Don’t be scared of social: dealing with a nervous management

This week we’re excited to have Euan Semple sharing his insights on the use of social tools in business.

Many companies are nervous about the use of social tools in the workplace. Not only would they never consider deploying social tools officially inside the firewall, but they go further and ban all access to social tools at work. In fact while talking to an insurance company recently, who told me they had banned Facebook at work, I confidently said that with the widespread use of smart phones they had effectively banned nothing to which they replied “Oh don’t worry – we take their phones off them”.

So why are people so worried? A lot of it is the perception that their staff will waste their time. On top of this is the perceived risk that they will be irresponsible in their use of tools and possibly cause damage through indiscretions or mis-use. Trust is a big part of having confidence in social platforms at work. Trusting your staff enough not to waste their time, trusting them to act like grown ups, trusting them to make appropriate decisions as to how they behave in public. Why is this so hard?

I think a lot of the nervousness about social at work is that many of those in positions of responsibility are totally unfamiliar with the environment. They lack the confidence to know how to deal with issues that arise online. They feel self conscious about making mistakes or looking foolish in their own use of the tools. Lets be frank though, they also, in many cases, find the apparent inanity of the conversations troubling. But if you were to transcribe a lot of the face to face conversations we have every day at work into text and published them they would look pretty inane too! This is how people socialise and get to know each other in real life and people need to work these things out online. The fact that they are doing so in public makes their fumbling more visible but it doesn’t make them more stupid. In fact those who are prepared to fumble in public learn faster.

Not only do individuals learn faster but working things out together matters too. If there are issues about your use of social tools then use the tools to discuss those issues and if appropriate manage them. It is important that managers see themselves as nodes in the network, as fellow users of the system, working it out together. The system starts to learn, the network learns, the whole ecology becomes smarter. You need to be a part of this to benefit. It is no good standing on the sidelines making comments about people wasting time. If you think they need to be more work focussed or serious in their conversations then go in and start a really interesting, work focussed, conversation. Walk the talk. Learn to stimulate good discussions by asking good questions. Become more observant of your  business. Notice things in your day to day that are noteworthy enough to write about online. You will develop a more finely attuned awareness of your business but will also learn to spot topics or themes that will be of interest to others. As you and the others using your platform get better at this you will find that the levels of conversation and engagement improve dramatically. You will all learn together to use your social platform to the maximum collective benefit.

About the Author

Euan Semple Profile PicTen years ago, while working in a senior position at the BBC, Euan was one of the first to introduce what have since become known as social media tools into a large, successful organisation. He has subsequently had four years of unparalleled experience working with organisations such as Nokia, The World Bank and NATO helping them learn how to make the most of this wired-up world of work.

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