Learning in the flow of work? Don’t worry about the cat photos

A few recent conversations with clients have circled the theme of valuable activity in corporate social networks. At the heart of this is a concern that these tools are used for ‘proper work’ rather than ‘non-work’ (however defined) or frivolity. The presence of pictures of pets and disucssions about what to have for lunch can cause anxiety for the People functions in many organisations. This is a misplaced worry I suspect.

The presence of ‘non-work’ content on enterprise social platforms is more likely to be a signal of elements of a healthy culture in a workplace than a cause for deep concern. For those who do share pet pictures, it shows that they feel comfortable to do so and receive some value from those simple exchanges. Just like talking to your colleagues, no? I hesitate to type it but maybe…just maybe…many people care more about their pets than their work tasks?

There is a heavy parental hand at play when we expect our users to use these products “properly” and judge them when they don’t. That parenting style might not be a good facilitator of the adult beahviours organisations claim they want to see.

(As a side note, refering to these tools as “enterprise social platforms” reveals the relevance they might have to the everyday life of an employee. Users just don’t think that hard and should not be expected to).

I have not found much evidence (from admittedly limited research) but I wonder whether the arrival of Facebook Workplace has heightened this anxiety in some organisations. Particularly in L&D functions where the social platforms chosen by learning teams faces fresh and apparently popular competition. This is tough – Facebook is so familiar as a product and the UI now feels so natural that is has defined how things work. It is also easier to use than many (all?) of those enterprise systems, having been tested by literally billions of users. Posting cat pics into a Facebook feed is almosta reflex at this stage.

There is a risk that the response from learning technology folks is a territorial one. That’s not where real learning happens so we will plough our proper furrow over here. Swoop Analytics have both data and experience of these non-work groups and recommend focusing on those that show signs of value and leaving the the long tail to itself. Do you really want to be a police force?

This makes sense to me but does not overcome the existential challenge for the social tools arriving via the big box LMS vendors. Again the data is hard to find (please help if you have some) but the anecdotal evidence suggests that these systems are not the destination of choice for workforces. This leaves digital learning managers with the task of persuading or mandating their use. The latter approach is doomed in the face of so much choice. The former is hard but can work if the value is clear and real for users. By real, I mean it exists in a way that a user can articulate immediately not the rationale from the L&D PowerPoint deck. It also needs genuine differentiation to avoid confusion.

A marketer would answer a different question. Find your audience and work with them where they concentrate their attention. If that is now in Workplace, then that is your channel. Fighting the tide is an unwise use of energy. Gary Vaynerchuk is really good on this theme and bears some of his own attention.

The learning profession has had to wake up to life beyond the LMS (or petrify within it). Similarly, social enterprise platform vendors are facing the same challenge. It might not be wise to try and pursuade the fish you want to catch to move to a more convenient area of the sea.

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