Social media is seemingly everywhere these days, it is has been a part of the social fabric of most societies for the past 7 to 10 years and for the last few has also been appearing increasingly as part of the business landscape.
For many businesses, social media is still little more than a presence on the world wide web, possibly accompanied by a LinkedIn company page, for others it extends beyond these into Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter or one of the many other assorted social media platforms that are available. This article is not intended to serve as a guide for which platforms would best suit different businesses, it is, however, intended to provide some guidance on how a virtual team, whether for a business or a project, could use social media for internal communications.
This article is primarily discussing the use of social media by the members of a team to build a sharing and more nuanced personal working relationship, one that is not built entirely on work related email and video conference calls, but one that involves sharing personal and professional experiences outside of the project environment.
Modes Of Social Media Use
Each team and organisation will experience the use of social media differently, whether the users see it as a purely personal tool or a corporate one, as a minimum, many still like to see some social media presence for their project team or business. The key different modes of social media use are:
- Personal use – many, if not virtually all virtual team members will use social media in some way. As an entirely social tool to keep in touch with family and friends, to share images of their lives or to maintain a professional profile the penetration of social media is such that there is an inherent expectation that there will be a touch point between their purely social life and its appearance on social media and their professional.
- Team use – sometimes with the support of though frequently in spite of the business’ views of social media, many team members will seek to establish an informal social media presence for their projects or businesses. Examples of this can be seen on LinkedIn, such as the alumni groups which are formed for past and present members of a company or project to remain in touch, and the use of the projects option to connect members, either working together on a current project or on a completed one. Many businesses and projects are now starting to recognise this as a way for team members to interact socially, and are encouraging the establishment of such communities. Many other businesses however remain frightened of the freedom social media affords their personnel.
- Business use – businesses have tended to see social media as either an inconvenience, a passing fad or a marketing tool to sell their product to an audience. Sadly, only a few organisations are seeing it was a way to build an internal community amongst their personnel, yet building a strong internal community is what every team needs to be successful, regardless of whether they are co-located or virtual.
Methods Of Use Of Social Media
There are a number of ways a business can use social media to build its internal communities, beside this, you also need to consider how you will select the platforms that make the most sense of your business, but essentially some of the factors to consider are;
- Do you want a closed or an open platform, and why – you need to decide whether your employee social media functionality will be inside or outside of your business firewalls. It is important here to distinguish between what needs to stay internal for confidentiality/business reasons and what can be freely shared You then must decide what your business is happy to encourage or discourage in the external, public space. It is also important to recognise that it may well be virtually impossible to prevent your personnel from using external, free, open platforms for work related social relationships, and as such to embrace them and be part of the discussion.
- Who will control your pages and data – Some businesses struggle with the concept of allowing anything to be discussed about them without the prior approval of they corporate affairs personnel – witness how tightly many CEO’s are controlled when in public or how infrequently many corporations will make any kind of public comment on matters, even where it is in both their and the public’s best interest. This same mentality leads to many companies trying to own every message spoken or written about them, and actively discouraging their employees from discussing anything to do with their organisation externally. My view here is that the traditional level of control that existed before the wide access and use of social media is now a relic of the past. Modern businesses need to recognise that their employees are potentially also their best marketing tool, employees will share their work experiences on various platforms for their friends and colleagues to see. Many times, these same friends and colleagues will be clients, suppliers or potential employees of the organisation and are likely to implicitly trust the message from their friend’s social media stream.
- Can personnel edit and contribute content freely – hot on the heels of the previous point is the need to decide who will own the information on social media, who will have the ability to edit and contribute to it. Again, drawing the distinction between the organisation’s own marketing stream and that of its employees, we would say that the truly social side of the media should and must be owned wholly by the individuals. They should have the ability to write and say whatever they need, to use the tools at their disposal to build stronger personal relationships with their virtual team colleagues to make their working relationship stronger through having a non work based friendship or professional relationship aided and supported by their social media interaction.
- Can you have sub communities in a controlled environment? – As organisations begin to let go of some of their need to control every message and, to allow their employees the freedom to build the working communities they need to be effective in their roles, there will be a growing need for more flexible and channeled technologies that allow personnel to be social in new ways. The current range of social platforms are largely either built to be internal to a business or external in the non business world, there are very few platforms that straddle both worlds in practical ways that allow individuals to decide what they will share with who in the broadest sense. This may well be one of the next steps of evolution of such social media platforms.
Regardless of the wishes of even the most controlling business, humans are essentially social beings who will look for ways to share their lives with family, friends and colleagues. Tools and platforms to enable this will be continually evolving, moving from meeting in a bar or restaurant to compare work and family experiences to meeting virtually on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, the discussions are largely similar and will continue unabated as technology evolves.
Business and their project teams have a choice to make; to welcome the team building opportunities made available by these technologies or to try to fight it to the bitter end. My belief is that the benefits of embracing technology and using it to help your team be more successful far out weigh the risks of the occasional slip. The one caveat of course is that the users of the technology need to recognise that what they write is there for ever and can often be seen by a more broad audience.
Share your experiences
Do you have experiences with using social media to support a virtual team you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations plan, establish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams, with current, real world, academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can help your business, or sign up using the form below to receive our regular newsletter.
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