Spring 2010 course: Social Media in the Workplace

Here is info about one of the courses I’m teaching in the Spring semester. The other one is Qualitative Research Methods for Technology Studies, TECH 621.

CGT 581: Social Media in the Workplace

Social media such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, wikis, and podcasts are radically changing several aspects of contemporary culture and society. But what happens when social media is brought inside organizations?

How does it affect productivity, collaboration, organizational structure and organizational culture?

Should social media be used within organizations, and if so, what are best practices?

In this course, we examine the use of social media in the workplace and conduct original research projects in order to derive conclusions about the optimal use of social media within organizations.

Students will learn how to:

1. Identify the best Web 2.0 tool fit for any specific task
2. Implement best practices for the use of social media in the workplace
3. Coordinate large group collaboration using social media
4. Make recommendations for social media use in specific organizational situations
5. Plan, implement, and assess social media adoption in the enterprise
6. Consider the interaction of social media and organizational culture
7. Identify the skills needed of leaders in the social media workplace
8. Implement leadership 2.0 skills

Coming up: Total chaos?

In one of my previous posts I tried to explain how one’s sense of self emerges through interaction with other people.

The direct consequence of this dynamic is the idea of the relational self:

The relational self is the self in relationships. We are different selves to different (groups of) people.

This is not wrong, dishonest, or flip-flopping. It is not schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. It is healthy adaptation, both from a psychological and communication point of view. It may even be social intelligence.

Some groups are more important to us and our identity than others: They have more of an impact on who we are, because they are more important to us (significant others). We call those reference groups.

Depending on the groups with whom we interact and on context, social psychologists claim that we have situation prototypes, relational schemas – or, simply put, scripts for proper interaction in common situations.

For example, we have the script for proper interaction at a restaurant with friends, at a restaurant with clients, at a restaurant on a first date, etc.

These scripts (social norms) guide our social interactions. Not only do they help us figure out what is the appropriate thing to say in a given situation, they also help us anticipate an outcome of communication (if I say this, then… ) and, most importantly, they help us interpret the meaning of messages.

The same thing, said by someone else, in a different context, means something else – aka meaning is context-dependent.

So, hold on, this argument is taking you somewhere. Are you with me? Let’s sum it up: The relational self depends on social groups, communication scripts depend on social groups and contexts, meaning depends on social groups and contexts.

Integration of different social networking platforms (Facebook with Twitter with LinkedIn with … peanut butter,  with chocolate, with mamaliga with vegemite) mixes up social groups and social contexts and therefore, messes up meaning.

Yes, it may be easy to cross-post from Twitter to Facebook and LinkedIn, and in some situations, it may even make sense. But, don’t be fooled. Just because it’s easy and it can be done, it may not be a good idea to do it.

Keep in mind that the meaning of your tweet depends on:

  • your relational self – who you are in relation to the people you’re interacting with (if they’re different on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, you and the meaning of your words are different, too)
  • social context – and the types of conversations appropriate in each context
  • social group – and your relationships with each group.

So, we have to be careful here and maybe NOT take advantage of all the technology has to offer. The result may very well be misunderstanding, miscommunication, frustration, and, to quote Adrian Chan, total chaos.

How do you learn social media social norms?

[cross-posted to my teaching blog]

Most of our social interactions are governed by scripts and rules that we internalize and apply when appropriate. For example, we all have the scripts of “first date,” “job interview,” and, possibly, “the talk.”

How do we pick up the social norms for these scripts? How do we learn what type of communicative behavior is appropriate in certain situations? By observing, from movies and TV, from stories people tell, maybe even from etiquette books and columns.

Usually, it takes time for these scripts to emerge, and it takes time to learn them.

In social media, it seems to me, these social norms for appropriate communicative behavior emerge much faster, and are picked up much faster. Twitter lists have barely launched, and we already have some norms, and “best practices” about using them.

Twitter and LinkedIn just announced their integration, which means we’ll soon have social norms for appropriate behavior there, too. In fact, barely 24 hours later, there are articles with Do’s and Don’ts about it.

So, I have two questions for you:

  1. How are social media social norms created? Do they emerge organically, as we communicate with social media? Are they spelled out so quickly by “opinion leaders” that behavior is shaped by them so quickly that we don’t have time to experiment and figure them out?
  2. How do you learn social media norms? From blog posts/articles? By seeing behavior be reprimanded? By watching others and doing what they do? By being exposed to rants about unacceptable behaviors?

Building relationships part 3

This is a post in a series about building relationships online. Previous posts:

1. Building relationships part 1 – bridging and bonding social capital

2. Building relationships part 2 – drawing on Dale Carnegie to build relationships on Twitter

In this post, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite communication theories (and if I say that about almost any communication theory, I mean it):  symbolic interactionism.

I won’t explain the entire theory here, just say that it is a theory about how meaning comes about: through social interaction (communication). One of the meanings that emerges through social interaction is the sense of self. We acquire a sense of self, of who we are and what we are like, through interacting with others. One of the ways in which this happens is that we see ourselves in others as if reflected in a mirror. We grow to believe what we see in those mirrors.

That explains why, when faced with people who believe we’re stupid, we second-guess ourselves, we become stupid. When around people who believe in us, we raise up to those expectations. It explains the influence parents have on us – they are the mirrors we see ourselves in when we’re little and fragile, and those mirrors influence who we become (reason 65,492 why I’m scared to become a parent). It explains Theory X and theory Y in management and education.

Of course, there are several factors that come into play, and we can’t entirely hold others accountable for who we are. But to a large extent, who we are depends on our history of human interaction, according to symbolic interactionism.

We seek people in whose mirrors we see images of us we like  – as we should.

So now, let me turn this around, and apply it to building relationships online. You are a mirror. You reflect others’ images back to them. How do people see themselves in your mirror?

Ask yourself – what must this person think I think about them? Who do they think I think they are? How do they see themselves in the mirror that I am?

Your attitude and beliefs about people, as manifested in your communication, form this mirror.  Do you show the best in people, or are you  the kind of mirror that emphasizes the weaknesses, the negatives?

One way of building relationships (online and off) is being the kind of mirror people seek to look into, because they like what they see, or because they’re amused, or because it helps them grow – or just because, it makes them feel good.

So, remember, how you see people is often how they come to see themselves – especially if they’re young and fragile.

Being quite a critical spirit myself, I struggle with the burden of the practical implications of this theory.

There are implications for personal relationships, but also for management, education, PR, marketing, advertising, Web usability, to name a few.

What sense do you make of this?