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Social Media and the Art of Self-Regulation

Training has long been part of the art of internal corporate communication.

In the recent past, one of the drivers for elearning was consistent messaging, scaled for both employees and customers. Now, we use social media, like Twitter and discussion groups, to communicate—often to both employees and customers—incongruous ideas without a moderator. And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, one of the least discussed (at least from my examination) aspects of social learning is the degradation of the message. For instance, when you read tweets or retweet, you are not always getting information firsthand. You are getting it through the eyes and ears of the tweeter. It is the tweeter’s impressions, take, and angle on the original information. Same is true for discussion groups.

Yes, it’s news, it’s filtered, but for many of us, it’s become the acceptable source of good information and opportunity.

It’s quite fascinating really. One of the early criticism’s of Craig’s List as an honest billboard or Wikipedia as a good source of information was that people were going to get taken for a ride because it wasn’t regulated. And yet, look at how acceptable these two resources have become—all because of self-policing. We’ve been self-regulating journalism for quite some time, so it isn’t surprising that it would extend itself into social media.

Shocking isn’t it … we trust people to be experts even though they have a totally unrelated degree. We even trust their expertise without a degree because they seem to know more than we do and they sound reliable.

But is it really that shocking? Isn’t this the social learning that has always existed in the corporate environment? It was just called something like informal learning or even informal leadership. Some of the common venues were around the water cooler, in the parking lot, at social events after work, or even at the sales summit or sales/executive retreat. In fact, some of the early criticisms of virtual learning was that we would take away some of the face-to-face informal learning at classroom or seminar events.

Social media isn’t something new—don’t tell me it’s something new—it has evolved in an important way not evident in the water cooler meeting place. And that is because of self-regulation.

Since many of us have lived through the old version of social learning, we know full well that in such environments we can create a positive social dynamic or a negative one. Social learning communities break up because people complain or leave, or it flourishes because they’ve built a self-regulating mechanism that allows the continuation of providing great information to many of the participants. Self-regulation relies on the high number of participants that weigh in to provide social pressure through rating s and comments on flamers and people that spread false or unverified information.

Moreover, in such environments, peers discover and recognize experts in their network–not because of job title or position—but because of the value of the information these experts provide to the network.

The strength of self-regulation—i.e. the large number of users willing to weigh in—is also its weakness in the corporate world. Insuring large scale involvement and cooperation is hard to drive with consistency. This is why if social media is vital to corporate social responsibility, it is vital for social media in the corporation to be self-regulated.

Still, social learning is a great way to strengthen the norms in training and the use of information. Maybe we could look at using social tools to strengthen the exploration and verification of the training we do. For example, after new hire training, have mentors address and ask questions through discussion and tweets or Facebook to help new hires get comfortable with their new working environment.But this can end up being a gimmick if we don’t follow through with mechanisms to sustain the value of peer to peer communication.

How will you encourage participation in the long haul? What recognition will be given to good contributors? Will the corporate world let the self-regulation dynamic work its way into the corporate environment? Whether social media works well in the corporate world is still up for grabs.

For further reading, try Erik Qualman.