“It’s cool, but is it work?”
That was the question of the day last week when I visited one of Socialtext’s newer customers, Oxford University Press. We’re deploying to all 4,500 employees, and they’re a wonderful client: intelligent, committed, and keenly aware of both the threats and the opportunities that social media present to the publishing industry. I went to OUP’s New York office to lead a Lunch-and-Learn to help OUP staff understand how Socialtext can fit into–and improve–the way they work.
When I started talking about Socialtext’s microblogging capability, one of the participants interrupted to ask: “When I microblog on Socialtext…am I working or not?”
It’s the elephant in the room–not just for enterprise microblogging, but for enterprise social media in general. There’s lots of buzz about Twitter-like tools inside the enterprise. There’s also a lot of skepticism about that buzz.
The answer, of course, depends on what you’re microblogging and with whom. Like other social media, Socialtext is a vehicle for communication and interaction. So the question “When I microblog, am I working or not?” is a little bit like asking “When I talk on the phone, am I working or not?”. It all depends on what you’re saying, and to whom.
I find that most of my clients get started by microblogging about, well, microblogging itself. The medium is the message. But as a user becomes more comfortable, the message becomes, well, the message. It’s not unusual to see a progression like this as a new user finds her way into microblogging:
“Is this thing on?”
“We’ll use microblogging to share information.”
“Wow, I’m microblogging. Cool!”
“There are oatmeal cookies in the 10th floor kitchen. Come and get ‘em!”
“Does anyone have an electronic version of the slides from last week’s Sales kickoff?”
There’s a natural progression implicit in that series of posts, from testing to socializing to getting work done. Some users complete the progression, others do not. A couple weeks after launch, it’s not uncommon to see a separation between members of an organization who lead the way, and their colleagues who form the rest of the pack. Sometimes there’s a decrease in the volume of activity, accompanied by a marked increase in quality. By quality I mean that
- Posts are related to work; and
- It’s clear that someone (the author and/or audience) could get value from the posts; and
- They’re not the kind of thing that could be just as effectively communicated via email.
Here’s a little test you can run. If you have a microblogging platform, search for the term “anyone”. You’ll find that it usually shows up in cases of exception-handling. These are cases which fall somewhere outside the organization’s standard resources and processes. Almost by definition they are relatively uncommon, but they can suck up an enormous amount of time because the organization isn’t set up to deal with them. A post with the word “Anyone” in it is usually asking for information or help, in an attempt to address one of these exceptional needs.
Oxford University Press let us have a peek at their data, and here are some of the results we got when we searched on “anyone” (reprinted with OUP’s permission):
“Does anyone speak Turkish and would be willing to review a translation for us?”
“Has anyone here in the UK got a copy of last Saturday’s Telegraph magazine?”
“Does anyone know when (Publication) official launch date is?
“Does anyone here work on (Journal Title). Stock has mysteriously arrived in the journals distribution centre”
“It’s time to learn more about web usability. Can anyone recommend any training courses, books, or websites/blogs?”
That certainly looks like work to me.