>On Microblogging & Microcelebrity

>Why Tweet? Many tweeters are motivated by learning. A clinical psychologist suggests it “…stems from a lack of identity…”. Arguably the most widespread theory (other than simply – “its cool”) is a narcissistic/observer cycle with celebrities and civilians respectively. It is a viable way for many people to feel like they are “hobnobbing” with celebrities. Fleetingly and tangentially (as their exchange is typically over a specific topic/shared link) they too are famous. The real reason, as with many truths, is likely some combination of these. Whatever the motive, its – popular, free, requires no training and is on-the-surface at least – an effective communications channel. Is it of any organisational value though?

There are a host of organisational microblogging tools. At enterprise scale, Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2 supports persistent group chat (through its acquisition/integration of Parlano’s MindAlign) as does Lotus Sametime. MSFT are additionally in development with Office Talk, a Yammer-esque enterprise microblogging service. This is a research project though and may not see the-light-of-day or be subsumed into MOSS/OCS. The space is well served.

Are organisations really using microblogging tools productively in a business sense though? They are not fundamentally different to persistent group chat; functionality that has been in heavy use in trading (to collaboratively form trading strategies in real-time) and automated application feeds for years (particularly within the Finance and Resources sectors). An immediate, informal, concise and one-to-many communication channel makes perfect sense in these scenarios.

Organisations that already use it will carry-on – happy that what they have been doing for years is now modish. Organisations that are rolling out microblogging now though – because they feel it is expected by their workforce, will cause an injection of productivity or (more likely) there is a single vocal micro blogging champion that treats it as a personal cause will experience challenges. As with many consumer/social tools adopted by the enterprise, the process of obtaining similar enterprise versions (security, bulk updates, internal hosting options, directory integration, archiving and moderation) will lose much of the usability and fun element of the originals. For the employee, having to keep two copies of your Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Delicious, Foursquare and (in the not very distant future) – Quora and Plancast profiles (and settings and friends) will be both tedious and impracticable. Also, many people enjoy the disposable identity present in consumer social networking; especially the young; where they can try on different pseudonyms and personas. This is directly at odds with organisational goals. Organisations could federate employee personal networks with the work networks but how many are going to attempt this given the reasons for enterprise versions in the first place? Basically, how many business decisions are really going to be influenced by microblogging if you are not a trader to justify the cost?

The most important element for organisations to take from the micro-blogging phenomenon right now is not the tool; it is recognition of the potency of microcelebrity:

1) Build it into business processes. This can be harnessed without even having tools at all. For example, a key strategic requirement for many organisations is to empower employees to create, publish and maintain ad-hoc reports in response to the needs of the moment (versus some lead time – typically in weeks); it is cheaper and employees understand their own data best. Driving this behavioural change requires more than training. Showing the “Top-10” most popular reports, who created them and broadcasting them as web parts/gadgets on home pages affords both a sense of microcelebrity (in terms of the report writer) and positively contributes to the willingness of other employees to create these reports (or hobnob with them).

2) Build it into employee recruitment/retention. Personal branding awareness is on the rise. Employees are able to articulate their ideas, successes and worth using the Internet as a market place. They can operate at an influential global level if they want to despite their actual role not quite matching up. For those that do, they can be frustrated with HR policies that do not recognise this. Micro-celebrity recognition should be supplementary to standard HR/line manager recognition, bottom-up and borne from audited and metricized operational usage. It should be inarguable and fundamentally honest come employee review time. This is due to any peaks/troughs being levelled out by sourcing the data from many people rather than HR, the line manager and occasional others that are bought in to provide their views.

No-one is listening though.

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