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But Do They Work?

One of the big questions I'm frequently asked about using social media is whether or not the tools "work."  Depending on the questioner, this can mean a variety of things, but underlying everything is one issue--will my department or organization improve if we use social media?

Via Shel Holtz and Workplace Learning Today comes yet another "yes," to that question. Shel cites a brief published by the Aberdeen Group, titled Web 2.0, Talent Management, and Employee Engagement (a PDF file) that finds:

  • 52% of organizations that adopt blogs, wikis, and social networking tools (among others) achieved best-in-class performance levels compared to 5% for those that didn’t.
  • The same tools were used within organizations that achieved an 18% year-over-year improvement in employee engagement. Companies that didn’t use these tools grew engagement by a mere 1%. (An aside--not sure how "employee engagement" was measured).
  • A 45% increase in spending on “software that links to networking site (e.g. Facebook or LinkedIn) or other communities of practice” as part of the recruiting process will increase internal recruiters’ ability to connect with potential recruits. These tools also let employees post messages to “lend a voice to the market on the work culture at a particular company.”
  • Social networking is being used to connect newly-hired employees with mentors and coaches as well as build relationships with other employees. “In addition,” the brief notes, “blogs and wikis are also used as a means for a new employee to provide content/commentary on a topic at which he/she is an expert where others within the organization are struggling.” (Note--see my post last week on Lisa Johnson's keynote and the need to engage Millenials at work. This is what we're talking about here. I heard the same thing from the Gen Y folks at my Social Media Game workshop)
  • 38% of organizations surveyed for an upcoming study from Aberdeen said the biggest growth in learning and development over the next year will come from “informal learning.” The investment these companies will make in blogs, social networks, and communities will “stimulate peer-to-peer learning and ideation, as well as facilitate communities of practice in which organizations can leverage the collective knowledge of their employees."

These findings echo what we saw in the eLearning Guild's 360 Report on eLearning 2.0 (webinar today, by the way). Those organizations that were making the greatest use of Web 2.0 technologies reported the strongest benefits, particularly in accommodating learner needs, increasing access to information and improving dissemination of information. As a result these organizations were increasing their investments in these technologies more than those organizations that had less experience with social media.

Pretty quickly the question isn't going to be "will the tools work?" but "how can we make them work for us?" Throwing up a wiki or a blog and hoping for the best isn't going to cut it. But doing it right can make some significant improvements to organizational effectiveness.


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Great post with the finding from the Aberdeen research! I am in the process of pitching the use of Web2.0 tools within our company to the executive team and this type of information is very helpful. There still seems to be a culture of control in this organization, but I see the possibility of unlocking so much potential across the board with these tools.

Thanks again for the very useful information!

John Zurovchak

Thanks John--great to see you in the webinar, too. All good info that we can use to make the case, I think.

One note of caution when looking at this research: it is not clear if the use of social software caused these improvements or if the good communication practices and management principles that caused these improvements meant were more open to these type of technologies which fit into these strategies.

I wonder if a company that has such control issues and a culture of closed communication would use Web 2.0 technologies to its fullest, John.

Any recommendations on the best 2.0 strategy?

Great point, Virginia--a reminder that isn't just about the tools, but also the underlying behaviors that go with them.

Melanie-- I think the tools you use and how you use them really depend on what you're trying to accomplish individually or organizationally. Definitely not a one-size fits all answer to that question.

I echo Michele Martin's comment - the chicken and egg question. Organizational openness to social media may suggest openness to other types of sharing, not just that which is enabled by social media.

Also, the benefits of social media are not just one way, enabling millennials and gen x'ers to hook in to the organization faster; they also provide a mechanism for older folks to share wisdom and experience; see "Is "My Dow Network" a "Social Network"?"

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