Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Don’t Be Anti-Social On Social Networking

"I'm not anti-social. I'm just not social."
                              -  Woody Allen

I should stop being surprised that the biggest hurdles in any program are unexpected.  Or maybe I should just get more cynical and I could anticipate them better.   In our program to bring our voice and video learning to YouTube, making it available to literally anyone who wanted to know more about our software, I have had some people just shocked that we would consider the idea.

They cling to the idea of keeping everything tidy in a box, controlling who gets access when and where.  As a learning designer I am often challenged to get my information to as many people as possible, so this paradigm of secrecy is strange to me.  Moreover, at OSIsoft learning is seen as a sales tool and not a profit center, so this idea of global access is ingrained in what we do.

One of the responses of industry is to create and market “private” social network applications.  These are tools that look much like the collaboration sites we are familiar with, but accessible only within the four walls of the company.   It’s like having a private Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter.  You can see any number of vendors at ASTD and other learning conferences and expos.

But what good is that?  The power of collaboration is not derived from people who normally get together at the water cooler getting together online.  It’s like having a company cell phone that only dials other employees or email that only works within your company domain.  They don’t let you communicate the way you need to, so you wouldn’t use them.

When email and web browsers first debuted many companies avoided them as “time wasters” and applications that had no business value.  These applications challenged traditional rules of control and the workforce.  We have come to understand that these are now valuable tools.

Will social networking catch on in high security areas?  Of course not, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  Even small companies have training areas on their corporate networks, and there are places where collaboration or access to web resources can make an employee more valuable.  These should be nurtured, so you don’t lose valuable opportunities.