Serious social media

Social media – an essential part of any communications strategy or a complete distraction? Well, I’ve had a Facebook account since 2007, built two WordPress blog sites  and sent over 600 tweets, so although late to the party perhaps,  I’m not exactly a social media refusenik. But I have been sceptical about its role in business and work life.

Last week (24-28 September) was Social Media Week – what better opportunity to see how these new channels are being used? SMW is international, this year it took place in Barcelona, Berlin, Bogotá, Chicago, Glasgow, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Torino and Vancouver.

The rationale is simple: “Social Media Week is a worldwide event exploring the social, cultural and economic impact of social media. Our mission is to help people and organizations connect through collaboration, learning and the sharing of ideas and information.”

The brains behind SMW belong to Crowdcentric, a New York-based strategy firm that “works at the intersection between media, communications and technology.” Of course there’s something of a paradox here. It seems to require physical events to achieve the engagement, critical mass and most likely sponsorship necessary for SMW to work.

The week had 36,000 attendees at 1,050 events in 493 locations. A further 150,000 joined online. There were over 175 sessions in London last week, covering topics as diverse as customer service, local government, legal risks, sales, environment and investment. Many of the discussions and resources live on – go to http://socialmediaweek.org for more information.

I signed up for three sessions, helping to take the percentage of those aged over 50 to 5% of all SMW attendees!

What did I learn? That there is huge potential to use social media in business, including managing property, facilities, workspace and services. However, the answer is not always the usual triumvirate of Facebook, Linked In and Twitter.

Unilever hosted a great session on employee engagement. Rather than asking staff to fill in yet another standard online survey, researchers came up with an app that uses 3D data visualisation to show you where your views sit in relation to others (which of course might affect your responses). It makes it easier to see where the weight of opinion lies and to reach decisions.

Other projects and experiments covered organisational network analysis, recruitment and agile working. The case studies produced four critical success factors for internal use of social media:

  • Leadership – endorsed and engaged
  • Freedom of expression
  • One space
  • Relevant

What also became apparent at the week’s sessions is that communication in the workplace is becoming “democratised”. Like information technology, it is no longer the domain of specialists. That doesn’t mean anyone can do it well but if your organisation isn’t providing the infrastructure for effective communications, don’t be surprised if people start doing it for themselves.