Social networking… at the office?

On-the-Internet-52In my final post for MSLOC 430, I’d like to bring my two previous posts & this new one full circle by introducing some content related to… the big, bad internet.  As more people get online, more information is shared across farther distances, more people are connecting that may never have met before and organizations are finding a whole host of new ways to get in touch with their clients.  However, not everything has been smooth sailing.  The internet has made it easier for people like stalkers, bullies and terrorists to communicate and/or terrify others.  It has also provided a cloak with which people can hide behind; communication doesn’t happen face-to-face and so now, people can create an entirely new identity online if they choose to do so.

All of this, however, begs some questions: how are we supposed to interact with others online?  How can we build trust when the interactions aren’t face-to-face?  Is the way I behave and communicate online different than the way I behave and communicate in person?  What about at work?  Should my behavior online be different there than it is at home?  And so on…

What’s most interesting about trust, leadership and being online is that so much of the literature and research on leadership says that in order for leaders to build trust, they must be physically present with their team members.  Physical presence is not something that goes hand-in-hand with the internet, so how can we, as leaders, build trust online?  Certainly organizations are starting to consider this question as they’re faced with an increasing pressure to be more mobile, global and/or open.  In my quest to understand more about building trust online, I stumbled upon a TEDTalk that made me recalibrate my own perception of trust and empowerment as it relates to the internet.  Rachel Botsman, an author and innovator on the power of collaboration, explores these concepts in her TEDTalk from Sept 2012:

There are two pieces from her TEDTalk that really stand out to me as it relates to trust, leadership and the internet:

  1. social networking sites, marketplaces and online collaborative spaces can empower people to make meaningful connections
  2. these places encourage people to develop personal relationships because that’s what they’re built on

Since these types of sites are built on personal relationship as opposed to “empty transactions,” as Rachel notes, organizations should consider how they can leverage this kind of community building in-house.  Companies are growing their footprint online with their customers, why not grow it with their employees too?  Organizations can empower their people to reach out to others by introducing an enterprise social network (ESN).  An ESN could encourage collaboration and increase connectedness within an organization – two things that companies will likely find advantageous in terms of increasing efficiency.

The bottom line: ESNs can be a powerful tool for organizations to adopt as technology continues to evolve.  However, they must not forget that without trust, people won’t be apt to really use the networking site to its full potential.  We know that it’s possible for trust to be developed online, but leaders must understand that it still requires effort to build genuine relationships with team members whether it’s online or not.  Only then can online networking at the office really pay off for an organization.


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