The new social media divide

Not only are businesses generally lagging behind their customers when it comes to engaging with social media but they are also lagging behind their own staff.

It is astonishing how many companies prevent their staff from engaging online at work. I heard a story recently that some staff cannot even use gmail!

Does this affect staff? In some senses, it does not because they have smartphones which enable them to do everything in the palm of their hand. So they can instant message, text, chat, use skype, surf the web, get their twitter updates, update facebook, read blogs etc on their own terms. Their IT is more sophisticated, modern, flexible than the company’s internal IT.

However this disconnect underlines how an informal social means of communications is arising in companies that is not being reflected in the standard means of communications. There is a huge disconnect between what internal IT systems are generally offering and how staff are using their own IT in the palm of their hands.

Essentially internal IT systems are rapidly becoming culturally irrelevant with the effect that they are not engaging or helping staff in the way that they could.

A lot of CEOs and the board are sympathetic to social media. However they have not all grasped the fact that it is challenging deeply held norms about controlling the flow of information between individuals and across organizational boundaries. The introduction of social media in the enterprise is not just a piece of software, it will change the way business is done. Applications for sharing and commenting on photos and videos internally, and internal microblogging etc will change the internal culture dramatically.

One of the reasons why enlightened companies are challenging their internal IT legacy systems is because when they are doing their work they struggle to find people within their organisation who know what they are talking about. They don’t know which document to read and where it can be found. It is only when social spaces like forums, blogs and wikis are introduced that highly contextual, and complex patterns of information can start to easily surface and be found.

Social media in the enterprise is valuable not because it connects people with information but because it connects people with other people who possess information.

Companies who are challenging their internal IT based methods of communications and making them more ‘social’ report that the tools immensely improve their ability to interact with people that they would never have met otherwise.

Social media tools in the enterprise can help considerably in exposing new information and new projects and bring new thought leaders to the forefront. People who would never have been visible before have a voice.

In many cases, people struggle within companies  to find anything digitally, and instead are dependent on finding an email or phone number.

The next generation are immersed in the sharing, cooperative online culture. They will not join companies who do not share this culture, as it will not enable them to naturally express themselves, and they will not be able to be as productive as they could be. You cannot hire digitally savvy individuals – and let’s face it, we are all becoming more digitally savvy – and expect to stick them in a cubicle like Dilbert, with no access to the kinds of tools they are used to using.

It is time for the old methods of internal communication to be ripped up. The firewalls need to come tumbling down. The gap between how people are using the web in their personal lives and their work life needs to be bridged. There is a risk that internal IT communications systems will fossilise companies preventing them from being dynamic, and as productive and as transparent as they could be if they embraced new social media tools internally.

I also think that companies who embrace social media tools internally are going to be better at embracing social media tools externally. If their internal culture is more open and sharing then it will be easier for them to be more open and sharing externally with their customers.

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