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Don't Want to Look Stupid in Front of Your Customers? Start Playing with Social Media Inside Your Organization First

Community Although I don't know if stats back me up on this, personal experience tells me that one of the main reasons people are afraid to use new tools is because they don't want to look stupid in front of the world--and more specifically in front of their customers.

I've been thinking a lot lately (again) about why there's still resistance to social media tools.  I'm beginning to believe that some of the resistance comes from the fact that so much of the advice out there focuses on using these tools with external stakeholders--your customers and other constituents with whom it feels most risky to make a mistake.

There's no doubt that if you're new to things like blogs, wikis and social networks, there can be lot to learn about the technology and conventions of operating in these environments. But the thing is, there are ways to start practicing with these tools without having to put your efforts out in front of those people whose reactions scare you to death. There are ways to get comfortable with the media before having to work with the tools in the wider world.

Here are some ideas. . .

Blogs are just online journals that list posts and articles in reverse chronological order, with the most recent information first. They're actually incredibly versatile and could be used in a lot of ways inside your organization:

  • Individual departments or workgroups can set up a group blog that they use to update the rest of the organization on what's happening in their department.
  • Use a blog as your employee newsletter and to share time-sensitive information with staff.
  • Have employees maintain blogs to reflect on their work practices and keep track of achievements. They could also be used to have more senior staff document work processes and tips from which more junior staff might benefit.
  • And you could replace your "Employee Ideas" box with a blog, too. Float ideas or problems and then have people use comments to provide their feedback.

If you're going to play around with blogging within your organization, you'll want to check out Blogger or Wordpress--there's a version you can download and run on your own servers for free or you can use this online version, which has fewer features, but will do the trick.

To some, a blog can seem like a big commitment. Another option is to use a tumblelog like Tumbler. This is a form of blogging that favors much shorter posts and sharing of multimedia. It's a great way to keep track of ideas--as you think of them, you can just make a quick post to your tumblelog--and to share multimedia finds, like a Slideshare presentation. You may want to consider creating an organizational tumblelog that everyone adds to as they find new materials or have new ideas. It can be a more dynamic form of a wiki (see below).

Wikis are websites that can be edited by anyone. They are a great tool for developing group documentation and sharing information. Probably the best intro to wikis I've seen is this one from the crew at Common Craft. Some of the ways you could use a wiki inside the organization include:

  • As an online FAQ for office proceduresWetpaint_logo
  • To manage a project
  • As a policy and procedure manual.
  • For personal or organizational brainstorming.
  • To create an online resource guide for staff

I've written more about the uses of wikis here and here to give you some additional ideas. I like Wetpaint or Wikispaces if you decide you want to start your own. 

Your Own Organizational Social Network
Ning is a tool that lets anyone create their own social network, complete with forums to have online discussions, member pages, individual member blogs and places to upload videos, photos, and PPT presentations.

  • Your Ning site could be set up as an "online office," where staff could upload shared resources (such as Word docs of forms, PowerPoint presentations, etc.) and get answers to questions through the forums. It also would ensure that staff could access what they needed from work or from home.
  • It could also function as a virtual classroom to share learning and professional development resources.

Here are 8 steps to creating a great network.

A podcast is simply a digital audio file that can be recorded and uploaded to the Internet for downloading onto an i-pod or mp3 player. It can also be listened to online. You can get fancy with podcasting, but probably the easiest down and dirty thing I've seen is G-cast, which lets you record a podcast through your cell phone. It's as simple as calling a number and starting to talk. This could be used to record and share:

  • Instructions and How-Tos
  • Interviews--maybe an interview with a staff person on a recent achievement or a program they are running.
  • Work tips
  • News and updates

Once you've recorded your podcast(s), then you can set up links to them in the appropriate blog or wiki. So you might have a "How To" wiki of policies and procedures that includes not only written information, but also supplemental podcasts.

Getting Started
Keyboard_keys_2 Obviously there are a LOT of ways you can get started with social media inside your organization before you ever have to start using these tools with customers. I think this might be a safer space to experiment and once you get more comfortable using these tools, then you can start playing around with them in the wider world. But where to go from here? I'd suggest:

  • Think about something you want to start doing better at work. Do you want to start keeping track of your personal achievements so you have them all in one place the next time you want to talk to your boss about a raise? Do you want to start keeping better track of new ideas? Do you need to manage a project or would you like to keep in better touch with your colleagues? Find one thing you'd like to do better and set a goal.
  • Find a tool on the list that can help you with your goal. Let's say that you want to start keeping track of your achievements and work assignments so that you can show them to your boss at the next performance review. You might want to consider setting up a blog or tumblelog. Each time you do something, you can post what you did online, along with a reference to where you put the digital file(s) supporting it. Or if you need to manage a project, play around with setting up a wiki.
  • Start experimenting with your tool. Once you know which tool you want to use, then start playing around with it. Don't worry. You won't break anything. And if you're really nervous about making mistakes, then try using a tool just with yourself--don't worry about showing it to anyone else. Don't give up too soon--sometimes the technology can be frustrating, but most of these tools have pretty short learning curves if you can stick with them.
  • Start the cycle again--or start using your new tool with a wider audience. Once you get comfortable with your new toy, then you can either start working with a wider audience--maybe you take that wiki to the rest of your department--or you can start practicing with another tool to try it out and get comfortable with it.

The only way to really learn new media is to experiment with it. But you don't have to do your experiments in front of other people if they make you uncomfortable. By practicing with social media tools inside your organization, you can develop the skills and comfort level that will allow you to start using them with customers and other external stakeholders.

How have you used social media tools inside the enterprise? What ideas do you have for how this could be done?


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Hi Michele,

Good advice. Here's something else that works to facilitate social networking: the virtual classroom/conference room. You may be intereted in Elluminate's Fire & Ice program, where schools around the world connect and collaborate. (

And if you'd like a free virtual room of your own to experiment with, you can try Elluminate vRoom. Full functionality for up to 3 participants, and you can use it for as long as you like. (

- Beth, Elluminate Goddess of Communication

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