I just finished a draft of the "Why eLearning 2.0?" essay I'm contributing to the eLearning Guild's upcoming 360 report on social media and learning. Working on it got me thinking about one of the key concerns people have about integrating Web 2.0 into the enterprise--privacy and confidentiality concerns.
One of the things I hear a lot is that organizations fear that use of social media means that all of their intellectual property will fly out the window as people begin sharing and learning through social media tools. But the thing is, if people wanted to share proprietary information, they already have great ways to do this that are actually LESS easy to monitor than social networks. I can send an email. I can make a copy of a document and use snail mail to send it or fax it over to someone. I can have phone conversations or face-to-face discussions. If I'm inclined to give away your organization's secret sauce, I already have plenty of ways to do that.
Social media is actually a really poor method for talking about things I shouldn't be discussing because through search and the very nature of social networks, it makes it extremely unlikely that I can keep this activity a secret for very long. Why do we think we're just now having issues with people revealing "private" information online? When our interactions were restricted to email, rather than happening in these readily accessible networks, they were happening much more under the radar.
From a learning perspective, this whole "privacy/confidentiality" issue has some interesting repercussions. When interactions between employees are happening primarily through these more private channels--water cooler conversations, emails, phone calls--it's very difficult to see when and if misinformation is starting to make the rounds. It also makes it more difficult to see if people are really "getting it."
Consider what would happen, though, if we turned to social media for the majority of our interactions within an organization. If we're posting questions and answers on a blog or wiki, using social networks to interact and share information, as a learning professional I can monitor those channels to see where additional learning interventions might be appropriate.Not as a punishment, mind you, but as a sort of ongoing just-in-time learning needs analysis and opportunity for coaching. If a lot of questions suddenly start popping up on the network, that's a pretty good sign that as a learning professional I may need to do something.
On the reverse side of the coin, when great ideas make the rounds through private channels, we can miss those, too. I've seen organizations spend tons of money trying to "catalogue" best practices for precisely this reason--they aren't readily available or accessible. However if we were using social media for the majority of our discussions, then again, it would be much easier to find the great ideas and solutions and share them with the rest of the organization.
From where I sit, this whole idea of social media being such a confidentiality concern is a bit of a non-starter. If people want to tell your secrets, they have the means to do it already with much less likelihood of getting caught. And by embracing this idea that social media will harm us, we actually miss out on some ways in which it can improve the quality of learning and organizational knowledge.