Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Social Software and Social Networking (#3 CGIAR Strategic Technologies Series)

It’s difficult to ignore Social Software these days. Everywhere you turn there’s evidence that it’s playing an increasingly important role, both at home and in the workplace. The CGIAR IT managers also confirmed this view when they ranked Social Software #3 in the Strategic Technologies for the CGIAR in 2010.

Social Software includes a broad range of technologies, such as social networking, social media, social collaboration, and social validation.

In this post, I will talk about Social Networking and Social Media in the CGIAR. Although we’ve already covered these topics in the ICT-KM Program’s blog, I will focus on the ‘political’ usage issues of these emerging technologies in the workplace and our plans from an IT point of view in 2010.

Social Networking

Fig. 1

Last year, we discussed Social Networks in our Social Media blog series, and as you can see from Fig.1, there are many sites out there that enable us to connect with others. So many, in fact, that it’s difficult to keep up!

Some CGIAR Centers have started using micro-blogging tools such as Yammer as their official internal short-messaging system (see Enrica Porcari’s post on ‘Not working or networking‘, in which she outlines the growth of this tool’s use in the CGIAR).

Anyone with a ‘cgiar.org’ account can join Yammer and get updates about the activities of other CGIAR staff. Twitter, on the other hand, is a public micro-blogging system widely used by some Centers, primarily for external communication purposes on websites.

Other sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace are also popular among CGIAR staff. Most people join these sites for one of two reasons: to get in touch with friends and family or to network.

A word of caution: joining Facebook or MySpace for social reasons can also impact your professional life. Recruiters consistently turn to social networking sites to find qualified people to fill employment vacancies, so it pays to be careful about the personal information you post about yourself. You might also want to check what other users have posted about you.

Other pitfalls associated with social networking include data theft and viruses, both of which are on the rise. Then there are online predators or individuals who claim to be someone they are not. In general, you are advised to proceed with caution online and not abuse of the usage of these social networking sites for personal purposes in the workplace. We will consolidate these and other useful tips and recommendations for CGIAR staff to ensure the safe and responsible usage of these tools in the workplace.

Social Media

Social Media can be defined as an instrument of communication (website) that doesn’t just give you information, but also interacts with you while giving you that information. As such, it can be viewed as a two-way street that enables you to communicate back your ideas too.

Social Media has already been promoted widely by the ICT-KM Program. Last year, we prepared the Social Media blog series mentioned before, then Antonella Pastore published a post this year on Social media and institutional communications, which focuses on the CGIAR’s presence at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) in December 2009. More recently, Enrica Porcari published a post on how your work gets richer with Social Media and we also have a category on our blog dedicated to Social Media.

Using social media tools in the workplace has many pluses. They can help create product awareness, share our research results, promote communities and disseminate knowledge in a new format. However, on the downside, some high-level managers believe that some staff use social media tools in the workplace intensively for personal purposes, which translates into reduced productivity and efficiency.

The CGIAR IT managers now have an opportunity to formulate guidelines for the use of Social Media in the workplace, including best practices, so staff can learn how to use these tools responsibly. At the same time, IT managers need to make sure that they effectively enforce the Internet Use good practices, and use tools to monitor how much time users spend on such activities to avoid social media abusers.

IBM, for example, has published their social media guidelines publicly for anyone to read. Although we are not a commercial company, these guidelines from a technology giant can be used to kick-start our own guidelines.

In summary, I see more opportunities than threats arising from the use of social media in the workplace, but there is a need to continue building further on what really matters: allowing staff to connect with others, share their knowledge, collaborate and innovate as a result of embracing and adopting these social software tools. IT staff need to make the necessary technologies available, and expand them as successful usage grows, while providing users with best practices and guidelines. As such, the ICT-KM Program and the Information Technology managers will soon be working on a Social Media end-user awareness program to provide tips and guidelines for CGIAR staff in 2010.