Content sharing in the workplace

officeshareIt wasn’t long ago that employers were trying to figure out how to forbid staff from accessing their social networking profiles while at work. Just three years ago, when I worked as a producer for a reality TV production company, the HR Director released a note to all staff: Use of IM during the workday is grounds for termination. Period. Wow, I thought then.

The missive was even more striking when I left TV to join Internet behemoth Yahoo–where we were essentially required to use IM for all points of communication (I won’t go into how that temporarily stunted my communication style, but suffice to say, I started saying OMG aloud in the course of normal conversations and I’ve never been the same since).

Now, it’s come a step farther: I use social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and StumbleUpon to communicate with my team members at the Lab. We interact via status messages and postings, and we send each other articles and blogs we find interesting–both during and outside of work hours. Given our work as experts in our particular verticals, it’s important we have a way to constantly pass each other information in efficient ways. No one blinks when I use IM or any other social network while at work–in fact, it’s likely evidence of collaboration and knowledge sharing.

A recent pan European study conducted by Dynamic Research on behalf of AT&T underscored the shift in attitudes:

65% of employees surveyed in Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands say their company has adopted social networking as part of their working culture

65% of employees surveyed say that social networking sites have made them and/or their colleagues more efficient

63% say they have enabled them and their colleagues to achieve things that would not otherwise have been possible

46% say they have sparked ideas and creativity for them

Social networking is getting some well-deserved props; it’s becoming a legitimate way to do business–but not only when you’re trying to hustle a new job or contact. Social media is, like the phone, like email, like even my favorite old piece of technology, the fax machine, increasingly becoming a necessary tool within the office place. What better way is there to send articles, suggest a new project sparked by online reading, keep track of trends, stay connected?

So, if social networking is the new office lunchroom, the next step is integrating it into the workplace.

The AT&T study highlights the social networking places where the European workers were naturally congregating:

Companies’ own collaboration sites on intranets (39%)
Internal forums within the company (20%)
Company-produced video material shared on intranets (16%)
Online social networks, such as LinkedIn and Facebook (15%)
External collaboration sites on web and internal blogging sites (11%)

Technology is making it easier and cheaper than ever for companies to build their own collaboration sites and forums (or use a third party’s white-labeled site). But there are drawbacks as well–companies may have trouble actually driving traffic to these corporate sites if they’re not built for real dialogue and don’t keep employees’ needs in mind (It is surprising that intranets got as much as 39% of the work-related social networking vote). Because more often than not, companies devote massive resources to build big bad work-social sites and they can’t pay their workers to visit it. Not great either. So is Facebook the answer? Maybe, but it’s still inextricably linked to our personal lives, and often not private enough for more extensive work-related networking.

Given the pros and cons of each solution, here are our reviews of the most promising social networking solutions for the workplace:

Benefits: Many users are already on Facebook, comfortable with platform. Status updates allow for sharing quick info. Facebook widgets easily publish content from blog or other content wells.

Drawbacks: Unless users are addicted, receive updates via Blackberry, or check regularly, they may not see updates or posts. Posts or status updates can be seen by larger community, lacks privacy.

Stumble Upon:

Benefits: Articles and sites are shared instantly to users’ browsers, showing up with a red number in the browser when articles have been shared. Users get instant access to the shared info, without “clicking away.”

Drawbacks: For best experience, requires downloading of toolbar and adoption. Some users complain of non-intuitive user interface.

Benefits: Popular, trendy platform. Delivers info right to mobile via text or via email. Alerts are immediate.

Drawbacks: Only shares limited amount of text and information. Limited privacy, fewer opportunities for social exchanges than Stumble Upon or Facebook.

Lexy: (This is new to the market, we discovered it at CES and became fans, stay tuned for our exploration of this new tool)
Benefits: Senior manager or leader can record a “Quikcast” via their mobile phones that is delivered automatically via text or email to those who are registered for that cast. Requires less writing, can be spur of the moment, provides closeness of audio.

Drawbacks: Limited to audio, communication is one way.

Workplace communities (i.e. Mzinga):
Benefits: Leverages power of social media site, but within “walled garden”, has multiple solutions built-in.

Drawbacks: May require more extensive set up, resources and adoption among staff.

To determine which of these (or other) social networking solutions is right for a particular workplace, companies have to assess a few of their “knowledge sharing” objectives. The questions we are asking ourselves at the Lab and with our parent companies include:

What do we hope to achieve with the solution?
Who is sending the content?
What kind of content are we sending?
Who is receiving the content?
Do we want the users to be able to participate in the conversation?

As companies determine their internal content sharing goals, they will be able to assess which of these solutions makes the most sense.