In the recent years, there has been a lot written about social collaboration within organizations. Both employees and managers within workplaces can realize enormous benefits through social collaboration.
The benefits of social collaboration go beyond the obvious oft-repeated ones like social interaction among employees and community building. The benefits have positive business impact and the primary among them is the enhanced knowledge, and information employees gain for collaborative problem solving.
What is social collaboration in workplaces?
Now having said that, we can ask the question, what is social collaboration in workplaces?
Social collaboration in workplace is all about a group of people interacting and sharing information to achieve common goals. Such collaborative processes finds acceptance in a natural ubiquitous medium like the corporate intranet space, where Information and ideas disseminate quite fast.
The concept of ‘social collaboration’ although not new, emphasizes the fact that ‘ideas are all around us’ we need to be open enough to see them. No one-person need to have all the expertise in the world to solve the problems. People do not operate in silos. When they join and collectively add their thought processes and ideas, it is bound to value add to the entire process and probably turn it to a newer direction which would have been not so obvious if they (people) were on their own.
Social collaboration in workplaces is also known by with the word ‘Enterprise networking’ and is associated with software tools called ‘corporate social networks’ or ‘Corporate social media’.
Benefits of social collaboration leading to positive business impact
Many Fortune 100 companies like IBM and Intel have been at the forefront adopting corporate social networks within their organizations. From an organizational perspective the benefits are many and they all have positive business impact in the workplaces.
The following lists some of the benefits of social collaboration in workplaces.
You can expect employees to drive innovation in environments where there are fewer bureaucratic restraints and many opportunities for calculated risk. Innovation can only happen with a well-structured management system in place. Otherwise, experimentation can become too risky and great ideas might not get implemented.
In a survey by McKinsey, 94% of senior executives said that it’s the people and corporate culture that drive innovation.
Hierarchical structures where the decision-maker is difficult to reach and the decision-making process is not transparent do not foster innovation. That’s why employees need a degree of autonomy to execute actions and set their innovation goals.
Employee autonomy and accountability are the foundation for innovation.
These two values provide the essential framework that supports the innovation process among employees. An autonomous workplace gives individuals and teams ownership of their ideas and grants them the freedom to make key decisions.
Here are 5 tips to help you build a culture of innovation that gives your employees more autonomy.
Explain the ‘why’ behind the goal
The first step for managers who want to instill a greater autonomy among their employees is to explain why the goal assigned to the team has value. Most often, managers tell their employees what they need to do, failing to explain why it’s important or how it fits into the larger picture.
It’s hard to commit to a goal if you don’t see why it’s a good idea in the first place. The value of the goal might not be as obvious to your team as it is to you. So make sure to explain the ‘why’ behind the goal and help employees understand how their actions contribute to the overarching goals of the organization.
The current post, “Benefits of social media in the workplace – An employee perspective” is an updated and enhanced content version of the earlier post “Benefits of social media at workplace”. The article talks about the visible benefits of social media in the workplace from an authentic employee’s perspective.
The best practices and content is drawn and distilled from world class organizations and research publications (Including the Harvard Business review, HBR working knowledge and MIT Sloan management review) around the world.
In the recent times there has been a lot that has been written about social media collaboration, its usage and its associated technologies as one of the prime trend areas that will shape the future of work.
Understanding and exploring the benefits of social media in the workplace has enormous potential, not just for its designers and proponents but also for the employees who work in the organization.
There was a study that was conducted by an organization called Dynamic markets. It was found that nearly 74% of working population in Europe preferred social networking, social media sites and online communities to solve problems at workplaces. The two biggest benefits mentioned by employees were increase in knowledge for solving problems and secondly, cultivating a collaborative team spirit among employees on a daily basis.
Its impact as a “community building” and “social interaction” tool within the four walls, has social effects within the workplace. These two areas are the two most oft-repeated benefits that are linked to the usage of social media in the workplace. But then, their social effects go beyond these two into other real visible areas.
The positive effects of social media in the workplace is felt by Nerds, Geeks and managers (Who form the typical office crowd) alike within the organization. The term “Social media” is usually interspersed or used synonymously with the word “social media collaboration”, “Corporate social network”, “Enterprise social networking” and “Social collaboration” within an organizational context.
The senior management, would like to the see the word “Collaboration” attached to the word social media for obvious reasons. They understand “Collaboration” can bring in results, productivity and profits. On the contrary, there is a perception that, employee’s time on community building and social interaction alone, may be unproductive and may not add value.
The below paragraph provides a quick summary of the benefits of social media in the workplace and then we will go into the greater details later in the post.
Consumer social media has its influence on the benefits of social media in the workplace
True. We have already seen that happening. People across the world are more well versed (Particularly, the younger generation millennial) towards the usage, general acceptance and friendliness towards consumer web social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and others. This has influenced the behavior at workplaces as well. People at workplace, are now more open to ideas, sharing information, being collaborative and creating communities.
Many Fortune 100 companies have opened the doors and have become trailblazers for the adoption of social media in the workplace beneficially within their organizations.
Some of this collaboration, has taken the garb of innovation hubs and idea banks while others have become knowledge sharing platforms. They all share a common purpose aligned to business goals. With management commitment they are well shaping up to be the future of work. The business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace is obvious.
We are all aware of the recent news that Microsoft has acquired LinkedIn. LinkedIn, is again a social media network tool on the consumer web space for working professionals. The advantages might be many for Microsoft but then the importance of the benefits of social media in the workplace cannot be anymore understated.
Defining social media in the workplace
From a consumer point of view, there are many terms which are used interchangeably with social media, namely web 2.0, social technology, social media collaboration and so on. From a workplace perspective, it is all about ‘social collaboration’ and ‘enterprise social networking’ with specialist tools for chat sessions, community forums, collaboration platforms and tools for employee advocacy.
But at heart,
Social media is an attitude and an evolving culture. At a very basic level, it consists of a set of digital tools to connect, interact and collaborate.
Having said that, there are various tools used for realizing the benefits of social media in the workplace. Let’s have a cursory glance at some of them.
The common Social media tools used
Some of the commonly used social media tools are :-
Blog: It is a recorded journal of an individual. This journal can be made public for others to see and make comments.
Social Networking Site: It is a website that allows people to interact with each other. Information can be shared and received. The site exists for forming beneficial relationships with others.
Forums: It is a site where people can ask questions and get answers. People can in-turn reply on those answers in a threaded comments fashion.
Wikipedia: It is a website which serves as a good repository of information on any topic. The information is filled in collaboratively by the general public. There are options to add, delete and edit content on the wiki site.
Micro blog: It is a form of blogging where the content consists of far less words and transmitted quickly. There is usually a notification which goes to all the participants. “Twitter” is a good example of this.
Virtual worlds: A simulated artificial online environment where users take up avatars to participate independently or as groups to communicate and interact with others. There are many Massive multiplayer games of this genre and they usually depict huge ranging worlds of super heroes and science fiction. “Second life” is a good example of this.
Podcasts: Consists of audio sessions that be heard online or shared among the participants.
Web conferencing: Runs on many internet technologies. It allows people in remote locations to meet, interact and collaborate. Webcasts and webinars are some of the examples.
The prime benefits of social media in the workplace
The benefits of social media in the workplace are many. Please find the prime visible benefits of social media in the workplace. These benefits have the maximum positive business impact. They are listed below.
Knowledge creation and dissemination.
Successive iteration of ideas for innovation.
Creation of collaborative social capital.
Integrating collective decisions and wisdom.
Providing most valuable “Context” to information.
Let’s look at them one by one.
1.Knowledge creation and dissemination
The organization creates knowledge all the time. On one hand there is the highly subjective insights, which are valuable and are called the ‘Tacit’ knowledge. Tacit knowledge rests in the minds of the people. On the other hand, there is explicit knowledge, which is available in the organizational procedures and structured processes. Usage of social media captures these valuable tacit knowledge and helps in converting them into explicit knowledge. The context surrounding that information helps in this conversion.
Other forms of social media in the workplace also capture tacit knowledge. For example, formal collaboration platforms within workplaces encourage employees from different business units to share structured information with other employees as well.
Social media in the workplace encourages knowledge sharing
The presence of social media in the workplace, encourages employees to share knowledge. Social media facilitates the quick spreading of information where it is needed. Employees are generally not comfortable with the jargons of market share, ROI and productivity nor with the mission and values of the organization. They are not interested in hard numbers. They are more interested in getting the work done and to be in the good books of their managers.
Employees would like to have a collective sense of identity and a sense of belonging with a community. Such innate needs are fulfilled by employee engagement of social media. Knowledge creation and dissemination occurs naturally through the use of social media in workplaces.
From an employee perspective, through knowledge creation, sharing and dissemination, there is generation of new ideas. And when we collaborate with our ideas with each other, there is insight and there by innovation.
For example: – Technical support centers across many organizations rely on collaborative wikis, to share knowledge on support resolutions and technical updates. This revised knowledge is frequently updated by the representatives who work on those service lines. The benefits of social media in the workplace is more visible,as there are efficiencies built in turnaround time and the operations involved.
For ideas to mature and there by lead to innovation, it has to go through many iterations. We may have a hunch. For the hunch to be developed into a workable idea, it needs others perspective on it as well. Social media as a tool within workplaces has provisions to encourage this desired behavior. Employee collaboration, being one of the prime benefits of social media in the workplace, facilitates successive iteration of ideas and thereby innovation.
There are many definitions of innovation. The one that I feel right is:
When we reflect on our own experiences and knowledge with others, and their perspectives and existing knowledge, a new insight is born. And then after a series of such successive ideas and insight, innovation takes form by running through the process of design, development and results.
A manager might possess a path breaking idea about a new technology which can be developed in-house. A shop floor worker with years of expertise, might come up with a process innovation. Knowledge from employees will remain only as “Personal knowledge” as long as they are not shared with each other. Once they are shared, they become organization’s knowledge. This knowledge is valuable to the company as a whole.
By using social media in the work places, the employees are interconnected and grow together as one giant organism called the ‘organizational workplace’.
Social media is very adept at forming collaborative social capital. This tremendously enhances the positive business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace.
I was quite bewildered to read the sentence “Social capital investment is not for control freaks” highlighted in an article at the Harvard business review working knowledge website. The article reviews a book “In good company: How social capital makes organizations work”. You can view the article here.
Communities grow out of freedom of practice. Employees cannot be pushed by managers, to collaborate in a project because they have to. Employees will still do it, because they have to get the job done but it does not encourage social capital.
Strengthening social capital is good for social media in the workplace
Social capital is formed when employees would want to come together and work out of common activities, mutual intention and like mindedness. Employees do not want to work together just because they are friends.
Social capital is the influence a person has over his or her social network. The social network could be even within a workplace.
“Social capital is always strengthened and nurtured in the context of real work” say the authors.
The authors emphasize that, social capital is formed over long periods of working together and where there is mind share. It cannot be formed by “One shot bonding” for sure.
Social media in the workplace, encourages employees towards such orientation. Frequently, it is advised to have managerial intervention to steer employee engagement and social interaction towards stewardship and nurturing rather than management control. Employees should be free enough to talk about their stories of accomplishments and failures.
Such social capital formed, is indispensable and works well for the morale of the employees. Who wouldn’t want such motivated set of employees for their workplace. Social media in the workplace exactly enhances this kind of social capital and clearly is a strong case for visible benefits of social media in the workplace.
We have seen many examples, like in the usage of Wiki. People collaboratively create knowledge. Such collaborative wikis exist at workplaces as well.
At Cisco, social media is part of their company culture. Cisco uses social media within the learning and development function. Employees continuously refresh their knowledge and skills using social media. They collaborate with each other exchanging thoughts and ideas as well as connect with their partners, vendors and communities.
The learning and development function partners with the business to understand learning needs of hardware and design engineers and effectively tailors courses for them. Even geographical distances do not hamper them. Self-paced and web-based learning courses are being used where instructors cannot reach. Owing to this, they have reduced their travel expenses and very cost effective in meeting their needs.
4. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom
Coming back to our study from Dynamic markets, mentioned quite earlier in our article, the study found that use of social media in the workplace has increased the efficiency in the organization. The study was conducted across 2500 professionals across 5 countries in Europe in 2008. Nearly 46% of the respondents said that the use of social media in workplaces has led to the spark of new ideas and creativity. Collective decision making through the usage of social media solves workplace problems as well.
There is a fine example to illustrate from the TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire” if the main contestant feels uncertain of the response to a question, he or she would choose an audience poll as a lifeline. The audience was always right and nearly as accurate.
This phenomenon is what James Surowiecki has written in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds”. He states that “Large number of individual people with “independent thoughts” will certainly achieve better results than the individual single person alone
The diversity of perspectives, specialized expertise, knowledge and isolated independent inputs makes it unique to tap into this collective wisdom which all pervades in our work environment, our surroundings and the place we live and thrive.
Social media gives us a platform to integrate these collective decisions, encourages and further accelerates the integration and the power of connection among employees. The cumulative effect is obvious as new ideas and wisdom start pouring in, new powerful results start showing up in the form of improved services and products.
Dow Chemical is a Multinational chemical corporation headquartered in Michigan, USA. A wonderful example of social media at work at Dow. who have truly reaped the benefits of social media at work.
Dow created a website called the “My Dow Network” in 2007. Now it happens to be in the name of “Dow Friends” for retirees. The earlier site was created with the intention to cultivate four communities of its retirees, current employees, alumni and women.
The site gave an opportunity and a window for retirees at Dow to look into what is happening within the company, connect with other retirees and explore job opportunities, if they chose to return. Retirees can lend their experiences, expertise and contribute in newer ways. It gave them a sense of new life and a chance to connect with their peers. It received tremendous response from all quarters.
The business world hailed their efforts. Since then the community kept on growing and added newer and newer connections day by day. Dow had described this experience in a wonderful video in their site. We don’t know if it is still available at their site.
It talks about the missing human element which makes all the difference. Interaction through social media, connects people and is the element of change. The sayings in the video,“It gives us the footing to stand fearlessly and face the future” reinforces positive social effects of among the community of employees.
Dow has truly found a way to reach and connect its people.
5.Providing the most valuable “context” to information
We have all been using knowledge management systems in some way or the other. For example, If you want some information, you “Google it”. Context is important and offers help, when there is a need to apply the information immediately. Also in situations where ‘Know how’ and ‘ Previous experience’ is required, context comes to the rescue. Social media networks naturally has an advantage here. It can provide the context, the human element to the information.
In age old knowledge management systems, knowledge elicitation, capture and collection was good but it lacked the “Context”. When people are introduced to a context, it is easy to find appropriate information.
With this, the Social media networks are indispensable in work environments. We can tap into the experience and wisdom of others and at the same time satisfy and quench our thirst to share, belong and be social.
An interesting offline example for “context” is the Leadership drive called the OST (Open space Technology). An open philosophy of collaboration and self-organization, usually done at offsite meetings at major corporations across the world on complex issues facing the organization. People are free to air their views and thoughts.
Everybody is welcome. All inputs are valid and taken into account. It heavily rests on the philosophy, that no person alone can solve all the problems at work.The collaborative groups usually self –organize and a context is added appropriately to the situation.
As a large company, IBM experiments and always launches a number of social media tools internally for its employees. Few of the IBM’s tools include Micro blogger called ‘Blue twit’ and ‘Many eyes’ which allows employees to upload all kinds of data visualize it and launch discussions about it on blogs and social networks.
A more notable one is the ‘bee hive’ which happens to be more from a bottoms up approach where employees can upload their personal and official information. Employees can upload their “top 5” favorite things and share it with others. It builds employee branding and a sense of ownership within the company.
Lastly, the final word
Many global companies are actually asking employees to reach out and create new external networks to tap into valuable ideas. With this, I would like to bring this part of the discussion to an end. I would like to add more corporate real life examples of the benefits of social media in the workplace as well as the positive effects of the business impact.
In the meanwhile, you can always refer further reading resources below:-
Office crowd collaboration needs a certain degree of openness and altruism. Everyone has a role to play and everyone plays a part in the grand scheme of things. If we realize this and do our bit, I think the usage of social media is a sure candidate for success in the world of office crowd collaboration.
The internet has become ubiquitous. It would be no harm to say that “life would be difficult without the internet”. It is the single biggest system in the world with billions of transactions, interactions and sharing that happens every single day all over the world.
Just like the internet, the corporate intranet is used to deliver services of collaboration among employees, communication and sometimes even to initiate cultural change within organizations.
Having said that, by collaboration, we mean:
“A common shared understanding among people to accomplish mutual goals”.
Within industry circles and within the context of corporate social network, the word “Social collaboration” or “Enterprise social networking” has been used extensively for the use of social media for crowd collaboration within offices.
The figures tell a story: office crowd collaboration
The top management of the organization, likes the word “collaboration” attached to the word “social” for obvious reasons of productivity and profit. But how much has this been adopted and accepted within the organizations, remains to be seen.
It is an insights gained, learned as well as a external follow up on the article “Why no uses the corporate social network” from the Harvard Business review. Further information can be gained from the study, conducted by Bamboo HR in the United States
A recent study by Bamboo hr in 2016, points that:-
68% of employees feel using social media for personal reasons as appropriate during office breaks.
And at least 50% of them would spend 10 minutes a day surfing social media sites.
A good guess is that percentage would be higher in other parts of the world. It is just not Bamboo HR, there are other monitoring organizations like the “Altimeter group” who said more or less the same.
Now having seen the numbers, perhaps a closer look at the current trend of social media collaboration and the science behind it would be beneficial.
Social media collaboration in organizations: The science and business behind it
It would not be a better time than now to borrow an extract from the recent edition of The Economist.
The Economist, in its Technology quarterly supplement talks about “a new breed of robots being designed to collaborate with humans, working alongside them to make them more productive”.
Though it may sound a bit advanced and sophisticated, the speed at which such crowd collaboration, associated with social intelligence are being conceived and developed across the world is overwhelming.
Coming back to our very mundane human existence, British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, says that the Neocortex (in the human brain) places a limit on the number of interpersonal relationships we can maintain.
The Dunbar’s number is approximately – 150.
Now the question that looks intriguing, is how a global multinational company, spread over many countries, with tens of thousands of employees, maintains meaningful connections, relationships and harnesses collective intelligence.
In my opinion, the ability to see fresh beneficial opportunities from challenges and deep entanglements, is one of the proven and established benefits of brainstorming.
But how much of it, is realized by working professionals is left to be seen. Perhaps, delving a bit into this activity and highlighting few tips would help.
It was interesting to read about an Arthur Anderson Survey that more than 70% of business professionals brainstorm and they do it at-least once in a month.
That is a good number.
But then, there is a general notion among professionals that “they have seen it all” and they don’t care much about brainstorming.
The good part is brainstorming facilitates, better collaboration and better innovation. There is no lone genius. Good ideas and insight are produced through successive iteration of ideas. It happens over a period of time through collaboration and group think among team members.
Brainstorming is all about exercising your mental muscles and keeping it sharp. Each and every time, again and again.
Just as we exercise to keep ourselves fit and healthy, it is good to regularly brainstorm.
Is there a right way to stimulate brainstorming and make it engaging and result bound not only for us but also for others?
The answer is – Yes!
Is there an online environment yet? Probably not.
We haven’t seen it much happening on online social media collaboration platforms on the consumer side. There isn’t much focus either.
So what is brainstorming?
Brainstorming is an opportunity and an activity for the team to produce new ideas spontaneously to solve a difficult problem.
There are two key words in the above statement, which emphasizes and plays a critical role in making brainstorming very successful. They are: 1. Team 2. Spontaneously. We will try to explore on them.
Useful note: Brainstorming as a term was popularized by Alex. F. Osborn in the 1953 book “Applied imagination”. Even earlier, Osborn, conducted many group thinking sessions and outlined his approach in his 1948 book, “Your creative power”. He wrote with clarity in his book, on how to organize a team to produce great ideas.
There are many approaches and methods to brainstorming. We will pick and choose some of the best practices around the world. It is nevertheless a challenge, to apply it within a social media collaboration context.
IDEO, an international design firm for the past 20 years have been at the forefront for spreading best practices in brainstorming, organizing and bringing together motivated teams for the same. There is ‘Brain Trust’ sessions from Pixar, to learn from as well. Pixar is the celebrated movie production and animation company, loved by people all over the world. Pixar conducts brainstorming sessions among its senior leadership team and other team members.
As we discussed earlier, two critical factors play a big role namely: Being spontaneous and motivated teams.
Here are some simple practical tips, which could help you cultivate these vital areas for successful brainstorming.
Being spontaneous and passionate for brainstorming
Focus: Before getting into the meeting with your team members, it is important that everyone comes in with a clear mind. A clear mind with no distractions aids in airing the right ideas on the table without bias and misconceptions. Clarity in the mind on the problem would naturally help in bring in spontaneous ideas.
One way to go about this, is to ask the team to spend about 30 minutes to an hour outside the office, before the session. Probably, a good walk in the park or around the office building would do. The focus should be on critiquing the ideas and not the people. It is good to set aside the top-down hierarchy and go along with the dynamics of the group for initial idea building.
A good takeaway from the “Brain Trust” meeting session from Pixar is that, the group would always consist of senior people who are experts in their field. They would work individually on their ideas, at their desks and then gather for brainstorming. During the brainstorming session, the experts would air their ideas and problems openly and ask for feedback. Their ideas would be critiqued, suggestions would be offered and problems are seen from a fresh perspective.
Build and Jump: It is encouraged to build as many ideas as possible. There is no limit. As long as the team finds enough possible ideas, they would go at it. But then, when they reach a point, where they cannot go any further on a topic, it is advised to branch out and start building again.
Go for quantity: It is always encouraged to have as many wild ideas as possible. There are no good ideas or bad ideas. All ideas are good. Go for the quantity. It is only on the successive iteration of ideas that new insight happens.
Physically think through objects: A good takeaway from IDEO is that, they always encourage their employees to bring in physical objects during the brainstorming session. Props help in looking at the problem from a different perspective. It allows team members to build fresh ideas on flaws of earlier designs. It also allows the team to talk about a problem or a great design in one object, relative to another.
Put it in writing: It is a good idea to put all the ideas in writing. When you write, you will remember and come back to it later. It is a good idea to put all the ideas on a post-it slip and stick it on the wall for everyone to see.
Build trust: Trust is one of the very important factors. Only when there is trust, will people in the team open up. It is important for the leadership team to foster a culture of trust in the organization. It is good to give everyone a free hand in the contribution process. When team members feel and see that their ideas are valued, it builds trust.
Bring in diversity: It is good to have a diverse set of team members in the brainstorming session. Diversity in subject matter expertise, experiences and gender allows to look at problems from a fresh perspective and brings in Wisdom. The ability to see fresh opportunities in long held challenges is one of the greatest benefit of having a diverse brainstorming team.
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Six degrees of separation: The title appears to be straight from a science fiction book, isn’t it? No it is not. It is a concept which is much used and applied world over in all the major social networks from Facebook to Twitter to Linkedin.
The central idea, as simple as it seems, is that all living beings on the planet are connected to each other in six steps or shorter. It was first introduced by Frigyes Karinthy in the year 1929 and later became popular by a title play (A drama!) of the same name written by John Guare.
To be honest, I was struggling to start this topic. It just wouldn’t simply flow. As Ernest Hemingway once rightly quoted in his books “You just need to sit in the front of the typewriter and bleed”.
So for the question, are we all separated by six degrees? Yes we are!
To fully understand the six degrees of separation, I would recommend a cursory understanding of giant components of the World Wide Web, the interconnected web links of what makes the internet today and the graph theory.
Roughly, about 5000 years ago, two giant civilizations existed. For all practical purposes, let us take these two civilizations as giant components. One component is the western hemisphere, the Americas land mass and the other one was the eastern hemisphere, the Europe –Asia land mass. These two giant components existed separately until the European explorers reached the American shores and the rest is history.
If you happen to read the book “Guns, Germs and Steel” written by Jared Diamond, the picture is quite vivid. The book had won the Pulitzer prize for general non-fiction and the Aventis prize for the best science book in 1998.
For Everything across the two landmasses had their own independent evolution right from the beginning until the Europeans arrived and the events were cataclysmic. Diseases spread and so did technology and they all overwhelmed each other and interestingly, later, they evolved together.
But now, we live in the modern well connected world. We can envisage this networked world as one single giant networked component. If you are reading this, I am sure you must be having friends and relatives who must have grown up in different parts of the world. These friends and relatives would in turn have their own parents and their friend’s friends and relative’s friends.
The connections keep going on and yet we all live in the same networked component (the whole world!). People you might not have known before and you might not even known their language but still we all belong to the same networked component. Quite possible indeed. Our whole world becomes one giant networked component. Isn’t it. It is not same as it how it existed 5000 years ago.
Understanding Six degrees of separation
As we move forward in our discussion, apart from the giant networked components there are smaller networked components.These smaller networked components are all connected to each other and infact, the smaller components together make up one giant inter networked component. Using this logic, a technique called ‘Breadth –First’ search was introduced.
The breadth –first technique discovers the distances to connected people, one layer at a time. A layer is built of connected people as in a social network.
Please find the figure below, which depicts the ‘Breadth-first’ approach as well as the small components with layers leading to giant components.
In each layer, people are connected to at least one person who is in turn connected to the previous or next layer. This is very much akin to how we have the ‘First level’, ‘Second level’ and ‘Third level’ contacts as in the Linkedin social network.
No wonder, this method is used to calculate in a most efficient way, the distances between people in a social network. Let’s look at how this works and how we can trace out distances between people in a social network.
We first declare all our actual friends and relatives to be at layer 1 or distance 1 (See figure ).
Then we find all their friends (Friend of friends) to be at layer 2 or distance 2.
Then we find all their friends and declare them to be at or layer 3 or distance 3.
We keep continuing in this way for successive layers, each of which represents the next distance out. This process or method can be applied to any social network which keeps building on layers over layers and all are interconnected.
As depicted in the figure, our Friend’s, Friend’s friends and relatives are at layer 3 or distance 3, which indicates that the distance between “you” and this layer. It is understood that this layer is 3 lengths away from you.
Going by this logic, the six degrees of separation means, any two unknown persons on the planet are 6 (six) short lengths away from each other.
In 2011, Facebook released a study, where the average distance between its 721 million users at that point in time was 4.74. This was a verified study using probabilistic algorithms on metadata. Interestingly, all its users were connected in a giant component like fashion. Source: Wiki
Linkedin operates in manner where all the users are separated by distance lengths of First degree, Second degree and Third degree (as shown in the figure above). Each and every user on Linkedin is notified, within his or her profile status page, the degrees of connection they are away from each other.
Twitter’s users create a network by following other users. According to a study, the average distance is 4.67, this indicates that all people on Twitter are just 5 or less steps away from each other.
What do the Researchers say about the Six degrees of separation?
Researchers worldwide have conducted many experiments beyond the formal definition of the “six degrees of separation” and have found something qualitative about these giant connected components and the paths that connect the people are surprisingly short. It is an indeed a small world. This phenomenon is also called the “Small world phenomenon”.
The first experimental study was performed by “Stanley Miligram” and his colleagues in 1960’s. Miligram did not have the kind of massive social network domains that exists today. With a meagre budget of $860, he set out to test his idea, that the world is connected through a global friendship network by a short chain of friends.
He randomly selected a batch of 296 people and gave them a set of instructions. He had asked the people to forward a letter to someone, a target. The target was a stock broker who lived in the suburbs of Boston.
He then asked the group of people to forward this letter to people whom they knew based on the first name as quickly as possible. The instructions contained some personal information, the address and the occupation of the target. Each letter, thus passed through many hands in sequence and in succession and finally zeroed in on the stock broker outside Boston.
There were totally about 64 chains. It took 64 chains in reaching the target and then the median length among them was found to be six(6). In other words, there were six layers, before it finally reached the target. This was the same number, that 20 years later had the title in Guare’s play.
Another experiment was conducted in 2002 to support the Milligram’s original estimate. Duncan watts and his colleagues set out on a global scale to prove this again. Duncan watts was a physician turned sociologist. Duncan and his colleagues recruited more than 98000 people from all over the world. He used email as the mode of communication this time.
The set of people were asked to send an email message to specific targets (persons) around the world. They were asked to forward the email to someone whom they knew within their close circles and who might in turn know the targeted person. Each person was randomly assigned to a target from a list of eighteen targets in 13 countries.
Once again, to everyone’s surprise, it took roughly six steps (on average) to get the email to reach the targeted person.
Relevance of six degrees of separation
There are however some questions that need to be asked on the relevance of the six degrees of separation and its usage. Its applications and usage are widespread through out the world.
One is “How useful are the short paths to people in our society?
After knowing that the short paths exist, does that mean that people are ‘socially’ close to you. These are the caveats that come along, that we need to carry with us. But then, this experiment is crucial in understanding how social networks work.
What we need to understand through these short paths in social networks is that even though we may have six step connections to all the influential people in the world (for example, our six-step connection to the American president, Barrack Obama) in reality, the case is different and take it at ‘face value’.
But having said that, six degrees of separation concept, benefits us in many ways. One in terms of the potential speed with which information reaches different sections of the people, the potential opportunity it presents for people to connect and understand each other. There are numerous applications both scientific and people centered that can be evolved going forward.
Another important aspect is to understand other contagions (for example, diseases) and how quickly it spreads in our society.
For further resources, please go through the following links below:-
An experimental study of the “Small world phenomena” by Stanley Miligram and Jeffrey Travers
Linked :How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Science, Business and Everyday Life: A book from Albert Barabesi. You can buy online from Amazon !
What is common among these three seemingly different but connected things – Ants, Birds and the Hollywood Movie, Lucy. Yes it is, Collective intelligence. Before we get into the subject of “Do ants have brains” we will understand briefly about collective intelligence.
Collective intelligence can be defined as
A shared or a group intelligence that is a result of collaborative, collective and coordinated efforts of individual members in a group.
We have known that general intelligence exists within individuals and can be correlated from various cognitive activities performed by individuals. The question is “Does Collective intelligence” also exist in the same levels for individuals in a social group or a social network?
Social networks have lives of their own depending on how we create them. They follow a cyclical pattern of creation, growth, rapid spread, global influence and long sustenance. Perhaps we can say that social networks can never die. We might be surprised to know that a social network thinks on its own and does its own independent actions.
The more we contribute the more it grows and each one of our contributions has a significant impact on the network as a whole and the network can collectively deliver where no one individual can do it alone.
Measuring collective intelligence – Learning from researchers.
There is overwhelming evidence and research that collective intelligence is so very important for a social group or a social network’s productivity and success.
MIT center for collective intelligence had published a report on “measuring collective intelligence” in a social group. It states that such intelligence is not about the individual intelligence in a group but it is about the sensitivity of the group as a whole, taking turns in the conversation for commenting, sharing opinions, ideas and answering to replies and the percentage of women in such groups.
The study shows a interesting finding that they have found a general collective intelligence factor called “c” . The factor is not related to the average or maximum intelligence of the individual team members but to the collective intelligence of the entire group.
The sensitivity of the group as a whole towards commenting, turn taking in responding, answering to group members as well as number of women in the group or social network.
There is lot of research that is going on with respect to the factors that affect collective intelligence in a social network. The number of women and the degree of collaboration that happens within that group has an impact on the collective intelligence of the group.
Do ants have brains ? What we learn from Ants, Birds, Fungi and the Hollywood movie – Lucy.
If you had seen the Hollywood movie “Lucy” you would be thrilled to the end. Good story line and movie direction of a slightly complex subject. Good direction by Director and Writer, Luc Besson. The main protagonist Lucy, played by Scarlett Johansson gets transformed to a single invisible cell and disappears at the end. In the movie, Lucy gets injected with a special super chemical which gives her brain the ability to use 100 % of its capacity, gradually. With this capacity she has the ability to transform herself and in this case into a single cell. The individual cells in turn can act collectively together even though they are separated by space and time. Mind boggling isn’t it. Yes possible!
The movie is a worldwide hit but then it has received varied response from critics who say it is a misrepresentation of science. But that’s something which we have not known and not experienced so far. We feel it is a distant possibility.
Let’s take an example of a colony of ants. The properties and super characteristics of a colony of ants is far more greater than an individual ant on its own. The amount of super co-coordinated effort a colony of ants can put together for reaching a bottle of jam is tremendous and they end up achieving it anyway.
This coordination is possible only when the ants are collectively acting together and not the feat of an individual ant. Such feats are the result of coordination and collective intelligence of many individuals. It is no ordinary feat that they build huge ant hill all working together in a coordinated effort.
We human beings are multi cellular organisms. All the cells in the human body have their own individual properties, but then they all work together. By working together, they form a higher form of life called the human being. This form is far more different and evolved than a single cell with its individual properties.
The bottom line is that we are essentially a huge bundle of cells (A few trillion cells approx.). According to the Smithsonian magazine there are about 37.3 trillion cells in the human body.
Another manifestation of the same phenomenon is about our thoughts. Our thoughts are not the product of a single neuron in the brain but a collective making of billions of neurons working together to create a pattern.
Such cooperative action and collective intelligence in social networks and in our society makes our civilization progress in leaps, allowing us to evolve with that wisdom.
Birds for example form a social network. When a flock of birds can collectively coordinate and determine the direction by combining the desires of each and every bird in the flock, that’s real intelligence and you can say that’s wisdom.
Another living thing, the fungi also behaves intelligently and collaboratively work together to find the best patch of ground to grow. It can even find the best path as well to reach it.
Social media platforms or social media network, knowledge sharing has been the lifeline by which people interact, self-organize and form a context.
Designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing has always been a challenge. So the question is, can Social capital come to the rescue? An analysis of the Social capital framework within the organization or a social set up provide us the answers?
Useful Note: By platform, we mean the computing platform and the necessary software code, rules and provisions required for running it.
A year 2003 article on The Economist “A question of wealth” talks about “How Nations and organizations become wealthy ? Harvard University professor Robert Putnam wrote a very famous influential essay “Bowling alone” where he says Americans would be far more unlikely to join the clubs and social circles in the 1990’s than they would in the 1950’s. He came to this conclusion after noting the decline in ‘Bowling league” memberships in America. Though this has been accepted uncritically, the basic and proven assumption is that all
All human beings by nature are social animals.
Sociologists believe that there is the hand of the growing field of Social Capital which sways wealth, power and status in favor of nations and organizations which have a high degree of Social capital with an emphasis on “Trust and Community” Let us explore this further and bring it to the context of designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing.
We have been seeing time and again that traditional tools for knowledge sharing and knowledge management have been failing the test of acceptance and “institutionalization”.
Useful Note: Wikipedia describes institutionalization as a process of embedding a social norm or a social behavior within a large organization or a social group.
Irrespective of where they are used, for in-house purposes within an organization or as an independent tool within the consumer web space, their acceptance is low. Systems for knowledge sharing cannot be designed from a technological perspective alone. We cannot just look down upon the social, informal and non-canonical nature of our interactions in social set ups and as they happen in other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
We have to embed the knowledge sharing system within an existing social setup of which they are a part. Ignoring the social side of the network has been one of the key factors for the fall and resistance to such knowledge sharing tools.
Then how can such knowledge sharing systems be designed? The concept of “Social capital” and its analysis has been hailed as the best path forward by many contemporary researchers and practitioners in this field. We will look into their work in a little while from now as we move along. But before that we will understand, the current challenges to the design and development of knowledge sharing systems using social media platforms.
Current challenges of social media platforms for knowledge sharing
The importance and the value of managing knowledge and sharing can never be understated. We are living in a globalized world with increasing complexity. With geographically dispersed teams, the complexity increases. There is a saying that “the intellectual capital of a firm is far greater than the asset base and the intrinsic value it has”. There is of-course the competitive advantage attached to it.
But getting a good foothold and grasp of managing knowledge and sharing is critical. The challenges from an organizational perspective usually come from
The IT function- a key role player in facilitating knowledge sharing.
Management commitment, priorities and alignment.
Individual learning Vs. Community learning.
1.The key role of the IT function
The challenge is inherent in the fact that IT can support and improve knowledge sharing but it ignores the social conditions that facilitate knowledge sharing among groups. The successful outcomes of such systems come from paying attention to appropriate social context, norms, position, reward systems and leadership.
IT cannot be independent. It has to be embedded within the social norm. If it is not so, then it is a challenge and presents itself in various pockets of resistance within the groups.
Brown and Duguid in their book “Social life of information” wrote that
“Knowledge only has its use, if it can be related to people”.
People would like to know the context from whom it was originated and why? This provides the important “Meta knowledge”. This is also one of the reasons why recorded knowledge is not reused.
Tacit knowledge which exists in people’s minds need not be codified into structured explicit knowledge. This is where social media platforms come to the rescue. It supports elicitation of knowledge in its various forms and fills those gaps. Meta knowledge cannot be recorded in intranets or repositories they need social media platforms.
Huysman and De witt wrote in their book “Knowledge sharing in practice” that
People want to share experiences with other people with whom they look up for support and where there is trust, safety and mutual respect.
2.Management commitment and priorities
(If you are looking to build your own independent social media platform, then you can skip this section, this section is geared more towards in-house usage)
One thing is quite clear for successful knowledge sharing is that this initiative has to be a win-win situation. Increasingly, this goes in for a toss as the management from a top-down approach exert the need to control and monitor knowledge.
The very act of extracting knowledge from knowledgeable and experienced workers, builds resistance. But actually, this is an attempt to manage knowledge, make it more effective and available to others.
There is also a notion that when a core employee leaves, he or she takes away the core competency away from them.
There is a universally known fact that “employees don’t want to share knowledge anyway”. Management priorities of improving knowledge sharing is good. It is in the right direction but it has to be in a win-win situation.
3.Individual vs Community learning
Traditionally, so far what we have seen and still remains largely is that knowledge sharing is for individual gain and learning is supported at the level of individuals.
Most of the repository systems are built with this focus to enhance the flow of information to individuals. But what we are forgetting to acknowledge is that most knowledge is shared and generated within a social context and setup.
Learning these days cannot be separated from the social community. It is very much intrinsic to the existence of such knowledge that is generated. So knowledge sharing tools must support social relationships that exist among people and include it as part of the design requirements.
In the next section, we will take an introductory look into the framework for designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing and the ‘socio-technique’ analysis on which the social media platforms need to be designed.
An introduction to the Social capital framework
Existing research and several pioneering authors and practitioners have always been pointing out to the multidisciplinary aspects when designing social media platforms or social media networks. The disciplines range from Mathematics, Information technology, Economics, Sociology, Cognitive psychology and Ethnography.
From an IT perspective, when you want to create a sharing network, the primary aspect is to create an intranet which has 1. A shared information workspace – something like ‘sharepoint’ from Microsoft for example. 2. A communication space- which can use asynchronous mode like email or synchronous mode like video conferencing for people to share and bounce thoughts and ideas. 3. A collaboration space – like a groupware, workflow system where people can cooperate and complete work together.
The idea here is that the IT sharing network or the intranet and the social media platform need to converge and exist together. When such co-existence happens then that is the domain of the socio-technique and in other words, it is the social media platform which has knowledge sharing embedded in it that is coming to fruition.
There is a tremendous “interplay” between the social and technical aspects. This interplay is necessary and also continuously evolving. Understanding this interplay is a challenge and also the key success factor.
The development, implementation and use of such social media platforms needs to be flexible in order to adapt it to a particular environment, this makes it complex as well.
It is complex, due to a concept called ‘Drifting’. Social media platforms have the tendency to evolve and drift. It creates its own path, character and stance over time.
Useful Note: Drifting as a social concept, is the process of slowly moving away and taking one’s own path and self-organizing and evolving.
It has the capacity to self –organize, adds the human element of “Context” in all in its interactions, sharing and spreading in its usage.
Ethnography and its influence
Another important sphere of influence in the design of social media platforms for knowledge sharing is the subject of Ethnography. Ethnography, which is the study of cultures and their mutual understanding and differences does give us a method to this complexity.
But then the argument is that even though Ethnography carries out detailed studies on the work processes and their cultural settings and yet the gap exists when IT takes up the requirements for designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing.
Possible reasons are the complexity involved in translating the requirements and also we are dealing with two sets of people (IT function and the people working on Ethnography) who are divergently different in their approach, thoughts and ideas.
Perhaps the most important concept in understanding the social capital framework came from Bressand and Distler. This brings us to light when designing social media platforms we will have to study the underlying current of “Info-culture” in any set up.
Many a times, IT designers ignore this when designing an knowledge sharing system and analyze the ‘infrastructure’ and the ‘info-structure’. Infrastructure stands for all the physical hardware and software. The ‘info –structure’ is the formal organization, governing rules, formal business processes, hierarchies and strategy by which people exchange information and knowledge. The ‘info-culture’ is the social relationships and the culture that is prevalent in the group. It is social norm of how people relate to one another.
Many researchers at the forefront of the design for a new social media platforms express the need for an analysis of the ‘info-culture’ of the organizational setup. This is mainly argued as the third most important aspect in the analysis for design and not to be ignored.
The cultural norms, social relationships, safety and trust are the key concepts that need analysis. It is surprising that not much has been written about this in the contemporary literature for requirement analysis for design of social media platforms for knowledge sharing.
The social capital framework provides a promising potential to design social media platforms for success and acceptance.
What is Social capital? And how do we acknowledge it?
We might have heard about Physical capital, Financial capital, Economic capital and also Human capital. A relatively newer concept, Social capital has been in the news and has been researched and talked about a lot.
Social Capital is the sum total of the trust, social norms, and most importantly the mutual and shared understanding you have in a social relationship.
Social capital can then be used effectively for knowledge sharing. Increasingly, people have to come to know that social capital forms one of the important aspects for determining an organization’s economic growth.
Physical capital and Financial capital determine the economic prospects and growth of the organization in the short term. They are hugely dependent on the vagaries of various global movements and indications. It is the Social capital aspect through its economic actors, the relationships they foster with each other determines the long term economic growth and development of the organization.
Human capital on one hand looks at the individual abilities but –
Social capital utilizes the collective abilities of all the actors on the social media platform.
Needless to say, Social capital removes the bias of individual learning.
It is emphasized that the use of Social capital analysis in designing and developing social media platforms for knowledge sharing greatly reduces, if not altogether eliminates the risks and challenges posed by managerial and technological ones, which have seen earlier. A good degree of diagnosis and analysis of a group’s social setup, its Social capital and improving the Social capital level of that group will greatly enhance the adoption and acceptance of the social media platforms.
People will have more opportunity to share knowledge within themselves and will be motivated to do so even as they have abilities and the capacity to share knowledge (Tacit knowledge as well). These are some of the elements and structural underpinnings which we need to understand for analyzing Social capital for designing social media platforms.
As the trend moves from individual learning to community based learning, there is a growing importance and acceptance of knowledge communities within organizations and outside. They form a trust circle where people can safely exchange knowledge and collaborate with each other creating an environment for innovation to happen. Such open collaborative networks thrive on the degree of Social capital that exists within that group or community
Nahapiet and Ghosal in their book “Knowledge sharing in practice “ introduce three dimensions of Social capital namely, Structural, Cognitive and Relational.
Structural analysis of Social capital points to the network ties, the current organizational structure and also to network configurations.
Cognitive analysis points to the aspects of shared language, shared abilities and similar stories.
And finally, Relational analysis points to the aspects of social norms, trust and motivation.
Another interesting dimension was introduced by Adler and Kwon. They talk about Social capital classification in terms of opportunity, ability and motivation.
If we analyze both these approaches, we are talking about
“Who shares” and “How do they do that” this is from a structural opportunity standpoint. Research points that people within the same social hierarchy, create dense networks within themselves and there is opportunity for everyone to contribute within this group. “How do they do that” is something that needs to be explored. For example:- Top senior Managers working in MNCs form a leadership group within the organization.
“What is shared” this is from a cognitive ability standpoint. People with similar stories in their lives, connect. People also share and connect based on abilities. They will be able to offer advice and suggestion to others with whom they can relate to.
“Why and when” this is from a relational motivational standpoint. Social norms, trust and safety play a huge role and influence an entire gamut of people. Evidence and research proves that there is enough motivation among people to willingly contribute knowledge and suggestions based on trust and safety.
Simple requirement analysis for social media platforms
When we are doing a requirement analysis and information gathering the following table helps us in this task.
The table gives us a framework to start the requirements gathering with the research questions asked, important elements to consider, the various dimensions and the levels involved. Through this framework one can understand the stakeholders involved, the support and feedback needed from them.
A small note here, the stakeholders need not be within the same organization. If you are designing independent social media platforms for knowledge sharing, the stakeholders are much more diverse and heterogeneous. This makes the design much more interesting.
As discussed earlier, an analysis of Social capital provides an in-depth functionality that needs to be embedded into the social media platforms for knowledge sharing.
When we look at the structural dimension of social capital, the focus is more on network density in terms of the number of actors who are connected to each other. Studying such density would reveal “with whom people share knowledge” and “Who shares with who” and how do they do it.
If there is a requirement gap we bridge the holes functionally so that the structural map reaches far and wide and as well group penetration. For example: the concept of groups is so popular in Linkedin. The stronger the ties, they will share tacit information.
From a cognitive stand point, we analyze the group’s ability to understand each other and whether they have shared mutual understanding, shared stories and similar problems in life and career. If such ties are stronger and if their cognitive intelligence is high, they will be able to share tacit information as well.
A useful note:– Not much attention is given to this dimension. It’s good to lower the cognitive barrier, provide functionality in such a way that “like minds attract like minds”. Only if the cognitive barrier is low, people will be able to share their personal stories on social media platforms otherwise they will look at sharing the same on a one-on-one basis, face to face.
If there is an expert, his expertise requires validation and we contact him in person to validate his expertise. The same should happen on a social media platform as well where people will have access to such tools and they will transfer tacit knowledge where it is required.
We need to also understand that this requirements gathering also has to take into account the culture of the setup. Apart from standard methodologies for gathering information from hierarchical setups, methodologies used in Ethnography and pattern recognition supports the overall process.
In a relational dimension, we need to understand that whether members are motivated and are willing to share.
We have to address the question “What is in it for me to share?” This provides the motivational part along with shared norms, trust, safety and respect. Not answering this question makes social media platforms fail the test of institutionalization.
When there is “reciprocity”, then there is a no “motivational barrier”. The systems should facilitate or have such provisions for reciprocal response functionality. A good example is the “Facebook like”. Other things to take care are status differences, respect and trust.
Trust is one of the most important factors. If there is mutual trust then there is easier knowledge sharing, tacit as well. When people want to learn and want others to succeed as well, then such high motivation creates mutual trust which is highly beneficial to the success of social media platforms.
The stronger the ties between individuals, the greater the sharing of tacit knowledge happens. Sharing tacit knowledge requires a high degree of trust.
Finally, existing research reveal only this much. For further analysis and greater success, we need to carry out ethnographic studies for knowledge sharing. Appropriating IT to a specific social set up or organizational group is a challenge.
So far, not much has been written about how “IT will be used”. We once again comeback to the same saying that social media platforms usage is evolving and it is evolving culture and attitude. Groups constantly self-organize and we need to be cognizant of this fact when we are designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing.
I would like to thank the following authors for their in-depth research. I have referred the following books below. You can buy them on Amazon as well.
Social life of information, Burn and Duguid
Webwork information seeking and knowledge work on the www, Choo c Detlor and Turnbull