The constant rush to ram the perceived collaboration advantages of social networks down the collective throats of the enterprise continues relatively unabated, even despite mounting evidence that Palpatine has no clothes. Previously in Antisocial Enterprise and Antisocial Enterprise II I’ve discussed how the social networking model by its very nature is fundamentally misaligned to business needs, and that dumping such technology into the fray stands to be even more disappointing than Sharepoint. While users scramble for the nearest airlock, many architects and analysts are wondering how to tweak the technology and integration to operate effectively in the business realm. But the answer is not forthcoming. The problem is well beyond understanding how we interact with social networks, but also precisely what those networks do to us. The underlying problem in fact is not technological, but rather sociological. We have met the enemy and he is us.
Casey Johnson of Ars Technica recently published an introspective on how Facebook has changed – and how it has changed us in its first decade on this planet. In this article, she writes:
“Facebook is flopping around a bit now. The ever-important “teens” despise it, and it’s not the runaway success, happy addiction, or awe-inspiring source of information it once was. We’ve curated our identities so hard and had enough experiences with unforeseen online conflict that Facebook can now feel more isolating than absorbing.”
Younger users are driving themselves away from Facebook, not because of the compelling robot dinosaur awesomeness of competing technologies but rather a much more understandable reason: those pesky adults are ruining all the fun. The fact their parents and the rest of the adult world is hanging out nearby transforms the network into one of obligation and unwanted transparency. More or less a prison. It’s no surprise those very users are bailing to messaging apps and closed networks.
“When these enterprise social networks came out, the messaging was that everybody will know how to use because it’s just like Facebook. Well, that didn’t happen. The last couple of years it’s been about really helping people get work done. But the numbers (of users) still doesn’t budge. Fewer than 15 percent of knowledge workers who have access to an enterprise social network use it on a daily basis.”
The same dynamic driving teens from Facebook keeps workers out of Enterprise social networking. Think of a social network that your boss closely monitors or can aggregate via Big Data… Do you think all of your team design meetings would be as productive if your boss was hovering over each one? Now extrapolate that to the VP, or the CEO. Are you getting nervous yet? Now imagine the visibility is unidirectional – maybe you can’t see how they are arguing over whether your project should exist at all and whether your entire team should be transferred to Rura Penthe for toilet duty, but they can quantify and categorize your every action and decision. Why did you argue with supply chain 5.7 times a week on average, anyway? Aren’t you a team player?
A more concrete, physical world example. Ever been to a meeting where a VP drops in unannounced at a medium to large company? People suddenly sit up straight, stop chewing their gum, occasionally begin sweating profusely, and secretly wish for X-men invisibility powers. Most stick to the axiom better to be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. Engineers especially tend to be really conservative in such social environments. Those meetings therefore tend to be dominated by the strongest Type-A’s who merely enjoy the reassuring sound of their own voice.
The same holds true in a social network, as quoted from the same Ars Technica article:
“As Facebook itself knows from watching people type up statuses or comments and then delete them before posting, people feel pressure to say or do the right things when using services like Facebook. Part of that feeling stems from the breadth of the audience; when you want to say something about the latest Fox News broadcast, but your whole social network is politically mixed, you are likely to hold back your comments.”
Of course these scenarios play out as function of company culture. In smaller companies the culture on average tends to be more relaxed. In those cases, the social network isn’t all that necessary because you can probably just shout across the room. The point is that enterprise social networking doesn’t alter a company culture, it only magnifies it.
Social networks as a great liberator also bring a great danger – and the average human is certainly shrewd enough to understand. An arms race of curated appearances leaves all the real difficult discussions, arguments, and disagreements to be swept into oblivion. The natural human reaction is to withdraw. Inadvertently this behavior promotes only the loudest voices – which aren’t necessary the most valuable.
That’s why communities like Dassault’s 3D SwYm (A focus group name, if there ever was one) and Yammer are quickly becoming very popular places to film zombie apocalypse movies thanks to the distinct lack of living people. Yes, in enterprise social networking, no one can hear you scream.