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Can lolCats and Meaningful Collaboration Co-Exist?

Social media and collaboration, ideally they go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly. Sure you can try to have one without the other, but you’ve got to admit together they are much better. The problem with social media today, is that most corporations see it a massive waste of time. Log on to one, and you’ll find lolCats, people talking about their fantasy football league, or agreements over best lunchtime burrito joint – nothing productive to a Vice President. However, to those Vice Presidents I say nay, just give it some time.

Over the weekend I found a cool TedTalk talking about how cognitive surplus will change the world. In this talk Clay Shirky speaks about how through social media, blogs and individuals’ spare time an open source information aggregator Ushahidi was born. Ushahidi takes local information aggregates it, and then maps it allowing anyone to know what is happening, where. Since it’s creation in 2008, it has been used the world over, probably most famously after the earthquake in Haiti.

What I particularly liked about Shirky’s talk was this comment appearing at about 5:30. Shirky states that there is a “gap is between doing anything and doing nothing. And someone who makes a LOLcat has already crossed over that gap. Now it’s tempting to want to get the Ushahidis without the LOLcats, right, to get the serious stuff without the throwaway stuff. But media abundance never works that way. Freedom to experiment means freedom to experiment with anything.”

So what does this mean for corporations? Corporations only want the Ushahidis of the world and none of the lolCats. Logging on to any one social media platform it does become difficult to think that the next great cost-cutting idea may come from the guy who used to talk only about his fantasy football team. I believe that Shirky makes a good point though; yes we want to foster the Ushahidis but half the battle is getting someone from doing nothing to doing something.

By allowing employees to get involved in collaborating on social media platforms you’d better be ready to see an lolcat or two, however you are enabling employees to make that first step – to do something. Sure it’s a lot easier to post a cute picture or say that the company cafeteria has the best breakfast burritos ever – if someone disagrees, who cares? But that’s the whole point. People are moving from doing nothing to something. A social norm has been shifted and overtime these company intranets, yammers, chatters will start paying dividends as some employees move away from just doing something to creating value. Like Shirk says, we’re never going to move completely away from lolCats, however if you adopt an open social media policy you will start seeing some people take that extra step and start collaborating on ideas that could end up saving thousands of dollars, increase efficiency etc…

So, if you’ve already set up a social network and are unsure if it will pay off, I say give it time. As more and more grow accustomed to using it, uses will evolve and you will eventually get the Ushahidis of the world start popping up.

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