As I mentioned previously, I’ve been taking a graduate class at Northwestern that is essentially about using enterprise social networks to accomplish knowledge management. We’ve learned the theories behind both what knowledge and knowledge management are, the pros and cons for businesses and individuals, some of the psychology behind why people do or don’t readily participate, etc. Some of the readings were very dense and scholarly, and others were more lively and engaging. All in all, it has been a great experience.
Because I’m a practicing community manager, I have found that I can’t stop myself doing a lot of stepping back to assess what’s going on from that lens. In other words, I’ve been both a participant in and observer of the course. There’s been so much to reflect on behaviorally, even in myself.
Our last class meeting was this week, and one of the questions the instructor asked was how our attitudes had changed over the time period of the course. The vast majority of the students said that they were now much more likely to participate and even lead the way (model behaviors) in their company ESNs. Many of them described that before the class, they had been hesitant to participate for a variety of reasons, but had decided to step in now.
I have a few theories why that happened, but I don’t want to put them forth just yet. I’m hoping that by writing this post and pointing people to it, I’ll get some feedback. I sense there is at least a little bit of secret sauce in here – a way to better lead people to their own personal “Aha!” moment with enterprise social. It feels almost like it is on the tip of my tongue. But then I talk myself out of it because trying to talk to people at work about knowledge management seems like such an unlikely way to win.
Anyone game to help fill in some blanks here? I won’t name names, but I’m hoping a few of my classmates will help me think about this one out loud.
This is a thinking out loud post. I haven’t worked through all of this at all, and am curious to see where writing about it will take me, and whether I’ll get some interesting feedback to carry the conversation further.
As I read about ways to encourage participation in enterprise networks, one of the things I’ve heard a lot is that it is really important to encourage people. If they post and no one responds, people can get easily discouraged and decide that posting was a failed experiment. I have no reason to doubt that is true. I know that for a lot of people, it takes significant courage to post. Writing something and posting it in public can be pretty intimidating, and if no one seems to take notice, what is the point? I’ll go so far as to say I struggled with that before buying my domain and setting up this blog, and still think about it as I write new posts and watch the stats afterward. Fortunately for me, I’ve had good counsel that I can learn simply by the act of posting, and that’s keeping me going.
Back to the topic at hand – social signals. On the other hand, I also know there are a lot of people who read posts and don’t take the time to like or comment on them. For example, I know of some people who have read my blog posts here but have not clicked like or left comments. They have remarked on them elsewhere, and thankfully I know that. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and I’m sure it goes on all the time. But it does make me wonder why we seem to have set up these false or unrealistic expectations around feedback. How did we get to a place where a lack of response is equivalent to (or possibly worse than) no feedback at all? And if we all seemingly value (crave?) feedback so much, why do so many of us shy away from offering it directly?
I suspect that for those of us that use it, Facebook sets up false expectations. We see that people who post there get all kinds of feedback, and perhaps we come to expect the same elsewhere. The fallacy of this, though, is that our work posts are rarely equivalent to what we’d post on Facebook, and the audiences we find elsewhere are of a much different composition.
Maybe it mostly comes down to the medium being new and norms not having been fully defined or accepted yet. We know that our family reunion cookout will be different from a cookout with friends, and different still from a cookout with work colleagues, and we’re OK with that; perhaps relieved for the differences. Maybe we just don’t yet have the collective experience to tell us that these same things are true in online discourse.