What Star Wars Teaches Us About Social Media At Work

What Star Wars Teaches Us About Social Media At Work

This post is dedicated to the people who “get” social media in companies that don’t – and need some inspiration to bring about change.

We all know the story. An oppressive regime suppresses the masses to the point where pockets of resistance emerge, an alliance of rebels forms, and a hero is revealed who defeats the evil Empire and brings freedom to the people.

Are we really talking about Star Wars, or how your business views the use of social media in the workplace?

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” – Darth Vader

The typical reason companies block access to social media sites is a concern regarding the negative impact on productivity access will have. Let me be blunt – Social media doesn’t kill productivity. Bad employees do. Bad employees are going to do what bad employees do – waste time, talk on the phone, distract others. That’s not a technology problem – that’s a hiring problem.

It’s up to management to hold employees accountable to their actions – and to role model how to use social media effectively. Smart organizations encourage and trust their employees to use social media responsibly. Smart organizations also have simple to understand social media guidelines in place to make sure that while employees feel empowered to use the tools they want, they do so in a responsible fashion.

“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” – Princess Leia

The more restraints an organization puts on social media usage, the more issues they’ll have with employee morale, engagement and retention. In fact, a 2011 study by Cisco shows that one of every three college students and young employees believes access to the Internet is as important as air, water, food, and shelter! And as this article from ZDNET demonstrates, the ability to use social media at work is a key factor for young professionals when it comes to deciding which job offer to accept.

So while preventing access to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and more may seem like a good way of protecting your business from the potential harm from employees mis-using it, you only need to look at leaders in the social business space for evidence to the contrary.

Sandy Carter - an early pioneer of social business – quotes IBM’s CMO Jon Iwata in her book “Get Bold“:

“We discovered that the risks of not encouraging employees to engage in social media and the risks of not providing them with the tools and education they need greatly outweigh the risks [of trained participation]. Our assessment has provided even more evidence that encouraging employees to engage in social media is critical to our future success as a business.”

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

When a business prevents access to something, employees find other ways to get what they want. It’s not uncommon to walk through retail stores and customer service centers and see workers on their smart phones using Facebook, Youtube and Twitter  and other tools that have a legitimate role in business. What’s worse, these devices aren’t governed by your IT department’s management tools or firewalls either – which means you don’t really know what they’re doing, which sites their visiting, and thus can’t be in a position to deal effectively when concerns of inappropriate use arise.

“I want to learn the ways of the Force” – Luke Skywalker

If your business prevents access to some or all social media sites, you have an opportunity to transform the organization. With one fell swoop, you can create trust with employees, engender better morale and offer a more compelling workplace for recruits. Of course, if you don’t have the right culture, this won’t be easy, and you can’t do it alone. Changing the perception of senior leaders can be a battle worthy of a space opera, and you’ll need an alliance of rebels to make it happen.

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” – Han Solo 

While Slideshares and Gartner reports about social media adoption in business can be useful, they aren’t enough to convince a leadership team that relaxing oppressive policies are the right thing to do. You need to show the business value of employees using these tools. Here are six tactics I’ve used at my company to get policies relaxed.

  1. Find fellow rebels. There is no such thing as a rebellion of one. Find other like-minded folks (the more senior, the better) who believe social has a natural role in business. Then inspire them to play a more active role in your efforts.
  2. Don’t spend time on non-believers. While this may seem backwards, you’ll get more success more quickly by focusing on the people who already get social. Once these folks see the real value social can provide (read this post for some help) they’ll find you.
  3. Start simple. Start with a small number of projects (1 blog, 1 Twitter account, etc) and make them successful. Otherwise, you’ll spread yourself too thin, and nothing you do will be successful. This has been particularly tricky for me, as I’m always looking to try new things.
  4. Create boundaries. As stated earlier, if you don’t help employees understand appropriate uses for the social tools you’re introducing, they’ll decide for themselves. Create simple to understand social media guidelines – with lots of input from other people in your organization.
  5. Find the right tools for the right people. Twitter isn’t for everybody. Blogging isn’t for everybody. Figure out how your thought leaders prefer to share their ideas. Many CEOs love sharing news and insights with their staff and customers. Twitter is ideal for that. Some VPs are natural story tellers. Blogs work best for that. The point is try and avoid forcing a fit – take your cues from their communication habits, and find the right social tool that compliments them.
  6. Schedule 1:1’s. Find time for social media training with senior leaders in your organization. You might need to fight for this time. It’s worth the battle. Once they experience an “a-ha” moment as a result of your training – for example, hearing breaking news on Twitter before reading it on a website – towards the light side of the Force, they shall come.

“Move along… move along.” – Stormtrooper

If you have the courage of a princess, the cunning of a smuggler and most importantly – the patience and courage of a Jedi Master – you might bring peace to your enterprise once more.

About Joel Marans

Joel loves making people and organizations look great through creative uses of technology. When he's not fulfilling duties as a proud papa & husband, he manages marketing design & delivery for Softchoice, one of the largest IT solution providers in North America.