Web 2.0 Behavior

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Action and Reaction:
[Via A Journey In Social Media]

Conversations are basically what Web 2.0 is all about. It uses new tools but they only accentuate what humans already do naturally – interact and exchange information with a large social network. Many of the same social skills we use in person can be adapted to online use.

Here is a nice discussion of just that at Chuck’s blog as he discusses some of the problems they have seen following a Web 2.0 rollout at his company.

We Want People To Have Conversations

And they are.

Lots of conversations, really. Mostly about work stuff. But not always.

A while back, there was a notable surge in “off topic” discussions — favorite movies, raising rabbits, anime, commute times, etc.

In a pure Web 2.0 idealized world, it’s all good, right?

Well, we’re not exactly in this progressive 2.0 world quite yet. And we have to be mindful of the transition.

There Is A Valid Business Need For Off-Topic Discussions

More and more of our teams are geographically and culturally dispersed. We want people to align and bond around common interests — whatever they might be.

Just like we spend boatloads of money to fly people around for group meetings — and subsequent “team building” events — this sort of idle chatter has a role in “enterprise 2.0”, and we don’t want to be shutting things down.

But, we also want broad adoption in our 1.0 employee base. And if certain 2.0 behaviors hamper that, well — that’s an issue, isn’t it?

So, how to deal with the innovation of a new world to play in as it bumps up against real world situations? First, identify the problems. Here are three.

Problem #1 — Clutter

With our current 1.x Clearspace implementation, we have a “home page” that dutifully records each and every thought someone shares (except blog comments for some reason). That off-topic clutter at a corporate level is downright annoying to many people.

Sure, the user can take action: set up filters, personalize, etc. There’s some of that in Clearspace 1.x, more in 2.x, and then there’s RSS feeds, etc. But all of these are highly dependent on users taking control of their content stream.

And that’s a new 2.0-ish skill that not too many people at our company have. Sure, we could tell them “here’s what you have to do to control the problem”, but we’re trying to drive broader engagement and adoption of the platform, and we’ve had more than a few people new to the environment simply say “I can’t handle this social content stream in addition to my email deluge”.

It’s one thing when they’re exposed to the business-related deluge. It’s another thing entirely when it looks like 40-50% of the stream appears to be purely social in nature.

Doesn’t make it look like a business platform, which is how it was sold to the company.

Problem #2 — Naysayers

In physics, every force results in an opposite force. And in driving corporate change, the same generally holds true. I’m not being negative, just practical.

And, not surprisingly, there are those that look at our internal social media platform with a cold, cynical eye. They don’t understand, they may be threatened, they’re not comfortable, or maybe they’re generally concerned.

Collectively, they have “voice”.

And now they have a bit more evidence for their case.

Problem #3 — The Proficient

We now have upwards of 1,000 people who are truly comfortable and really enjoy the deep end of the pool. They love being exposed to everything. They’re very comfortable controlling the content stream.

And they inherently resist any thought of control, policy, etc. — it just doesn’t work for them. And they’re quite vocal that the rest of the world has to adapt to this 2.0 world, and they better get on with it, now!

And — they have a point. But I’m looking at outcome, and less to make a philisophical statement.

He thought they had a software fix – create a ‘water cooler’ area for the off topic material. But their software made this a problem.

So what he decided to do was use normal social approaches to modify online behavior.

What We’re Doing Short Term

A couple of things, really. First, I went to the more — ahem — prolific threads, and simply reminded people that everything they write is syndicated up to the corporate feed, and that their insightful comments were widely read by several thousand people.

And that while it’s OK to get off topic, please keep in mind that we’ve got a business platform, and you may want to think twice before an extended off-topic discussion for several reasons, e.g. is this what you do all day at work?

The second thing we’re doing is engaging the community. I wrote a blog post outlining the problem and the tradeoffs, and simply asked “what do you all think we should do?”.

People appreciated that we engaged them rather than arbitrarily doing something — good 2.0 behavior. And, somewhere in the dozens of comments, the discussion became pretty clear: we should take no action to limit discussions on the platform, but we should work towards having a “default” home page for newbies that’s a little less intimidating.

He did this with social tools we already possess. For example, he quietly and respectfully told someone, in a non-judgemental way, that their behavior was not really appropriate and to please stop. Then, like a village elder, he directly asked the community what to do. The company can not hire enough annies, tutors, mentors and police to deal with everyone. The community has to use its own members to fill these roles.

It appears that Chuck’s community is doing just that, which indicates to me that it is a rich, well-developed community and that Chuck is far along on the path to success. Because he knows to do this:

So, What Do You Think?

Now that we have a clear “digital divide” in our company with regards to our social productivity platform, what’s the ideal compromise position? Or should there be compromise at all?

And — any proposed solution can’t involve a bunch of custom software, nor can it involve hiring and dedicating people to the task. Nor can it involve having tens of thousands of employees learning to control their content stream as a prerequisite for success.

An interesting challenge, to be sure ….

He checks with the larger outside community, because he also acts as a connector between communities. He engages the groups for answers so that if there are other ideas, he can quickly implement them for his community. This is how creativity and innovation can be so rapidly created with Web 2.0 approaches.

Innovation diffusion rates in a community can be greatly affected by these approaches.

Because the potential number of other communities he can engage is huge. if there is any solution out there, he does not need it to diffuse to him by Web 1.0 or even World 1.0 approaches, which could take years. Web 2.0 greatly decreases the friction of information transfer from other approaches.

The faster a community can deal with change, the more it can deal with innovation, the better decisions it can make because it has access to more information and creativity, the sooner it will gain wisdom.

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