Social Media Mimicry in the Workplace

Let‘s face it: the social media that many enterprises hail also pose big problems. Employee use of the Internet–particularly social networks–is a big timewaster. A new Nielsen study found that Americans spend 23% of their online time on social networks, with an increasing amount of that browsing time spend spent on mobile apps. Like the sarcastic Captain Renault in Casablanca, we’re shocked, shocked that a good deal of this browsing time is likely spent during work hours.

Much blog traffic (and some blogging itself!) comes from people browsing during work hours, sapping productivity. The web’s endless amount of lolcats, memes, and demotivational posters aren’t all the products of the stereotyped 12-year olds or basement-dwellers of the popular imagination. Unfortunately, participation in social networks doesn’t just drain employee productivity but also exposes enterprises to malware. Many companies ban Facebook and Twitter to try to stop their employees from using it on the job. A third of British companies, for example, ban social media completely. Others have tried to regulate the time employees spend. Some also believe that banning Facebook would be like “banning the telephone”–a futile and counterproductive endeavor. While this problem is in some ways as old as the Internet and personal computers (anyone complaining about Farmville doesn’t remember MineSweeper), it is also not going away. So how have enterprises dealt with this over the last decade?

Many firms and government organizations have reacted to social media by trying to mimic it within the workplace, not only creating a better means of collaborating but also drawing employees into a ecosystem that shares prominent features of the networks they use for pleasure. Reacting to a slew of popular books and ideas about the wisdom of crowds and the wealth-creating power of networks, these organizations have set up internal wikis, blogs, and social networks. Within the Intelligence Community (IC), Intelink features blogging, a wiki called Intellipedia, and other features of social media.

As Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales notes, company wikis are widespread–although not all are really useful. The idea that workflow should revolve around collaboration is now mundane rather than revolutionary. Management consultant Ori Brafman, author of the Starfish and the Spider, counts the Army among his many fans. The problem lies in gauging the sincerity of networked approaches. Despite many years of social media and much public enthusiasm over crowds and networks, it is unclear whether or not social media use in the workplace is leading to greater collaboration or simply putting a futuristic sheen on institutions that fundamentally still reflect the influence of Taylorism.

Of course, one problem with social media as it currently exists is the lack of user centralization. Keeping track of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, RSS, Google+, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Friendfeed, and other networks simultaneously requires software solutions. Some applications, most notably the expanded suite of desktop software like TweetDeck or Seesmic Deksptop (two of my favorites) allow you to receive and post content to many different social media accounts at once. But is there anything like this for the workplace?

One collaboration tool in an increasingly crowded market that CTOVision will take a look at in the future is Jive Software’s suite of business collaboration and social software tools. Jive’s collaboration suite creates a unified stream of collaboration applications that much resembles the best features Facebook, Twitter, and even iTunes. It filters to emphasize the most important updates based on rich social information such as favored keywords, use frequency, degree of connection to the poster, and similarity to other things you like. Streams can be “tuned” using like, dislike, and hide buttons. Many features, such as @mentioning, announcements, direct messages, and private threads, are centralized in one place. The task list tracks your other activity, interfaces with apps, and a recommended tab based on commercial “genius” features brings you content that you find valuable. We’ll have more in-depth blogs on this later, but we’re definitely looking forward to taking a look.

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