Whether you are pro or con #Brexit there is much that we can learn from this result regarding the effects of social networking and social media. The early headline was that social media failed to predict the result. Well actually there are several other social media analysts claiming otherwise. Perhaps the biggest criticism of social media analytics is that the sample is biased toward those more comfortable with it. Given that those most comfortable with social media are the younger generation, and that this demographic overwhelmingly wanted to stay, might explain the erroneous prediction. For those social media analysts who correctly predicted the result, the basis was essentially the size of the social media audience that they were able to attract. However, critics would say that this result is biased by the proponents for a change from the status quo, are naturally going to be noisier. Using social media trends to make predictions about an issue that is nearly equally divided is a perilous task. But what about the more actively engaging Enterprise Social networks?
For global corporations it is common for some groups or teams to span national boundaries. In fact there are many corporations that would span the breadth currently covered by the EU and more. Nowadays this is facilitated by collaboration technologies that include Enterprise Social Networks (ESN). If the European Union was an Enterprise with its own ESN would Brexit have happened as it did?
Of course we can only speculate, as Enterprises tend not to hold referendums amongst their staff. What the British referendum did expose is that there were a large number of constituents that were virtually invisible to the British leadership, until they cast their votes at the ballot box. The same could be said for Enterprises. Despite the availability of digital collaboration tools our analyses of ESN installations across many organisations, found there is still a large proportion of staff that are nearly invisible to the senior leadership. As corporations continue to flatten their structures, we are seeing the span of control of line management grow substantially. It is therefore now easier for a large proportion of staff to have views and attitudes that are unknown to their senior leadership.
The term ‘Dark Social’ is used to describe social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by web analytics programs. The term could be extended to cover those that may even be beyond management attention, in terms of their attitudes to the organisation. Hence the importance of the Employee Engagement programmes that look to leverage ESNs to provide a platform for anyone to voice their opinions and engage in discussion and debate amongst their peers. Like the British referendum, participation is voluntary. However ESN participation rates are still not high enough to avoid ‘Dark Social holes’ in the Enterprise. In the absence of a referendum that could impact key decisions, Enterprise staff may simply jeopardize strategic initiatives through passive resistance.
A more positive aspect of ESNs over consumer social media is the focus on active engagement around collaboration. ESN’s actively support common interest groups, where members can share and collaborate on topics of common interest. We know that when people actively collaborate, they are able to build stronger, more trustful relationships. A significant change like #Brexit can be discussed, debated and contextualised amongst peers. Attitudes and positions can therefore me built from an informed, rather than media manipulated base.
Despite increased levels of ‘democratisation’ in Enterprises today, staff do not have the same level of influence over significant de-merger decisions. It is therefore unlikely that we would see a ‘Leave’ position activated without leadership endorsement.
While this ‘flight of fantasy’ is unlikely to ever play out in reality, there are some important lessons that we can draw from it:
‘Dark Social’ can exist in both public and private organisations. While the nature of the impact of ignoring a potential silent majority may differ, the result is the same; a dysfunctional organisation.
- Reliance on media alone to facilitate change can be problematic. The traditional use of ‘focus groups’ to contextualise a major change for different stakeholder groups, can be amplified through the use of ESNs.
- Public organisations can learn from multi-national corporations on how to facilitate productive endeavours across national boundaries. Successful multi-nationals have learnt how to balance local national needs and customs with the overall Enterprise mission.
- Private Enterprises can learn from the #Brexit result. Employee engagement is critical if one wants to run an organisation devoid of unpleasant surprises like unwelcomed union activities, or the more insidious passive staff resistance to strategic change initiatives.
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