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Social learning is one of the current darlings of the L&D world, with everyone trying to jump on the social bandwagon; it’s like there’s a party going on and everyone wants to be in the kitchen. We’re on board with the bandwagon, as it’s really about finding ways for us to connect more naturally with others to share and gain knowledge and improve performance.

In a recent anonymous survey conducted by Jane Hart (founder of C4LPT and the Social Learning Centre), 90% of respondents thought that learning from collaborative working within their team was ‘essential’ or ‘very important’, while conversations, feeds, personal and professional networking, curated content and using Google to search the web were also rated very highly.

So what’s an organization to do? And how can you get going with social? We’ve got three tips to share here – but they’re really just the tip of the iceberg…

Stop acting like social learning is something new

Humans have been social creatures since the dawn of time, sharing stories around fires and drawing pictures on cave walls. In organizations, we cluster around the water cooler to for share news and ideas and learn from each other. What’s new today are the tools and technology that enable us to connect with each other at the speed of light, leaving digital trails and discoverable/searchable thoughts and resources.

Think in broader terms: how can your organization become a more social business and a more collaborative workplace?

Reflect on the ways in which social tools can facilitate more collaboration and better business outcomes. With social media tools and platforms, we can:

  • Work together to better respond to customers
  • Share ideas
  • Innovate
  • Reduce email
  • Get the word out on the street
  • Make answers to burning questions more discoverable
  • Crowdsource answers to our questions and let the best ideas bubble up to the surface
  • Connect more easily with the people we need to connect with

…and simply work better.

If you’re thinking of implementing social tools, do your due diligence

If you’re thinking of adding social tools or platforms to your business mix, be sure to ask yourself these key questions.

What’s the business case? What problems are we trying to solve? Are we a social organization already?

What’s your culture like? What are people already doing? What tools are they using? How are they finding out answers to their questions now?

What technologies and tools do you already have? Can you leverage existing platforms like SharePoint or Yammer to better use? Are people already using Twitter and Facebook? Can you tap into the free world?

What are your technology needs? Sumeet Moghe of Thoughtworks shared an evaluation dashboard at a recent conference. At Thoughtworks, they considered five key points when looking into social platforms: open source vs. proprietary, extensible vs. vendor-dependent, self-hosted vs. SMS, desktop only vs. mobile-capable, single paradigm (i.e. only includes microblogging) vs. multiple paradigm (i.e., includes microblogging, blogging, recommendations, etc.). Your list of questions might be different, but this could be a good place to start.

There are a lot of social tools out there for enterprise use, so once you’ve answered these questions you can go shopping. Forrester Research recently looked at the top players in the market: Jive, IBM Connections, Telligent, NewsGator, Microsoft SharePoint, Socialtext, Atlassian Confluence, Cisco Quad and OpenText.

Don’t just turn on your new tool and expect social learning to –poof! –magically happen

Creating a social and collaborative community is like hosting a fabulous cocktail party. You need the right people in the room starting the right conversations. Make sure you’ve got senior champions and influencers within your organization who can model the behaviors you want to encourage.

Dedicate a community manager – your cocktail party’s event planner, if you will – who can stay on top of things, facilitate introductions, show people the way and keep an eye out for new opportunities.

Above all, don’t try to boil the ocean in one day and expect all of your problems to be instantly resolved. Start small and see what happens. You may want to do a social experiment with one group – an engineering team, say. Once you’ve got buy-in, start chomping off larger bits and extend the community to other parts of the organization.

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