Systems and humanity …

I was being shown a really impressive KM site yesterday on our intranet that one of our professional communities has set up with a view to rolling it out as a template for other professional communities across the business. They’d really given it a huge amount of thought and put a lot of effort into it. The problem is no one was using it and they wanted advice on how to increase adoption. I just had this niggling feeling which I couldn’t articulate very well at first around the fact that the site seemed to lack ‘humanity’.

My inability to articulate exactly what I meant by ‘humanity’ made me feel a bit stupid as the professional community director, who was showing me the site, is a really switched-on, business-focused, value-driven, hat-full-of-MBAs, high-flier kind of guy who, no doubt, I’ll end up working for one day! However, I persisted.

The problem is, you can tell people they are part of a business community (based on skills, experience, projects etc.) and provide excellent tools to support them in their community activities, but unless they feel they belong in some way, they won’t participate. For me, community is fundamentally about a sense of belonging. That sense can be very strong in close-nit communities (families; neighbourhoods etc.) or more subtle (Facebook groups; Yahoo groups etc.) but it has to be there as the invisible force that holds it together.

I eventually managed to explain what I felt was missing in a way that made some sense. While you can’t create ‘belonging’ via a system alone, you can ‘humanise’ your systems to help that feeling grow. Use photos rather than just names (photos that the users have chosen themselves); embed snippets of user-generated content onto otherwise ‘dry’ pages (such as Tweets and status updates); recognise most prolific or valued contributors in each area … but, the main thing for me, is to ensure that the people who create stuff, or contribute stuff, are linked to what they create and are properly recognised by their peers for their contributions. And, that every community member can see the entirety of both there own contributions and those of others (a kind of Friendfeed) … in other words, there own personal brand.

What’s the difference between business and social content?

None … no, really! If you deploy social media tools in an enterprise setting (i.e. as business tools), then ALL the content within them is business content … including stuff about cars, cats and football. It has to be governed as business content and the business value has to be recognised.

I mentioned in my one-but-last-post about social media tools being symbolic permission to be fully yourself in a work context – with personality, opinions, flaws etc. Being a fully-rounded person all day everyday – rather than just outside of work – allows us to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships at work and provides a powerful mechanism to connect us together with people from the other side of the globe – or the other side of the partition – with whom we have no existing relationship.

So what of the dangers of employees ‘time-wasting’ publishing so-called social content instead of ‘working’? Firstly, the workplace is already full of ways to waste time … time-wasters will waste time with or without collaborative tools; secondly, that’s what we have performance management systems for – to ensure employees are performing in line with an organisation’s expectations; and finally, line management is supposed to be about managing people and tasks … how many more safeguards do you need??

Companies are just groups of people; people are sociable and thrive in sociable spaces; social spaces are attractive, welcoming places where people can create, relate and innovate … so, lets lose our hang-ups about ‘social’ content and recognise it for what it really is … here endeth the lesson! 🙂

Depressed and disconnected (2) …

One of the objectives of developing suburbs around towns was to get people to buy more stuff. Unfortunately, it worked rather too well. While I wouldn’t wish to blame suburbs entirely for the break down of community, they did help release the brakes on the juggernaut of conspicuous consumption which is used by many people today to fill the emotional voids they find around them. Apparently, 25% of Americans say they don’t have anyone to confide in.

Following on from my earlier post about being Depressed and disconnected, I was wondering if the explosion of social networks will help to reconnect people and build sustainable communities or whether the popularity of social networks is just another example of conspicuous consumption. Take Facebook for example. What motivates someone to join dozens of groups, add dozens of applications to their profiles and have lists of ‘friends’ running into the hundreds? Is it a desire to be connected or just more conspicuous consumption? How does it feel to land on a profile page that is 3 ft long? Does it feel good … do you want to be the person’s friend … does it make you feel envious and/or inadequate?

It is well understood that happy lives are full of human interaction … does social network activity constitute ‘human interaction’ … does having an active Facebook profile make you a happier person?

As an aside, since we’ve set up a world that ‘feeds’ itself emotionally by buying stuff, how can we expect to control global warming – the byproduct of that feeding frenzy – without first filling the emotional voids in our lives with something more nourishing than consumer goods? Surely we can’t fix the environmental ecology without fixing the social ecology too.