Saturday, January 23, 2010

Business' case for teaching with social media

We finally got going with social media at work this year. Nothing earth-shattering mind you, but we rolled out our first Twitter feeds to update people on construction delays and city news, as well as our Facebook page. Of course no good deed goes unpunished, so adopting social media created it's own set of problems. The record management types freaked out because a public record might be created. Information technology (IT) people like me get freak out over information security and bandwidth consumption issues. Finally, management in general freaks out 'cause staff maybe watching YouTube videos instead of doing work.

One option is to restrict and monitor staff's access to social media sites. Unfortunately, that requires both time and money from the IT department, resources that could be better spent on other projects. It also keeps people away from useful tools for work, whether for information gathering, training, communicating or collaboration. YouTube, for instance, has a wealth of helpful training videos and presentations. Many companies post their training materials out there instead of on their own servers. So if we restrict access then we will need to have exceptions for business need. That requires even more IT resources. It also turns IT into the bad guy.

If we look deeper, however, we will see that the adoption of social media tools in business is about more than software. We are talking about a fairly significant change to the work environment - the types of work, our roles, our relationships to customers, peers and managers. Work is more collaborative and information intensive, but that information isn't necessarily known in advance. Further, the boss or team leader is no longer responsible for uncovering new information to share with everyone else. In addition, communication across the organization and outside the organization is far less structured and hierarchical.

What this means is that business needs individuals who can use social media tools outside the firewalls of the business without spending two hours watching videos of water skiing squirrels or posting the design specifications of the company's newest product for everyone to see. Now if we just had some sort of societal institution that could prepare young people for this new world in work, academic and civic life.

Oh, right, school.

So there you go school reformers, there's your business mandate for reform. I need employees that can work collaboratively to gather information and share knowledge, that get their job done without me detailing every step and communicate effectively with customers and the CEO. And they need to do it using social media tools all without stopping to check out the newest OK Go video.

I'm going to expand on this topic with your help in the coming months, but I'd like to leave you with a few last thoughts:
  1. Don't socialize, collaborate. For most people social media implies "fun" instead of "with people". As a result, social media is a non-starter merely because of the association with playtime. Business tool vendors position their toolsets as collaborative, not social, and school reformers should consider doing the same. Further, our discussion of collaboration shouldn't begin and end with Facebook and Twitter. We should be discussing Wetpaint, Ning, Delicious and Diigo instead.
  2. Structure is instructive. The structure of school - roles, relationships and rewards - teach us as much as the content of any given class. Ever take a class titled "Make your boss happy and you'll get a raise"? No, but you learned the lesson didn't you? It is not enough to adopt collaborative tools within the current structure. The very structure of schools must be changed. (Did you notice the title of this post was "teaching with social media", not "teaching social media".)
  3. Give 'em enough rope. Should classrooms be built without windows since students can look out and daydream instead of their math assignment? Okay, no is the obvious answer. We build classrooms with windows and discipline students with, among other things, bad grades if they don't do their work. Unfortunately, teachers, like many business executives, want to place to the burden of student/staff online misbehavior at the feet of IT. Do the student a favor, if they spend all day on Facebook, flunk them. Just leave the internet turned on for everyone else.


records management company said...

I find that the main problem with RM in the social media is that you get a lot of junk thrown in with the records you really ought to be keeping, and you have to watch your resource levels carefully.