Social Learning- Off the Grid or On Your Scaffolding?

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April 19, 2012 | Joy Kosta, MSWP, MHCS, HRBP | HCI

When people talk about their ideas and your company and do it in places like Twitter, Facebook, Glass Ceiling, or in professional membership associations like HCI, that conversation is off the grid from leadership’s control.  But it is not beyond anyone’s reach or authentic influence.
A recent McKinsey and Company paper, Demystifying Social Media, explains its four primary functions—“to monitor, respond, amplify, and lead consumer behavior," and links them to the journey consumers undertake when making purchasing decisions... "to respond to consumer comments, to amplify positive sentiment and activity, and to lead changes in the behavior and mind-sets of consumers.” If we swapped out the word “talent” for “customers” the same functions would apply. 
Not surprising that a BRANDfog 2012 CEO, Social Media and Leadership Survey found more than 80 percent of respondents believed CEOs who engage in social media are better equipped than their peers to lead companies in today’s technology-laden world; 93 percent said they believe executive engagement in social media helps communicate company values, and develops corporate leadership in times of crisis.
Suzanne Bates, author of Discover Your CEO Brand, says, “It’s important for every CEO to understand that the world is talking about your business…your customers are in cyberspace; your employees are in cyberspace; the future high-potential leaders you want are in cyberspace. The only question is whether you want to be in that conversation.” Bates urges senior leaders to ask themselves what their end game is — what they consider their most important business objective, to ask themselves how social media can help drive the strategy forward and help position the company and leader as a thought leader. “Once you answer these questions, you have a reason to get engaged and use social media,” says Bates.
"Build it and they will come" depends a lot on ease of use. Michael Echols, editor of CLO magazine, believes social learning can be used to develop leaders, and with an emphasis on building ease of use "scaffolding"--then people will choose to build know-how there, to find and use the relevant content. Echols explains that social learning also develops leaders, "leaders who use social media help raise their brand's profile, instill confidence in the company's leadership team, build greater trust, and purchase intent among customers." 
Karen O’Leonard, analyst from Bersin Research, finds the most popular category for company spending in social learning was in social software (one in five companies surveyed), followed by 17% investing in communities of practice. Large companies spent over $16K on social learning, and industries with highest use are consulting, technology, healthcare, and banking.
Fluent and Functional: Making the Case for Social Learning, reveals that at the American Red Cross, H&R Block and NetApp, social learning is a follow-up to formal learning (because otherwise new know-how evaporates 90 days after a formal learning class). These companies teach channel partners in a seamless blend of employees, partners, customers and suppliers using “knowledge transfer tools [such as video, expert directories, and book summaries] that meet the needs of [the] extended enterprise and improve speed-to-market.” 
US Oncology offers portals for physicians, patients, and nurses to share best practices, ask questions and collaborate on issues, connect clinical staff and empower patients. Dana Lewis, Interactive Marketing Specialist & Health Communications Strategist, Swedish Medical Center, created the internationally-recognized #hcsm (healthcare communications and social media) community on Twitter through weekly tweetchats which have grown into a community (and industry) that spans five continents.
From a talent development point of view, how do we teach leaders, and trainers to become “stage managers” of learning?  These critical stakeholders can lead by example using social learning to build a community, so that the right thinkers are choosing to share their know-how within your social learning group, characterized by what you give-- the getting--pulling know-how as users need it-- will take care of itself (provided ease of use is built in). A transparent, giving protocol is not that different from building trust in virtual teams.
Leaders at Amway, The Cheesecake Factory, and Best Buy do it (learning through social media)- you can, too.  HCI members, use this leadership blog as your forum.  I love the comments and emails that you send each week; so go ahead, post your comment and learning insight.  And let me know if you want to write a guest blog, to contribute to a robust leadership community. The scaffolding with ease of use is here, within the open grid of HCI; our membership talent at large is exceptional-- so, leaders and senior practitioners, just do it, share your best asset, and make their day.
photo courtesy of vpickering