Social media: It’s not about the technology!

As an enterprise, Acme Corporation is “dipping its toes” into social media. It might be said it’s adopting a cautious, almost experimental approach to the concept. While the organisation has invested in social technology, and maybe even documented a social media policy, the majority of its social media activity is driven from the bottom up. In other words, usage of social media within the organisation relies heavily on grass-roots support and viral marketing among its rank-and-file employees.

Does this sound like your workplace? If so, what does it mean?

In a nutshell, it means you still have plenty of scope to increase your social media activity and realise the corresponding benefits of collaboration, engagement and informal learning.

Take it to the next level

So what does your organisation need to do to take social media to the next level?

To help answer this question, I’ve decided to share 10 insights about workplace social media from a practising learning & development professional in the corporate sector (ie yours truly).

Disclaimer: These insights are not the result of any scientific analysis. Instead, they are the result of observation, conversation, experience, gut instinct, self-important opinion, and general naivety!

1. Field Of Dreams was just a movie.

Just because you build it, doesn’t necessarily mean they will come.

2. Some of your employees will take to social media like ducks to water.

They will be the local champions who celebrate the concept of social media, participate avidly, and engage in true collaboration.

3. Some of your employees are not team players.

Sure, they know the right words to say, and the bare minimum to be seen to be doing, but that’s about as far as it goes. You will never force these people to collaborate. Sorry.

4. Not everyone who shies away from social media is a lone wolf.

Numerous reasons might explain their lack of participation, such as:

• scared of technology
• too shy to voice an opinion
• wary of looking silly in front of the whole company
• too many tools and whizz-bang gadgets to keep track of
• legal implications
• security implications
• too busy

The question you need to ask yourself is: How many of these reasons are legitimate (which means they can be addressed), and how many are excuses that mask deeper problems?

5. A grass-roots, bottom-up approach will only get you so far.

While plenty of organisations have invested in social technology, and some have even documented social media policies, most corporate social media activity appears to be driven from the bottom up. To achieve the critical mass of users and ongoing participation rate required for ROI, you need to adopt a complementary top-down approach. The sustained support of — and participation by — senior executives is essential. They must lead by example.

6. The fear of overstepping your authority is a natural inhibitor.

The company should state explicitly what its employees can and can’t do on both internal and external social media, preferably via a formal policy. Otherwise many employees will err on the side of caution, which may mean refusing to participate.

7. A decentralised model of implementation may not be effective.

If the managers in your workplace don’t implement social media on their own accord, you might need to change the structure and processes of your organisation to make it happen. Specifically, someone needs to own it. This may mean appointing a Social Media Manager to centralise the authority, engage with the right people, and drive real outcomes. The Social Media Manager will need to exhibit that rare combination of determination and creativity to overcome the multitude of reasons why it can’t work, and instead focus on how it can.

8. Banning social media is a double-edged sword.

If you block access to social media frivolity, you also block access to useful resources. Of course, personal mobile devices can circumvent the company’s access policy anyway.

9. Self-regulation can be effective.

That’s not to say that no one will ever abuse their privileges, but again, a good social media policy will define the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Most people will follow suit.

10. No one else cares.

If your organisation doesn’t embrace social media, the Earth will still turn without you. If your employees don’t want to collaborate, participate and learn, that’s your problem.

Organisational culture

In summary, the potential of social media is not about the technology. It’s about culture.

To maximise the value of the available tools and platforms, your employees must want to be collaborative; your managers must want to try something new to achieve greater success; your company must be proactive.

If this doesn’t sound like your culture, your competitors won’t mind at all.


This post was originally published on Ryan’s blog, E-Learning Provocateur on 4 May 2010.


  1. Some good thoughts Ryan but I wonder if it’s also the term “social” that frightens management. “Social” media brings Facebook and Twitter to mind immediately – and that reinforces the notion of “social” and (can) suggest conflict with doing “business”.

    I agree with what you say about culture, but I think it’s really important for the management/organisational conditioning process, and for also for managing expectations, that excellent examples of “on-line business networking”, complete with positive outcomes, are made available at the formative stages of implementation to demonstrate a practical and sensible balance between “social” and “business”.

  2. Yes I agree, Bob.

    To some, “social” media means Farmville and cats playing the piano.

    Language is so important in the corporate environment, and “on-line business networking” may strike less resistance. Successful real-world examples are a great idea!

  3. Hi Ryan,

    This strikes a chord with me and I was having these conversations this Monday gone on what social actually means in a business. Like you say social may mean Facebook games etc and this of course doesn’t translate well in a business environment but I feel the fear is born out of genuine misunderstanding and not being able to apply social in a work context.

    Document sharing is collaborative and some would argue social to an extent but it’s the tools that transform communication and the way in which it flows and can circulate round an organisation that can make the biggest difference to learning in my opinion. Tools like Yammer and Chatter with micro-blogging and status updates, link and article sharing and I’m seeing more enterprise wide collaborative tools (perhaps they’ve been there for ages it’s just now I’m looking) that include video sharing & screen casts, wikis, forums etc either standalone or now being integrated in to the good old course vending LMS.

    These tools could be game changers in a work / learning context and I agree as you discuss above culture is central to whether or not social tools will work or not. I think culture can be driven through value and if you have people in your org who have vision and are brave, they can lead by example and use the tools to demonstrate business benefit. L&D have a big part to play here in leading by example and demonstrating this value.

Comments are closed.