, you have to focus on what the organization really needs instead of what the tools can do.
- It is a shame that stick drivers like compliance seem more potent for attracting investment than carrot drivers (hence the big investment in EDRM). If you say ‘wiki’ to the average senior manager they run a mile.
- The voice which social computing gives employees opens up the potential for increased job satisfaction derived from making a contribution, a sense of empowerment, and can induce a feeling of corporate pride and identity.
- In making a business case for SC tools, mention how past fears of web and computer technologies and how these were largely not realised. For example, when desktop access to the internet was introduced it was widely believed that this would lead to time-wasting.
- IT must learn to trust people with tools and increase its user focus (a recurring theme from past generations of information tools!).
- If people are antagonistic to blogs and wikis, don't refer to them by those names. You can describe the functionality and benefits offered by wikis without calling them wikis.
Implementation and take-up
- There is a risk that social media will not be taken up by colleagues (but at least they are cheap: there is a similar risk of colleagues not taking up EDRM/ECM and cost of those systems is much higher!).
- The existence of different perspectives within the organisation on social computing means that these tools will be received differently in different areas. Adequate consideration should be given to the change implications of these differences when rolling out social computing tools.
- Social computing tools enable greater flexibility in terms of work location and collaboration. Conversely, this may increase pressure on employees to work from home.
- Depending on how a tool is rolled out, it has the potential to either increase or decrease information overload.
Governance of social computing tools
- It is hard to keep your work and your on-line personas separate, if you comment on a blog you have to remember whether you are logged on in your work name/e-mail or your home name/e-mail.
- Concern was expressed over the information management issues arising from the sprawl of hundreds or thousands of internally facing and/or externally facing blogs and wikis
- How can personal data be protected in social media environments?
- How do you maintain trust in the veracity of information posted on social media given its potential for unsanctioned edition by employees?
- Enthusiasm vs. governance: too much regulation would frustrate and stifle creative individuals and teams.
- Formal licensed collaboration tools can be controlled by the organisation, public freeware can not.
The next focus group in this research project will be held in Glasgow on Thursday 31 July. Details here.
James Lappin and Shooresh Golzari