Monday, November 2, 2009

LC's Big Q: How To Make The Case For Social Media?

Tony Karrer posted November's Learning Circuits Big Question today, and the subject of this one is compelling. The question is how to sell the use of social media (SM) for training and performance improvement purposes in the workplace, particularly when there may be fellow colleagues and/or management that may be not familiar with or are biased against it. As a WLP professional that uses SM increasingly, it's becoming important for me to consider more and more the potential for SM to be a solution I am capable of deploying skillfully for clients. I think this trend will also continue to spread, and there are already examples of SM being implemented by instructional designers and other performance leaders.

How do you communicate about the potential here to other learning professionals? to knowledge workers? to management?

To answer the first question, I think it's important to have people consider a few things. After defining "social media" I would have these questions:

  • How do you interact with other professionals in the field?
  • Do you attend conferences a few times a year?
  • Do you blog outside of work? For work or pleasure?
  • Do you participate in any regular webinars or online meeting functions?
  • How do you interact online with other professionals? Family? Friends?
  • What types of interaction do you prefer?

Asking someone to consider the context in which they interact with personal and professional content and personalities could help them understand the differences in traditional technologies and new ones, and to think about how they value their lifelong learning personally. It's about drawing out perspective.

Once the question is up for consideration in reference to another perspective, then I think the case can be made for SM by highlighting how it can originate and extend discussions, invite other perspectives on key questions, and contribute to the overall body of thought. Of course, highlighting organizations that have had great success implementing SM is a great way to bolster the argument for adopting it. Reflecting on and communicating personal experience can also help. Ask your interlocutors to consider the ways in which SM may have helped them improve their work or personal lives.

As with selling a product, preparing for objection is key. A list of common objections might be:

  • It's a waste of time/productivity
  • It's for the younger demographics
  • I'm not a fan of it.
  • I've heard bad things about it.
  • I've never used it before.
  • I'm not comfortable communicating that way online.
  • It's hard to manage.
  • It's hard to keep interest.

There are surely others but this list has some common ones. No one solution is perfect, but it's appropriate to focus on the positive ways in which technologies are changing everyday life, and it's important to make note of the enthusiasm and speed involved.

How do you communicate the value to an audience who doesn't have experience with social media?

To address the second question, this I think could potentially be more difficult. The nature of the environment factors big time here. For example, if there is a wide range of ages, social media will be understood and used by some, dismissed by others, and find only very specific uses for the rest. Divisions could also occur between individuals of different skill types. The danger is in potential rifts. To mitigate these, here are some things to consider:

  • Make sure your audience knows the definition of "social media". Many may not think they are using it when they are.
  • If you can, gather consensus among your colleagues or other potential partners if possible. If it appears that you will have help and added expertise in deploying an SM-based solution, buy-in may be more likely as others will see the potentiality of failure as less likely.
  • Partnering with others can also draw you nearer the skeptical audience, and provide you with effective channels of communication that might otherwise have impeded progress.
  • Have concrete goals in mind, and don't try to reinvent the entire way communication and collaboration happens.
  • Start with one or two initiatives - a wiki on a process or setting up social networking groups for cross-functional teams - and build.

SM has caused a revolution in our personal lives and interests, and now the uses for the workplace are becoming more apparent and real. Effective use of SM in professional settings is possible, but not all of it is ubiquitous, making our ability to promote and plan for it that much more important.

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