You Can’t Separate the ‘Social’ from Social Media

This post originally appeared in Federal Computer Week on Feb. 17, 2010.

With all the media coverage of internal, behind-the-firewall social — excuse me, professional — networking platforms, such as NASA’s Spacebook, the Defense Department’s milBook and even my company’s internal tool, one might think we’re in the midst of fundamentally changing the way we work. In reality, the concept of social networking has long been a core component of doing business, and the new technologies are simply enhancing the way human beings in large organizations have always worked.

Think about it: When you have a computer problem, is your first call always to the help desk? Or are you more likely to send an instant message to your friend down the hall who happens to be good with computers? Do your colleagues know when your birthday is or what your favorite football team is?

Whether they’re called networking lunches, team happy hours or all-hands meetings, the underlying purpose of such activities might be work related, but the primary goal is to create and strengthen relationships.

Despite what we might tell senior managers, people who work together don’t just talk about the work they do. Sure, that constitutes the bulk of the conversations, but people also talk about the game last night, share war stories about their kids, or complain about having to work late or the parking situation at the office.

All those interactions build up over time, eventually creating trusted relationships among people who work closely together and often leading to more effective collaboration. Social networking platforms just allow us to extend those relationships to more people than ever before. The sooner managers realize that, the sooner they will recognize the benefits that such tools can provide.

If you’re considering deploying such tools internally, here are three tactics that can increase adoption, user contributions and collaboration.

  1. Encourage social activities. Managers are often reluctant to allow blogs about nonwork-related topics yet they encourage employees to join the company softball team as a way to network with others. A certain amount of nonwork-related content allows people to be themselves and encourages stronger bonds. It helps create common ground from which a work relationship can start.
  2. Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. Get people to upload photos of themselves to their online profiles. Colleagues want to know that they’re speaking to another human being with a personality, not just a name on an org chart.
  3. Give an ego boost. Allow people to enhance their status within the community by featuring their blogs on the home page or giving top contributors a special badge to post on their pages. A reputation management system gives people an incentive to participate and a reward for doing so.

Whether it happens online or at a team lunch, social networking has always been and will continue to be a vital part of any organization. Some are simply using technology to do it more efficiently.

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Along the same lines, I encourage people to allow discussions on these topics internally as well. In real life, the water cooler is talking about last night’s 24 episode or American Idol or the Redskins. Let some of that happen online as well. Because guess what happens we’ll move from talking about 24 to discussing the project we are working on together.


I like this Steve. I attended the latest OGD workshop yesterday and there was alot of talk about internal vs. external networks and practicing what you preach. I think you’re spot-on in terms of encouraging internal employee social networks with both online and offline activities. Many of the folks collaborating yesterday spoke about how many government agencies will continue to be reluctant to approve large social media experiments until they realize the impact internally.

Steve Radick

@GovLoop – that’s what I always tell my clients. Internal “fun” blogs are social media gateway drugs. Get them using it for things they’re comfortable with and it will be A LOT easier to show them the application to their day-to-day work.

Steve Radick

@Matt – thanks so much. Collaboration for work’s sake is great, and is our ultimate goal, but to pretend that there’s no place for talk about things other than work is at best naive, and at worst, counter-productive to your collaboration goals.