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Social networking and the workplace evolution


With new research suggesting social networking principles can be even more useful in a professional environment, we ask, can 91% of learning professionals be wrong?

We had suspected it for some time, that the shift taking place in how people read and share news, information and content through social networking is having a serious impact on the workplace – and on professional learning in particular. Today, research is putting flesh on the bones of intuitive suspicion. 
In a recent survey, conducted among a sample of 3,000 learning professionals at Europe's leading technology conference, it emerged that people are beginning to acknowledge the increasing importance of social networking tools in empowering workers to find, create and share business knowledge and believe it can make a serious contribution to their organisation's knowledge base.
The 'Skillsoft Social Networking at Work Survey', which was fielded in January 2010, sought to test the hypothesis that if workers are sufficiently familiar with social networking in their personal lives, they would be happy to extend those principals to their professional working environment, for the benefit of their employers, their industry and themselves. The resulting survey provided a brief but clear snapshot of consumer perceptions that supported this theory. An overwhelming 91% believed that social networking principles can be even more useful in a professional environment that a personal one. Moreover, 80% already use social networking tools in their personal lives; 81% used Facebook, LinkedIn had 50% support and Twitter was used by 40%.

Less social: More commercial

This is all reflected in the exponential growth of social media. Facebook, though only six years old, is the world's most popular social site and grew by 105% last year, whilst the micro-blogging newcomer, Twitter, grew by more than 900% in 2009. All of a sudden, social networking has become less social and a lot more commercial.
This social networking explosion has brought about unprecedented collaboration across many fields and is resulting in mass empowerment of individuals; in few places is it more developed than in the world's largest economy. In the USA, patients and carers are empowering themselves in record numbers in relation to their health. Over 80 million of them use social media for health issues, whether creating or contributing to health blogs, message boards or chat rooms, they are creating virtual health communities. The result is that in 2009, the internet surpassed physicians as the USA's principle health resource for the first time.

Under the radar

Over the last two or three years, most large companies – and many smaller ones – have developed their own social media policies aimed at leveraging social networking principles to drive business. To begin with, many were aimed at regulating the amount of time employees spent on Facebook instead of doing their jobs. Meanwhile, when no-one was looking, social media began to transform the world of work. Social networking is here to stay and employees are using it in ways you may not know about, there are probably many social media projects going on within large organisations that are simply under the IT radar. But it's important to feed them and learn from them rather than stifle them.
Today, participation is 'king' and many forward-thinking organisations are adding social media capabilities to their existing intranet applications to get people involved. Skillsoft's social networking research showed that 84% of learning professionals were employed by firms that are already using elearning at work, which suggests that the concept of collaborative learning is well entrenched in the majority of large workplaces. It becomes a case of fusing the elements.
Collaboration is the key to releasing the new people power. With half of all internet users around the world using social networking, people are now getting – and trusting – information from their peer group – including colleagues and associates – much more freely than from distant 'expert'’ as they did in the past. This is why collaborative learning is fast becoming part of our corporate learning future.

Elearning plus

Whilst elearning continues to provide a remarkably effective, low-cost and fast means of delivering staff learning, the bolt-on of collaboration – through the creation and exchange of user-generated content – is where the real magic can happen. By adding a collaborative module, as part of an organisation's staff learning resources, it's possible to extend the value of trusted expert information by surrounding it with the knowledge and expertise of its employees. Unlike standalone social networking applications that can lack business focus, a tailored collaborative module – like Skillsoft's InGenius – can build on existing elearning content to foster serious contributions to the corporate knowledge base.
Building a social-networking style user community in the workplace can effectively connect thousands of employees via a forum where they can talk and support one another, solve problems, share ideas, archive solutions and build a whole interconnected culture, ultimately for the corporate good. Given the speed of growth in social media, and the fact that it's probably happening already in a company near you, wouldn't you like to know more about it?

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