Balancing Tradeoffs in Social Media

Being good at social media is as much about culture as it is about having the right tools.

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Social Business

Social business research and more recent thought leadership explore the challenges and opportunities presented by social media.
More in this series

This post is part 5 in a 5-part series focusing on the potential impact of social media within the enterprise. Part 1 dealt with a framework for understanding how social media supports relationships and content in ways that both enable and constrain employees. Part 2 addressed the multiple types of relationships that social media supports, compared to earlier generations of collaboration tools. Part 3 focused on the implications of presenting and protecting content on organizational collaboration. Part 4 focused on how the features of enterprise social media can allow employees to network in new ways that can influence their performance. This series is based on an article published in Vol 14, No 1 (2015) of MIS Quarterly Executive.

Successfully implementing social media tools in the enterprise is by no means a guarantee for successful business or productivity outcomes. I’ve studied companies that have significantly improved productivity and collaboration using social media for internal communication and collaboration — and others that have seen no effect or even a negative effect on performance.

Successful enterprise social media use has less to do with the tools themselves as it does with the climate that the company cultivates. Cultivating the right climate requires managers to balance a number of tradeoffs through carefully crafted social media policies, adapt characteristics of existing organizational culture, and model effective social media practices for their employees.

Am I suggesting that executives should be using social media themselves? Definitely. If your executives are currently using digital tools for communication (i.e., email), then they too should begin using social media as well. It is important for managers to understand first-hand the strengths and weaknesses of these tools if employees are going to use them. These executives may also find that their influence and effectiveness as a manager increases as a result the increased communication capabilities enabled by these tools.

It’s understandable, though, that managers may wonder what they’re getting themselves into. Few changes can be accomplished without accepting certain tradeoffs. Let’s have a look at what those tradeoffs might be.

Exploration vs. Exploitation

The first tradeoff is between what Stanford Professor James G. March called exploration and exploitation.


Social Business

Social business research and more recent thought leadership explore the challenges and opportunities presented by social media.
More in this series

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Comments (2)
Michael Elling
Siloed information is a fail.  But completely open information is also a recipe for disaster.  It's important to empower all individuals within an organization (inwards and outwards) and make them feel like they have knowledge equity in the organization.  Knowledge equity is created by contributing, consuming and conveying information.  The end goal is stimulation of new ideas and optimization of existing processes.  Companies (and the individuals in and around them) need to wake up every day and confront new realities.  No company can afford to stand still or allow siloed information sets to ossify.  Producing an informational framework based on 3 axis-- product, market and organizational layer--is the first step to realizing an open but controlled knowledge management strategy.
Andrea Learned
As ever, this research is fantastic back up for the business case for social media, but how do we get past preaching to the small but mighty B2B  social media choir?  It is SO obvious...  that there is a "clear and compelling reason to believe that social media will completely change the way communication and collaboration occur within the enterprise." Yet, I think the problem is that leaders of orgs feel like they are uniquely "busy".. or that their leadership demands a degree of separation from various stakeholders, or that, as you mention, the legal/risks of this sort of sharing are too high.  

The truth is that nothing should stop a leader from exploring their path/whichever network appeals, so they can then take those small steps, however long it takes to just get comfortable practicing it. Any leader I know who is now "on" but may have hesitated initially (there are quite a few actively engaged Twitter users in the sustainability leadership realm, for example, who had this experience) - would admit that it is a lot more about listening/learning. The worries about what and how you share from a legal perspective or how often you are just sitting there monitoring are really much less. The key - just dial in and use it authentically.  People will respond/honor your approach.

Thanks so much for your continuing research on this front, Gerald!