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7 Business Tasks That Don't Work On Social

Some business tasks are best handled outside the social platform, at least for now. Personnel issues are a special minefield.

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One of the biggest challenges companies face when implementing internal social networks is getting employees to actually use them. Organizations typically have to spend significant time and resources convincing users to, say, move conversations from email to the social platform. But are companies pushing too hard and too soon? Are there some business functions and tasks that are best kept out of the social realm -- at least for now?

The BrainYard asked experts in the IT, social media and workplace spaces for their take. They offered these seven things social business platforms are not good for.

1. Expert-less discussions

In the early days of a company's business social network implementation, users spend time getting to know the system, especially if they are not big users of, say, Facebook and Twitter and aren't accustomed to social media practices. So people may be on the system intermittently at first, or maybe not at all. And even once a system has been in use for some time, there may be users who, for whatever reason, don't engage. It's important to know who's active and who's not before you decide to focus a critical business discussion or collaboration on the platform.

"As a community matures and people look to online social networks for business collaboration, more can be done with a robust engaged community," said Ari Lightman, professor at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the CIO Institute there. "In the early days of maturity, that might not be the case, and there could be hesitation and even resentment if expectations are not delivered or communicated properly. For example, if you are trying to research a manufacturing process and none of the experts is online and using social collaboration, it might be a waste of time."

[ Meaningful change takes time, and social platform implementation is no exception. Read Social Enterprise 2013: Opportunities And Obstacles. ]

2. Faux CEOs

It's quite common for "very important people" to have others post on their behalf on public networks such as Facebook and Twitter. That practice may be OK -- and even expected -- on external public networks, but it doesn't work internally, according to Michael Idinopulos, chief customer officer at social business collaboration platform Socialtext. "Employees can tell when the CEO isn't the one posting. Really, they can."

3. Brainstorms

While there is a place for wide scale public brainstorming on social networks, organizations need to do some picking and choosing of what is discussed, which users will be doing the discussing and when they do it. "I can imagine there are times when you do not want to vet your ideas to a large group," said Lightman. "Oftentimes, ideas need to be well thought out, constructed and researched prior to dissemination to a social group."

4. 'Company-pedias'

Building company versions of Wikipedia -- "company-pedias," as Socialtext's Idinopulos calls them -- is not worth the trouble. "Inspired by Wikipedia, lots of companies try to build their own knowledge encyclopedias," Idinopulos said. "Almost all have failed. It turns out, nobody really wants to build an encyclopedia -- or read one, for that matter. "

5. Worksourcing

You could argue that Tom Sawyer used crowdsourcing to get Aunt Polly's fence whitewashed. ("Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?") But don't try this on business social networks, even with the best of intentions, advised Lightman. "[It is not] advantageous to try and crowdsource your work," he said. "Let's face it: There are tasks employees need to do themselves, and they can't outsource responsibilities to others." Lightman noted, however, that there is certainly a place for social input, advice and previous examples.

6. Reprimands

Business social networks are great platforms for motivating employees, but they are not the place for dressings down. "Sometimes on social business platforms you will see an administrator or manager post a frustrated comment about something the staff is doing, such as not turning in reports on time," said Jason Duncan, president of ManagerComplete, a cloud-based application that helps organizations manage multiple locations. "This negative comment, in turn, is then seen by either all or part of the organization, and the impact of this negative comment ripples through the organization. So any feedback posted by upper management needs to be carefully considered. It's easy to catch and comment on people doing something wrong. The key is to catch and comment on people doing something right. Or at least word your response in a positive way."

7. Personnel Issues

Amanda Haddaway, author of Destination Real World: Success After Graduation (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011), agrees that reprimands are best left to more private channels. Indeed, she said, the face-to-face channel is best for anything personnel-related. "Tools like Yammer are great for internal collaboration, but there are certain topics that are best reserved for good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation," said Haddaway. "A few topics come to mind -- performance issues, confidential topics related to salary discussions and anything that pertains to someone being terminated. These are all sensitive issues and best dealt with in person."

What business functions are and are not working on your own company's internal social network? Do you disagree with any that we have listed here? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

Tech spending is looking up, but IT must focus more on customers and less on internal systems. Also in the all-digital Outlook 2013 issue of InformationWeek: Five painless rules for encryption. (Free registration required.)

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Jenn Kramer
Jenn Kramer,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 4:20:23 PM
re: 7 Business Tasks That Don't Work On Social
Hi Debra,

I agree with several of your points, and certainly going social just to be social is absurd as an enterprise; culture, goals and needs of an organization should drive the exploration for technology tools to support its cause. That said, I am sorry to see brainstorming and wikis framed as "business tasks that don't work on social." The culture of an organization may or may not foster openness with the sharing of absurd, not-fully-thought-out ideas which are often necessary in a true brainstorm, but that's not a social technology failure. When trust and openness are there, brainstorms can happen very effectively online. Similarly, I have seen the creation of wikis, when populated with information that employees often seek from each other, greatly reduce the time demands on key knowledge holders and help integrate information across the enterprise.

Many assert that organizational culture is what makes or breaks an enterprise, and it bears repeating. The enterprise social network is simply a tool. In the right hands and with the right aim, it can be highly effective in supporting creative, collaborative and innovative endeavors.
Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/10/2013 | 9:49:16 PM
re: 7 Business Tasks That Don't Work On Social
Thank you for the comment, Alex. I believe that social networking tools can be very powerful in corporate settings, but I think quite often it's that "when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail" kind of thing. It's funny because I have talked to some people who say that enterprise business social needs to be organic--get it in and see what users want to do with it. Others, meanwhile, say that you have to have very specific goals and purposes for internal social networking tools, or they will just languish while people use what they are comfortable with. The idea for this story came from those discussions, as well as from hearing talk about companies having trouble moving their users from email to the internal social net.

Thanks again for reading!

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
Alex Raymond
Alex Raymond,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/10/2013 | 4:22:26 PM
re: 7 Business Tasks That Don't Work On Social
Hi Debra,

Great post and I'm glad to see you bucking the hyper-social wave! I completely agree that social is overblown in many business settings and that the rush to social is compromising privacy and integrity in many organizations. It's also creating way too much noise and information overload.

I prefer to think in terms of collaboration and transparency, and having those drive business. Social really is a tool, not an end.

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