Cautions to Learning Professionals Implementing Social Media from the Facebook Brouhaha (Part 2)

Since I wrote Part 1 on this topic, the dust up about Facebook’s change to its privacy settings got so loud that Mark Zukerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, published an editorial in the Washington Post saying “We missed the mark.” And, last Wednesday, Facebook rolled out a new “simpler” interface to control your privacy settings. While I’m sure many people are pleased that Facebook has responded to users concerns, these new developments do not negate the lessons that we can learn from this situation.

In the first post, I explored the caution on changing the implicit user agreement when implementing social tools, including knowledge management systems. In this post I’ll explore a second caution that arises from Facebook’s phenomenal success that results in them having over 500 million users.

As I mentioned last time, having such success has led to a situation where it is difficult not to be on Facebook. While there was a move on Facebook itself to make May 31st “Quit Facebook Day,” with a goal of getting 200 million users to cancel their Facebook accounts all on that day, quitting Facebook presents a real dilemma.  If all of your friends, family and network are using Facebook to share information, organize class reunions, post the latest baby pictures, etc., and you are not on Facebook, you are left out.

So what’s the caution for corporate social learning and knowledge sharing? The more successful your system becomes, the greater the likelihood of creating two classes of corporate citizens — those who are engaged, contributing and valued in the social learning network, and those who are not. In a previous post, I talked about what research is discovering about the power of your network to influence your behavior and success. It is very powerful stuff.

The dynamic of those who are in the good”-old-boys (or girls)” network having access to better opportunities and support is probably as old as human beings. However, when the interactions that build those “good-old” networks are face-to-face, there are multiple ways to contribute and develop standing. At least with current social media technology, those who can most easily contribute and develop credibility and standing in a business setting, are those who are most capable of clear, concise writing. Now that is an ability that’s certainly important to develop in business today, but as an only means of establishing “network-value” it will rather limit or skew the network, meaning some will be left out.

I’m clearly not advocating that we avoid building social learning and sharing tools for our organizations. I’m just raising some cautions that we need to be aware of as we do. Just as with any change or technology, there is the Law of Unintended Consequences. As leaders in implementing these new tools and technologies, I think we have a responsibility to anticipate some of those consequences, and think about how to mitigate them.

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