10 May , 2013
In addition to the commercialization of IT, BYOD, and the use of personal cloud services, mid-sized businesses are grappling with how to manage, adopt and embrace social media as a tool for internal business collaboration and communication. Social media has proven its value in our personal lives, through the sharing of ideas, opinions, stories and personal status. In the business context, social business tools can bring similar benefits to employees and staff, serving as a platform for communication and collaboration that breaks through traditional organizational and communications barriers.
Generational Shift In Communications
Why do mid-sized businesses struggle with the internal use of social media? Like a majority of the current workforce who didn’t grown up in a world enveloped with texting and social media, businesses are experiencing the effects of the generational shift to this new model of communication. In a subtle but fundamental way, social media doesn’t rely on the same large message, sender controlled communications model inherent in email, fax, telephone and voicemail. Business oriented social media tools appear at odds with the tried and true communication methods relied upon for decades.
How is social media different than traditional communications? Lets use email as an example. With email, control of the content and who consumes that content is sender controlled. The sender specifies the audience (one or multiple recipients) for which the information is intended, and the sender by in large is in control of who receives the email. Unless the email is forwarded, only the a limited set of intended individuals can access the contents of that email. Additionally, email messages can be of any length, frequently containing lengthy, rich content and attachments.
Social media flips this traditional communication model on its head. The sender is no longer in control of who receives their communications; the universe of “followers”, friends or potentially anyone (including automated processes) can consume content when it’s sent. The sender likely never knows who consumed their content, unless recipients reply, converse or direct message the originator. Content consumers have total control over who’s content and what content they wish to view, follow and be in conversation with. The sender’s content is “out there” for virtually anyone to consume, often by content consumers the sender may never know.
Social media tools often enforce message size limitations, such as Twitter’s 140 character limit which drops to around 117-118 characters when a URL is included. While other social media tools such as Facebook don’t enforce such a limited message size, social norms emphasize brevity, shorter and more frequent messages that often include URLs to articles or additional content. Lengthly and verbose posts are ignored by most content consumers and go unread. The same brevity norms apply to text messaging.
Understanding the fundamental shift of social media aides in increasing user adoption and makes it easier to understand how social business tools can increase engagement and knowledge sharing, and better facilitate collaboration compared to traditional communications tools.
Increasing Social Business Adoption
Digital social interaction isn’t new to mid-sized businesses; it’s already happening via email, instant messaging and online forums. The challenge is getting the frequently long threaded email chains out of email and into conversational social business tools, where broader groups of participants can interact. Migrating from online forums to social business tools such as Yammer or Jive is less challenging than getting users to try tools beyond tried and true email. It’s often too easy to live out our work day in Outlook, versus expecting users to take the conscious steps of using an alternative tool.
New applications, particularly unfamiliar social business tools, can appear intimidating and users often need compelling reasons to try out something new. Here are five ways to help encourage interaction on social business tools.
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This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.