We talk a lot about social media and learning in this space and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon. Companies are continuing to discover exactly what social means to their organizations and are developing a strategy around it. There is understandably a lot of trepidation, and there are several things to look out for. Let me take a look at just a couple.

Hold on loosely The idea is that we are going to take these online, collaborative interactions people are having every day and leverage them to facilitate learning. While this is a great place to start, organizations can quickly lose their way. What starts out conceptually as an environment where knowledge and ideas flow as freely as the chocolate in Willy Wonka’s factory, quickly gets clogged by that Augustus Gloop known as “process.”

Pages and pages of guidelines, rules and standard operating procedures are developed and hung on the new social environment. Moderators clamp down on any unruly behavior. Reminders are sent asking if you’ve “joined the conversation today.” Before you know it, bureaucracy and process have squeezed the life out of the environment, and you are left with a handful of naysayers saying, “I told you it wouldn’t work.”

The whole idea of social and collaborative interaction is that it is open and free. Too much interference can squash it before it has a chance to flourish. Look at how loudly users scream when Facebook tries to make changes. That’s not to say it needs to be a free-for-all. Of course there should be guidelines. Of course you need some level of moderation/curation. Just not too much. Allow people to make mistakes. Have faith that the people you have hired are smart enough to use the tools at their disposal wisely. Depend on the wisdom of the crowd to make it work.

If You Build it, They Will Not Come… You have this cool, shiny new platform that is going to enable people to share information and thoughts at the speed of light, yet you’re pretty sure you just saw a digital tumbleweed roll by. What happened? Where is everyone? You have to remember, social environments are living, breathing things and they only work when people use them. It seems like a Catch-22. The platform won’t work without people, yet people don’t want to use it because people aren’t using it.

It takes a certain critical mass for social environments to take off, and it takes patience to get there. You need to start with the proper expectations. Then identify the evangelists in the organization – those people who will tell everyone within earshot why they should be using the tool. It also helps to have some model behavior from leadership. Show people how it’s done.

Don’t put all your eggs in the social basket at first, either. If you take an important program and make its success dependent on the social platform right out of the gate, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Start small and get people used to the tool. Don’t flood them with features and functions, either. If possible, start out with the basics (discussion, activity stream, etc.) then add more features (blogs, ranking, video uploads). Too much at once will only derail the journey to critical mass.

Brandon Hall Group is partnering with CERTPOINT Systems to deliver a webinar that looks at these and other social pitfalls and the ways to avoid them. Please join us on April 23rd for “Avoid the Social Trap: Creating an Effective Social Learning Strategy.” Register today!


David Wentworth

David Wentworth has been a senior research analyst in the human capital field since 2005 and joined the Brandon Hall Group in 2013. He has authored reports and articles on various human capital subjects with an emphasis on workforce technology. He has contributed to several reports published by ASTD, including authoring Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand, The Rise of Social Media: Enhancing Collaboration and Productivity Across Generations, and Instructional Systems Design Today and in the Future. His work has also appeared in Compensation & Benefits Review and T+D Magazine.