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The Phantom: menace or maverick? The psychology of enterprise social media participation
Thursday, 3rd May 2012
How do you get people actively chatting on your newly installed enterprise social media system? Enter the Phantom...
The big firms are waking up to the value of internal collaboration, and racing to implement enterprise/internal social media (ISM). Some of them already have platforms up and running, with the likes of Yammer and Jive leading the product pack.
As is the case with any collaboration tool, success is about more than just the system, and organisational culture is intrinsic.
The more work-oriented the system, the more people don their professional mask. Few people present themselves on LinkedIn as they would on Facebook, as it could be career suicide.
When you bring a social media platform inside the organisation, participation becomes even more guarded. Installing a system and sitting back waiting for user numbers to reach a tipping point is a recipe for an expensive disaster.
The big challenge for enterprise social media is driving up participation. In any online community, only about 10% of users will be actively participating and producing content, which means 90% are lurkers.
In an organisation, the total number of users is capped from the get go, so there will always be a small participative pool. Add in policy around client confidentiality, data security and appropriate use – all important things – and free flowing conversation can become inhibited.
If people fear looking stupid then they will not ask for help – or at least not in a public forum.
If senior staff view social media discussions as time-wasting, then they won’t happen, and those critical serendipitous conversations won’t arise.
Information professionals have been wrestling with these kinds of issues from the earliest days of collaborative systems. Email groups, discussion boards and intranets all stand and fall on an open participative company culture, and tricks like ensuring visible leadership participation are standard practice to help to drive up activity.
The unstructured, unmonitored world of enterprise social media is another step along this road, and KMs and info pros would do well to reuse tricks they’ve learnt when implementing other enterprise 2.0 tools.
Sam Marshall of Clearbox Consulting has written an interesting piece about "the Phantom", a character used by LexisNexis for facilitating greater and more open interaction on enterprise social media.
The Phantom character is an anonymous avatar that has the freedom to speak openly on Yammer discussions and say what other people are thinking but might be too shy to type.
A cross between a moderator and a mischievous peer, he posts questions to the CEO anonymously on others behalf, keeps people to the rules of the group and teases the CEO for drab remarks.
Sam says "There’s a long tradition of comedy and guise being used as a way to speak the unspeakable. Mediaeval court jesters were one of the few who could get away with criticising despotic kings. But they would also pick on others in court who went beyond the boundaries (probably a preferable fate to a beheading!). The Phantom seems to me to be a digital jester: tolerated for being more direct than anyone else, but also there to energise with a little friction sometimes. Nothing draws people to a social intranet like tasty subversion."
This is a great point. Intranets are regularly derided as boring. Enterprise social media may be the sexy new kid on the block, but ultimately it is all user-generated content.
If users are inhibited from sharing, enterprise social media becomes just another set of dusty online pages, and the valuable collaboration will continue to take place over email, the phone and IM... in fact anywhere that people can hide from their bosses.
By Sarah Dillingham
Sarah Dillingham has a long track record in delivering successful knowledge management programmes. Her background includes City professional services and central government. She is fascinated with the way that people interact with technology to collaborate (or not!) and the growth of mobile.
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