One of the hottest topics in the learning industry today is social networking. The potential of this tool is clear — it can make an instructor out of almost any employee and provide timely performance support on critical issues. But amid all the hype, it’s easy to overlook one pertinent question: Who should have control over the corporate social network?
It’s not always an easy question to answer. It depends on who will be using it and the nature of the organization itself, said Michael Wilson, founder and CEO of social media provider Small World Labs.
“With social networking, we’ve found a new platform for communication and collaboration,” he said. “Companies are using social networks in a wide variety of environments. They’re using them for their customers, alumni and employees.”
According to Wilson, HR is more likely to own any internally facing social network, but that arrangement isn’t common enough to be considered typical.
“I think it’s still too early to say if that’s where it should always sit, or if it fits into some kind of knowledge management [function],” he said. “When you look internally at an employee-oriented community, you’ve got a number of benefits or goals that you’re looking to achieve with social networks.
“They help create a corporate culture of sharing and teamwork. They help increase intracompany communication and collaboration. They facilitate the identification of subject-matter experts. They can improve employee retention because technology is creating new bonds among employees and between employee and company, and that adds a human element to the company.”
In addition, the question of control might come down to the part of the organization that runs the technical side of the social network, as opposed to the department most aligned with the network’s purposes. Wilson pointed out that IT often has ownership of these modalities, and at a social networking conference he attended a few weeks ago, the split between HR and technology professionals in attendance was roughly even.
“It kind of depends on what the role of IT is within the company itself,” he explained. “In some companies, IT will have a pretty expansive role, in that the other departments — including HR — will come to that department and say, ‘We need this solution.’ Then IT will go out and make evaluations, do market analyses and make a recommendation for the vendor. In other companies, that’s not the case.”
Wilson has a couple of recommendations for any function that wants to assume ownership of an organization’s social network, whether it’s HR, IT, corporate communications or learning and development. First of all, if you want control, you should be the one who sets the vision and gets the project off the ground. Second, be sure to follow through on the initiative by keeping up with its progress and encouraging its use.
“Implementing a social network is not just a check-the-box activity,” Wilson said. “Getting the solution implemented is only half the game. The other half is making sure you have a good plan to support and build that community. All of the efficiency and productivity gains you are looking to achieve through a social network are only realized if people get on it and use it. There is some marketing and support work that needs to be done, and when it’s done effectively, it can have tremendous impact on adoption.”