It’s almost spring of 2013, and while It has never been easier in the history of man to accumulate as much personal biographical information and with simple mouse-clicks or screen-wipes, share that information with everyone in the world. I find myself wondering what has happened to social sharing? I don’t seem to have time to look over my twitter feed and see what the thought leaders I follow are thinking. Most of my friends have fallen away from Facebook and Instagram, except for a hard-boiled few who can’t get enough of Grumpy Cat memes (myself included). LinkedIn has value for networking and making announcements, but can it properly be called a community? I get a very real sense that social sharing has really hit its peak, or possibly begun to slide in relevance.
Of course, it’s not really social sharing nowadays, is it? What we do on the internet on sites like Facebook and Pinterest is curating an electronic persona – a selection of “likes” and attitudes that we hope will pass as a facsimile for how we want our peers to perceive us. We almost never share a weakness or a vice (unless it might be considered by our peers to be an admirable one) and due to the evolution of security permissions, even our audiences are carefully measured and manicured. It’s like we fill a large silo with thoughts and images and place it in the middle of a distant field that we only tell our closest friends how to find. It might be social in that our content is shared with a group, and it is sharing in that we offer that content without expectation of return, but it is very different than social sharing in a more traditional sense.
Consider walking down the street. I walk down the street in plain view of complete strangers in a totally unmoderated fashion. These strangers can observe me, my clothes, my accessories, my friends and my gestures and they may be influenced accordingly. They may like my jacket or they may take offence to something rude that I’ve said or they might admire that I picked up some litter and put it in the trash. In response, they might go and buy a similar jacket for themselves, may refrain from saying something unguarded like I did, or think twice before littering. I’m going to blithely refer this effect as “community”, only to set it apart from the kind of internet sharing that typically only begets more sharing on the social networks, but little other actual tangible results.
Ironically, the salvation of social sharing might come from corporations. Corporations, perhaps more than any other type of organization, have a deep need for exposing knowledge and ideas. Identifying knowledge and ideas are the lifeblood of invention and innovation. Sharing discoveries and expertise is critical to retaining capabilities in a changing workforce. Exposing policies and procedures is at the core of operational efficiency. Identifying aberrant behaviour or policies is an integral part of compliance and liability mitigation. Because of these requirements, corporations have been urgently striving to keep apace with the evolution of social networks in the world of individuals and doing their best to implement these solutions within their own organizations.
It is in the context of the corporate intranet that social sharing might have the most value. Social sharing on an intranet with tools like SharePoint 2013 or NewsGator can be amazingly transparent, shared equally by entry-level employees and the very top C-level executives. Visibility is high and the potential for impact and change is high. Even if social adoption achieves a modest 10-15% rate of adoption in an organization, that’s a substantial increase in transparency and potential responsiveness over systems like email or closed collaboration spaces. Opening a dialogue about operations, procedures or policies to the whole company promises greater potential for successful adaptation than historical mechanisms like small committees working in isolation from the corporate community by an order of magnitude. The manpower savings resulting from this kind of transparency alone justify the investment in internal social networks.
It’s exciting and slightly subversive to think that something like Facebook that so many companies sought to block from their networks over the past six or seven years could beget so powerful a tool for improving the feedback loop between workers and bosses in a corporate setting. This is definitely a space that makes me excited to be a part of the information technology industry.