If we build it, will they come?
When the large global company which employees me rolled out an internal social media platform a year ago, I was elated. Finally! We “get” social media! We’re moving into the 21st century! These were some of the thoughts that flashed through my mind. When I reached the discussion of internal communities in The 2012 State of Community Management report all of these emotions came rushing back to me as well as the feelings of despair that now grip me as a daily user of these tools.
As the report states on page 19, “Community Leaders …need to ensure that focus remains on the business goal while continually evaluating the shifting technical landscape.” As I began using the tools, I was struck by the fact that the learning curve was much higher than any of the external social media tools I used (e.g. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.). The tools felt like someone had taken a bunch of unrelated parts, thrown them in a bag, mixed them up, and randomly displayed them on my screen. I tried watching the training videos provided, but kept asking myself, why do these tools require a training video? I never needed one for Facebook. My technically brilliant co-worker decided to start a wiki; however, he found that to make it work like a standard internet wiki, he had to write additional custom HTML code. If we’re in a technical department and we’re have difficulty getting this, how are the non-technical departments ever going to adopt these tools?
Another striking blow was my sudden realization that I rarely use social media on my PC anymore. While I like to feel that I am an early adopter, I am merely mirroring current trends. During the second calendar quarter of 2012, 36.9% of mobile users accessed a social media or blog site on their handheld device; the access rate for smartphone users is almost double this. Our internal company tools do not run as an “app” on my phone or tablet. This means I must use them in browser mode on my phone or tablet, which is not an attractive option, especially on the phone. To be able to use my device of choice, my department also needs to agree to pay to have the special corporate security app installed on each device and I have to give permission to allow my device to be “wiped” at their discretion. Not having an easy mobile option definitely reduces my participation.
Finally, while social media lends itself to building egalitarian communities where subject matter experts rise to become community leaders, we have now jammed these tools into a large corporation’s hierarchical organizational structure and culture with its top down approach. We tell external social media users that they need to consider what their posts will do to their “brand” and their future careers, but the potential impact of a “career limiting move” is amplified many times over in your personal corporate social media space. Does a lowly corporate peon dare to question anything in a post by a C-level executive? I think not. On the internet no one “knows if you’re a dog”; however, in the corporate world everyone knows or can quickly find out who you report to and where you fit in the “food chain”. The social dynamics can be very different from your participation in an external community where your expertise matters more than your title.
More Questions than Answers
My personal experience with internal corporate social media communities has left me somewhat cynical about their value. I have found the technology to be dated and not user friendly, and the social mores more difficult to interpret and adjust to than external social media sites.
Does anyone else have experience creating communities in an internal corporate environment?
Do you face similar technology or cultural challenges?