Does Social Software Have Fangs?

For those of us for those of us comfortable with blogs, wikis and forums, the collaborative benefits of social software are clear. Why then do most businesses still rely on email more than anything? Social software expert Suw Charman has presented her views on why corporate adoption rates for social software tools still lag behind email in this great presentation.

Stephanie Booth has summarized the salient points on what keeps people from diving into the social software pool:

Low-level fear of social humiliation. How are they going to come across to their peers and bosses? Fear of making mistake. People don’t realise they’re afraid, they just feel a bit uncomfortable talking /publicly/ to their collegues. E-mail is different because it feels private, it’s 1-1 communication. You’re not exposing yourself as much. People become “shy” when you give them a very public place to work.

Also, some people aren’t comfortable in writing. Some are better talkers than writers, and are not comfortable writing in a semi-formal environment. E-mail is more informal. Blogs and wikis are perceived as requiring a higher level of writing skill. Again, people don’t admit to this.

This doesn’t happen in very open organisations, but often if permission isn’t explicitly given to use such tools, that will really get in the way. “Blogs as diaries”, etc — psychological mismatch. What the boss /thinks/ blogs are, and what they are used for in business.

Trust in the tool. “So you mean anybody can change my stuff?” for wikis. “Can I stop them?” Not comfortable trusting the content placed in such tools, and the tools themselves. “What if the tool loses everything?”

Will the tool still be around in one or two years? If we pour our data into this wiki, am I going to just lose everything if management pulls it down?

Many people just don’t see the point. See social software as something they need to do /in addition/ to what they’re already doing. Parallel with KM disasters.

As you can see, implementing a new work process is less about “the tool” (easy, free) and more about changing the culture of the organization. What’s the key to success? There is no single recipe for all organizations, but one of the most useful approaches is to make sure the leaders use these technologies themselves. People pay attention to what their leaders do. Of course, this implies that your organization has leaders, and not just managers.

Thanks to Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspirations for the tip on Suw’s presentation.

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