New Communication Methods:
Aggregation and the use of social networking tools to foster new communication methods (September 18, 2009)

The Murphy room bustled with excitement and anticipation regarding ITEE’s latest discussion topic concerning social networking. Attendees eagerly awaited the opportunity to embrace a fresh and invigorating discussion about this dynamic and fascinating tool. Participants entered the forum from diverse perspectives and experiences that encompassed broad interests and expectations regarding the meeting’s outcome. Some participants were interested in the cultural dynamic between older and younger workers. Others wanted to expand ideas for discouraging the use and abuse of social networking within an organization. A professor entered the meeting with a new social networking model to share. One attendee created a mini task force within their company to study social networking regarding recruitment and solicited suggestions. Regardless of their explicit intent, all attendees desired to enter the utopia of green pastures and blue skies awaiting successful adopters of this recent vivacious phenomenon.

Current experiences with social networking

Generally regarded as an internal tool for knowledge management, collaboration, and marketing, social networking practices are beginning to be integrated into many local firms. Presently, utilization among everyone in attendance is limited; however, most in attendance are experimenting and attempting to break new ground.

• One participant has established a task force within their company to investigate social media and its ramifications regarding the hiring of new talent.

• Another company currently hires prospective employees by leveraging the prospects’ Linked-In profiles in its background investigations. Observing a Linked-In or Facebook profile might provide a glimpse into a candidate’s tastes and sensibilities. In addition, these outlets allow creative expression that can allow a candidate to show off talent and skill levels.

• One company utilizes internal social networking using a “my site” application that allows employees to create and maintain a personal profile. This profile contains organizations to which the employee belongs and teams they serve on within the company.

• One representative in attendance indicated that his firm currently has a team focused on B2B digital marketing strategies.

• Another representative indicated that her firm has four Facebook accounts but is not sure who controls them. Recently, the company re-acquired its naming rights; however, now the company is wondering what to do next. In addition, a struggle exists as to who in the firm is ultimately responsible for managing social networks. Does marketing, public relations, IT, or the legal department handle this function?

• Some company representatives indicate some preliminary utilization of YouTube. Some in attendance indicated that they use an internal video channel or Vimeo for training purposes and communication.

• A professor attending the meeting indicated that he preferred YouTube to textbooks because YouTube is current and in real time. He feels students actually learn more from YouTube and consequently utilizes YouTube in many of his classes. A contrast between textbooks (explicit knowledge) and YouTube (which may contain tacit knowledge) was made to illustrate the manner in which authors are attempting to adopt incorporate exposure to a wider range of knowledge in learning materials.

The Bad News—Negative aspects of social networking

In many cases, utilizing social media is not about what you can do but what you cannot do. Many companies require employees to sign detailed usage policies that explain what employees may not do regarding social media and company representation. For instance, one statement indicates that an employee may not represent himself or herself as an employee on a social networking website without prior approval. In another instance, statements about the company on either Facebook or Myspace break company policy. Due to recent bad publicity, companies must take a pro-active stance to limit brand image damage resulting from individuals posting inappropriate content to social media websites.

One attendee’s client, a large organization, struggles with corporate governance issues concerning social media. Currently, this attendee is working with the client to disable certain applications with Linked-In. The company provides access; however, employees are prohibited from participation in discussion groups and downloading options. All employees must use corporate e-mail for activity monitoring purposes. In addition, the organization hired a consultant to explain to employees Linked-In and the rules of use to promote consistency within the organization. The organization’s fears derive from fears of SEC regulations. The organization permits employees to use Facebook and Twitter but does not allow employees to use the organization’s name in any postings. Instead, the organization tries to engage employees in use of Linked-In as a business tool. The biggest issue the organization faces from an internal perspective pertains to getting the message across to several hundred thousand employees. From an external perspective, it is monitoring to see what conversations are taking place and where the conversations are taking place.

More and more companies utilize social media as part of a comprehensive background examination. Additionally, courts utilize social media for intelligence gathering and evidence procurement. Since most of this data is uncensored, it can be particularly destructive to cases.

Facebook recently launched new privacy settings; however, if an individual downloads an application, previously established privacy settings are overridden and data mining can commence. One participant does not encourage business use of Facebook because of the potential for data mining and identity theft. Facebook might be a playground for social engineers and others to hack into accounts. Another issue ensues if someone tags an individual and later the individual closes his or her account. In this case, an individual may or may not get his or her pictures or information returned. Facebook policy states that whatever an individual uploads into this space becomes public domain. The individual no longer owns whatever he or she posts. Facebook will not protect an individual’s privacy even if the individual activates the privacy settings. The line in the rules of use indicating that the company reserves the right to change the settings at any time gives it an easy out.

One attendee launched Yammer, a micro blogging service similar to Twitter, in September 2008 within her own company. Yammer focuses on business activities exclusively and only individuals with the same e-mail domain can join a network or use a search and browsing function. The biggest struggle faced concerns attempting to get employees to adopt the new tool and stop using e-mail for collaboration. So far, the implementation remains unsuccessful. Senior management remains the driving force behind adoptions. Many employees do not want to learn anything new. Some of the company’s employees asked for a dashboard to help manage communication complexity.

One question came forward regarding discovery requirements associated with using this tool in the event of litigation. External documents outside of the network that are not easily accessible and do not fall into the e-discovery range. Currently, e-discovery is a huge and breaking issue largely focusing on e-mail; however, social media will certainly provide expansion. (There is an ITEE summary available about e-discovery on the CITe website. )

Social networking model introduced by professor

A question surfaced regarding internal and external uses and interactions regarding social networking. A model of four quadrants of social networking developed:

• Use for marketing
• Use for knowledge management
• Use for service internal
• Use for service external

Knowledge management in this understands stands for using social media to capture, store, and reuse knowledge. For example, the joint development of a wiki on best practices for facility designs would go in Quadrant 1. If such a wiki were to be by the external community of a business, it would fit in quadrant 2. A company that is twittering to an external audience is using Quadrant 3. A company that uses internal twitter feeds would be in Quadrant 4.

Twitter can be seen as enterprise-based social media. One example includes an enterprise with different sections of company twittering out but with workflow attached. In this case, a crossover exists between both internal and external quadrants. Radian 6 can filter external questions back internally to the HR department illustrating another crossover.

Best Buy uses twitter to answer customer questions. A question surfaced as to how Best Buy manages workflow around twitter? Assumptions included that Best Buy allows employees to trade off duties regarding monitoring Twitter in its stores around the country. In this situation, there is always an employee available to monitor the tool allowing instant feedback to the customer. This is another example of linking external communications internally to a workflow engine.

These assumptions caused one professor in the group to laugh and exclaim, “this is not as easy as 1,2,3,4” much to the chagrin of the professor proposing the model.

A new question surfaced asking if anyone used social media for collaboration oR knowledge management internally. One firm does use Twitter internally regarding R&D projects. This firm developed a tool on Twitter to accomplish this task. How is this different from instant messaging? Twitter is one too many and instant messaging is one to few. The Twitter value might be the mining potential similar to a wiki.

Turning Point: Can enterprises afford to allow social media use?

Midway through the meeting a participant asked for advice about how to stop employees from using social media in the workplace. This individual alleged that a loss of productivity traced to the use of these sites occurs and an intra-company struggle to prevent employee use happens daily. This created a wave of emotional and thoughtful responses causing the individual posing the question and concern to shrink back and proclaim that he was not anti-social!

Some of the responses to the question indicated that this issue is not a tool problem, rather a management problem. Further, proper management might actually improve productivity. Another participant suggested that the firm needs to view these tools as a way to get things done and cited a Linked-In example of an expert locator. The expert locator function enables Linked-In members to be located, enhancing problem solving capabilities. This is certainly easier than creating 300 blogs that sap productivity. One participant indicated that social media replaces blogs that in turn replaced bulletin boards. This evolution certainly elevates social media as a productivity enhancer.

Another attendee wondered if the firm that desires to ban social media such as Facebook and Twitter also wants to ban cell phones. In the not too distant future smart phones will outnumber computers and people will connect whether an employer wants them to or not. An employer cannot control all access capability. This participant asked whether this type of control promoted a “Fascist state” and further indicated that this type of control was not likely to occur.

It became quite clear that attitudes about managing employees’ use of social media changed during the course of the meeting. Attempting to ban social media is a poor and seemingly outdated approach. Rather, managing an employee’s utilization of social media to further productivity appears to be the sensible modern approach.

Critical Issue-Where are you?

One critical issue that will arise soon (if it has not done so already) entails the question of where the employee is physically during social media utilization. Is the employee under the corporate umbrella or the individual umbrella? The company is not legally involved if the employee downloads porn on a cell phone; however, it is a management issue if the employee downloads porn on a PC. The tools we use cross into a gray area between work and personal space.

Because of the inherent confusion regarding the gray area, employers need to adopt a comprehensive corporate policy regarding social media usage. Similar policies were developed after the onset of e-mail use many years ago. The problem is that companies do not yet know all the tools or how to handle them. Some thought the addition of social media to the policy as a generic term will cover all potential bases. They said: avoid mentioning specific tools within the policy because these tools will change quickly over time and then you risk the policy becoming outdated.

Value derives from content as opposed to the tool. It does not matter what tool; rather, what matters is the activity of communicating. The size of the network and technique involved is more important than the tool. Free speech vs. protecting a company’s PR initiatives might be the issue and it is similar to riding a fence.

Social networking is constantly changing or breaking down boundaries. A new communication model called the Google Wave might offer an entirely new opportunity to challenge existing boundaries. Google Wave is a single platform to enable collaboration by using managed threads. It is seen as what we would want email to be if we were inventing it now. Presently, we are feeling our way around half blind in this new world of communications. Certainly, a new paradigm is evolving and we can only wonder how the world might change.

Workflow changes over the past 20 years prove significant. Our first cell phones were given to us in the workplace with a user’s manual and rules. Now we bring the cell phones, computers, and the rules. Companies must define usage guidelines. A genuine concern arises if we place too many constraints on usage. Generation Y employees will possibly form grass roots networks and find ways around our excessively restrictive rules. Presently, we cannot keep up with the policies or the rules. Because technology changes quickly, we need to think differently and create creative spaces with guidelines of usage defined loosely.

Who really works a traditional 8-hour workweek these days? Most employees do work-related tasks at home. Since this is the case, certain personal business managed on company time is appropriate. After all, if a company restricts an employee’s usage of communication while on the job site, the employee is equally as liable to restrict work usage off site. Work can be performed anywhere in many cases and companies should reconsider the boundaries of the workspace and act accordingly. Regarding generation Y workers, the new boundaries might consist entirely on deadlines. What matters most is that work is completed on schedule rather than the location or time the work related tasks take place.

The good news: Positive examples of utilizing social media

The meeting changed direction abruptly as a participant suggested switching to positive examples of social networking. An example cited included an individual that successfully leveraged social media and created a unique brand image using informational postings and blogs. Developing tweets about brand name products that everyone reads encompasses tremendous value through added marketing opportunities. These opportunities certainly provide exceptional value for companies successfully adopting social media.
Development of a tweet involving the whereabouts of a marketing vehicle such as the Oscar Meyer Weiner mobile, provides customers an opportunity to tweet about their experiences viewing the vehicle. The drivers might tweet about previously visited locations and potential future visits. This ability certainly increases brand image among consumers.

An interesting story about a Cleveland Browns football game and a fan’s experience in the famous Dawg Pound ensued. It seems that if fans exhibit rowdy, boorish behavior, other fans can report the action to security instantly using a cell phone and possibly by twittering to the Brown’s security office. At this time, security officials arrive on the scene within minutes and take care of the situation, hauling off the offenders. This story brought roars of laughter from the group as everyone enjoyed the story and might have pictured the scene in their own imagination.

Another positive example involving many to many communications concerns the Starbucks company and its “my Starbucks idea” concept. Consumers can post product suggestions concerning items they want to purchase. Starbucks gains market intelligence. The concept drives individual stores’ opportunities to satisfy customers in a market segment and certainly drives overall value. This concept gives voice to the consumer and makes them feel very valuable and important to the company. This is opposed to the idea of a 800-phone number that does not provide a feeling that the consumer actually makes a personal connection to the firm. Twittering or blogging gives meaningful voice to the customer as an associate of the company at any level can respond.

Another company uses social media positively by enabling the sales force to reach out to subject matter experts within the company. This creates a non-linear learning environment. Using social media as a learning tool is a great knowledge management concept and allows easier extraction of knowledge from key people.

How does IT fit in?

Does IT manage both internal and external environments? Marketing is IT application driven. Many companies are not managing it at all. Rather, the company states that if an employee uses a tool that crashes a computer then it is up to the employee to fix the computer on their own. Many companies adopt a “do what you want at your own risk” policy.

IT needs to be embedded into business processes. Progressive companies integrate business, IT functions together, and the leaders establish roles each unit plays.

Generational and other business issues

Procuring buy-in from the top management remains critical to effective social media implementation. Allocating responsibilities in managing the new roles created by social media is currently uncertain and requires top management involvement. In addition, top management must understand what is happening regarding technology or they might miss an opportunity for implementation. For instance, if a manager does not understand how a new device or program will enable and enhance business, he or she may not allow implementation based on a lack of education. Rather than letting employees run with a new idea, managers may inhibit the new idea because they cannot provide financial justifications. Management must be committed to adoption or brand damage may result. Why do social media fall under so much scrutiny concerning ROI as compared to advertising?

Generation Y solves problems before they develop in many cases and the film DigiKnow 4.0 illustrates this phenomenon effectively. Many similarities and few differences exist between Baby Boomers and Generation Y. Older people often need a user’s manual to accompany new products like a Blackberry; however, younger people learn by doing. Regarding collaboration, one Professor reported research on one local firm that found few differences in attitudes between generations concerning collaboration. The longer an employee worked in that firm, the more likely that his or her attitudes about collaboration had converged with those of older cohorts. Regarding collaboration, Proctor and Gamble’s new products are developed in controlled collaborative environments, enhancing creative idea sharing.

One problem concerning business today is the possibility that young people may co-op into the corporate culture rather than changing it. If the younger generation changes the culture, they will need space. It remains possible that they will adapt to existing culture as opposed to changing it. We may give them space but it does not mean they will change. Companies cannot assume that because a young worker owns a Blackberry and has workspace that they will change.

Data Mining/Storage and Retrieval

One problem surfacing in the digital era concerns capturing data for storage. There appears to be a lack of best practices regarding this issue. What happens to old e-mail correspondences that may be useful down the road? In the old days, filing cabinets allowed simple storage and future retrieval. No documentation for new projects leads to a loss of productivity as people return to re-learn old things. This issue hampers many firms including NASA. Ferrari Automobiles can re-cast any engine it ever produced because the company stores all of its records and drawings, but this is considered to be an exceptional case.
Is tagging a way to identify records? NO, there is too much deviation and no consistency of what to tag. This practice might become a red herring. Google Wave may provide a future solution, only time will tell. Another interesting question came forward about YouTube video. Do these videos ever disappear? What happens to old videos? Do they just fall off mysteriously?
There is so much useless information and mining the stuff you need is hard. Google Wave might become the game changer. This technology encompasses the potential to become the next Wiki allowing everyone to make continuous updates. The knowledge base continues to evolve perpetually. Storage is becoming cheaper and cheaper and the limiting factor becomes access issues. Not being able to access fast enough and reliably enough is the primary concern. When to purge data is another pressing issue.

Other points of interest

Litigation or tort reform might play a critical role in the future as personal accountability and responsibility move to the forefront. Protecting companies from frivolous lawsuits in this crazy culture becomes paramount. There is no sense in holding a company responsible if an employee posts something inappropriate on a social media website. Responsibility should rest with the individual in these cases. Why not change the current legal environment?

Another point of interest included how the University of Akron utilized social media. The professors answered that this might be a bad question because many professors in the university are technology challenged and in some cases still use overhead projectors. However, the university does have Facebook and Twitter accounts. A professor told an interesting story about how one of his Facebook friends planned on going on a European vacation. This friend, an adjunct professor, and his vacation overlapped a course that he was scheduled to teach. The department chair had no idea the individual planned to be out of town. In this case, the professor spoke with the chair and contingency plans developed. Facebook saved the day! In another case, during the recent study abroad trip to India, students blogged about individual experiences and this enabled faculty members here at the university to monitor the progress of the trip.

Conclusion: Social Media is Elusive

No one in the room really talked much about current adoptions or applications. It appears that we are all at the forefront of this emerging phenomenon, trying to wrap our collective arms around this trend, grasping at opportunities to leverage social media. The group is still searching for the buried treasure map leading to utopia. For the time being, the green pastures remain obscured by clouds of mystery.