Social (network) inclusion

Every six months or so I catch up with Euan Semple, a former colleague from my BBC days and someone whom it’s useful to occasionally chat with to keep a grip on some sort of reality (or possibly to reinforce our collective madness!).

We spent an hour or so chatting yesterday, and one of the topics that came up was an extension out from yesterday’s thoughts on how brands interact “socially” with their customers, and vice versa.

Just over eight years ago I made a bit of a leap into the unknown when I decided to leave IT for a while to go and work for a training and development company. From sitting in a cosy role as Enterprise Architect, I headed off to expand my horizons by coaching and facilitating sessions in topics from project management through consulting skills to the rarefied world of leadership.

Shortly after I’d made the decision to change roles, I was talking with an old school friend of mine who, coincidentally, was also working at the BBC at the time in a role in the press office. It seemed that Cath’s days would consist of flitting from one famous person to another, interviewing them and writing them up for general distribution, and it was a role in which I would have desperately star struck to the point of muteness.

When I told her I’d be soon running training courses, she looked horrified. She explained that she couldn’t understand how anyone could take such a role because whenever she went on such events she spent the entire time petrified that the trainer would single her out to have to talk in front of the rest of the group, a thought that filled her with dread.

As someone who has no problem with talking in crowds big or small this came as something of a revelation, and I very consciously made sure that, when facilitating a group, I would make sure that the quiet folk would be given opportunities to participate in ways in which they felt comfortable (in groups of two or three, for instance).

As a rough rule of thumb, for any ten people there would be one or two in the group who’d be like Cath, another 3 or 4 who would find it difficult to shut up (like me), and then the rest somewhere in between. The proportions would change if you had more senior groups until, working with boards of directors, you might find all trying to talk (often at the same time).

I recount all of this because, it seems, similar forces are at play in the world of social networks, whether intra- or inter-organisation. Although social networking might allow the wallflowers to blossom, others will take their place at the back. Some folk just don’t feel comfortable contributing, and others will only do so with encouragement or when things are really important.

Take a look at, say, your own Facebook news feed. 90% of the content being generated by 10% of your friends? Many you hear nothing from at all?

10% of a billion is still a lot of content producers for Facebook. The challenge comes when it’s only 1% of your staff or engaged customers (assuming your customers want to converse in the first place). Simplistic mechanisms like running competitions can provoke activity, but not necessarily conversations and collaboration.

It might be as simple as how the equivalent of smaller group sessions can be created in the virtual, social, world. But from the world of training, that involved not only the space to be provided, but active facilitation that could spot those that weren’t contributing, and the encouragement and environments to allow them to do so. That’s not a system thing – it’s a people thing. Because as Euan so concisely puts it, organisations don’t tweet, people do.

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