Reading Morten Hansen’s Is Social Media Worth Your Time? – Conversation Starter –

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For me it was one of the management book highlights of 2009. Morten Hansen Collaboration.  Nice to read how he thinks whether social media are worth your and our time

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10:15 AM Tuesday December 8, 2009
by Morten Hansen

In the latest issue of Business Week, Stephen Baker’s article “Beware Social Media Snake Oil” makes a provocative argument. He claims that all the hype around social networks, wikis, and blogs for business neglects the potential risks and time wasted. While I think he is overstating the argument, he is bringing up a vital question all managers and employees need to ask: What’s the business value of using social media? In my view, there has to be a crystal clear business impact for using these tools.

Consider collaboration inside companies (which differs from using these tools for marketing and PR). The promise of social media, or “enterprise 2.0” as it is often called, is that employees can become much better at finding information and working together if they use blogs, wikis, social networking, document sharing, Facebook pages, and the like. But are these new activities valuable for a company? Well, that depends. The first obvious issue is that you can spend an awful lot of time on this, and that’s time not spent doing other things, such as finishing your job for the day. So it’s only valuable if the result (e.g., finding good information) justifies the effort (all the hours put into social media). That’s focusing on outputs, not inputs.

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Some people miss this point: They think of adoption success in a company as the number of wikis, blogs, tweets, and Facebook pages that people have created and used. In other words, they measure success as the activity level. But that’s the same as saying, “in our company, we have lots of meetings so we must be doing something right.” As enterprise 2.0 expert Oliver Marks told me, “random Twitter and online dialog can be an even more disastrous use of time than endless unfocused meetings.” More is not necessarily better.

There is a bigger problem, however. Social media tools are only useful for some problems. Managers need to ask, do social media tools solve my key challenges? Consider again collaboration inside companies. Why are people in your company not collaborating better? There are potentially many different reasons for this. As I show in my book Collaboration, some barriers to collaboration are motivational — people are unwilling to share information and look for help, perhaps because they see colleagues as rivals or only care about their own performance. Social media tools are just not going to be good at fixing these motivational problems. You need other solutions for this, such as changing the incentive system so that people are rewarded for helping others.

If you blindly focus on investing in social network tools, wikis, and blogs in your company, without solving these motivational problems first, you have just committed a great managerial sin. You have applied the wrong solution to your problems. You have prescribed cough medicine for a broken leg.

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We need to be precise and honest about where these new social media tools have great impact, and where they don’t. Then they will be seen as great tools, and we won’t hear the snake oil label anymore.

Morten T. Hansen is the author ofCollaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results (Harvard Business Press, 2009). He is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and at INSEAD.


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