Friday, October 12, 2007

Trust in Web 2.0 and Social Networks

Mitch Owen makes some good points about trust in online learning environments. Using a blended approach--one that consists of online and face-to-face interaction--for self-improvement or behavior change may prove to be successful.

The leadership implication is that effective use of Web 2.0 will best be done in a blended manner, where it is coupled with other methods of working together. It also suggests that if you formed a virtual group using one of these tools, you need to find a way to have a trust building experiences.

Like Mitch, I am a true believer in individual influence. We often underestimate the power of individual influence in our conversations and in our behavior. Unlike Mitch, I think that individual influence through many Web 2.0 technologies can be powerful as well. The blended approach is probably the most effective, though.

The relationships developed through online technologies may not be the deep-seeded relationships that Mitch describes, but they can be built around professional trust and respect, nevertheless. This kind of trust and respect is like the trust and respect that you developed for your favorite professor.

Before I explain my thoughts, first let me direct you to what others are saying about specifically about social networking.

Social networking: What are others saying
Some, like Steve Rubel, Micro Persuasion, believe that social networking tools are increasing the quantity of relationships, not necessarily the quality.

On the other hand, Anne Truitt Zelenka says that her "relationships with friends and acquaintances are stronger." Without these social networking and presence technologies, we could not keep up with this many friends and professional contacts.

The nature of friendship itself, is shifting. It is no longer the byproduct of physical proximity, it is no longer strongly bounded by geography, and it is strongly mediated by our social tools. Texting, blogging, and trafficking (what we are doing in flow apps) have become essential to our continued connections with our friends, and we could no more keep up our relationships without these tools than we could put aside language itself.

Andrew McAfee suggests that social networking creates and maintains more weak ties. Weak ties offer access to information, knowledge and loose relationships of individuals across groups. These weak ties are not the ones that we look toward for personal development, but rather weak ties may be valuable for organizations to minimize groupthink, and under certain situations, increase innovation.

The implication for SNS (social network software) is obvious: Facebook and its peers should be highly valuable for businesses because they’re tools for increasing the density of weak ties within a company, as well as outside it. My Facebook friends are a large group of people from diverse backgrounds who have very little in common with each other. Furthermore, their profiles give me a decent way to evaluate their expertise. These online friends, in other words, are a large group of bridges to other networks.
Then there are others, like Scott Karp, who thinks that using Facebook for business is nonsense.

Facebook is a fantastic platform for PERSONAL social connections, keeping up and communicating with close friends and family.

But business and professional needs are NOT the same as personal needs. I have no need to “poke” my professional colleagues or specify that our working relationship began when we “hooked up.” I don’t need to know about my professional colleagues what gender they are interested in mating with, or what they are looking for in a relationship, or what their favorite TV shows are — these things may be of voyeuristic quasi-social interest, but they don’t help me connect or collaborate professionally other than maybe topics for idle — or embarrassing — chit-chat).

Using social networking for invoking change
Social networking--not just social network sites, like Facebook, but also presence technologies and forums--has its very important place in online learning and behavior change. Knowledge workers who transfer their knowledge to invoke behavior change can use social networking, collaborative tools, and presence technologies:
  • among colleagues, peers, and others--individuals for which you have strong and weak ties--to keep up and share information, knowledge, and products and to build diversity in within the knowledge bank.

  • with local clients in conjunction with their local programs to maintain and strengthen their relationships and to continue transferring knowledge, even when there is little or no physical presence.
As we transfer knowledge, we hope that behavior changes as a result of the new knowledge. What better way to assist in invoking change than to be constantly available and relying on others in a virtual world to support the change?

Trust in creative, knowledge, and learning networks
Of the 3 organizational networks that Mitch describes, Creative, Knowledge, and Learning, Web 2.0 offers plenty of opportunities for developing innovations and knowledge--not in the way that Mitch describes--trust in a physical board room--but professional trust and respect for others at a distance.
Sure there are individuals who I have met using Web 2.0 tools, but the level richness and trust in these relationships is low. Only through time together and experiences where trust is built will I develop a true social network.. that takes time.. not something I can do using IM.

Social networking and mentoring
The Learning Environment which Mitch describes as coaching individuals is more difficult to do in social networks, but not impossible. Recently, within our organization, a state leader told a group of new employees that one of the most helpful things they could do is to identify someone who can mentor them, show them connections in the organization and with industry, and to understand how to conduct programs. He relied on his two mentors during the early part of his career in the early 1980s.

This kind of individual influence is so very important! But, in our organization, most of the professionals serve regions. While they have a "home" office, there is usually no one co-located who could serve as a mentor within the same area of work expertise. Creating a physical local "Learning Network" is very unlikely.

Within our mobile and regional workforce, there are few opportunities for employees to encounter each other face-to-face. I don't know of any other way to help employees stay connected, communicate and learn from each, and to build trust than to use these technologies.

Social networking and building and maintaining professional relationships
Additionally, Web 2.0 can be used to maintain and build upon existing professional relationships. Let me give a personal example.

I see some of my colleagues from other states only 1 or 2 times a year. Social networking, blogging, commenting, Twittering, and instant messaging (and Facebook, to a much lesser degree) helped build upon the acquaintance of our relationships into a higher level of professional respect.

Now, when we see each other at conferences "we start in the middle of conversations." The respect and understanding of philosophies were not created through the face-to-face time, but rather through (online) casual and informal conversations and through blogging.

Without social networking--particularly, blogging and presence technologies--this would not have happened. On a few occasions, confidential remarks have been made in IM or email--mirroring how we communicate with our local trusted professional friends. Are any of these online friends my "Top 8" closest professional friends? Not yet, but I will not discount that from every happening.

Likewise, I believe that others have developed a trust and respect for others in my department.

Higher level of trust
Mitch asked:

Think of a stranger you have met online... in what way would you develop a high level of trust using WEB 2.0?
I can think of at least two individuals that I have not met personally, but through online relationships and communications who have influenced my practices. I have communicated with them through blogs, comments, and Twitter. Even social bookmarking (specifically, has been influential in my understanding of their philosophies.

I have communicated with only one of them in Facebook. I see one of them modeling online behavior that would be helpful for me to follow.

Do I trust either of these with questions about my career and my leadership? I don't know. I have not thought of their role in this way. They have, however, influenced me positively, giving me confidence to continue blogging and creating helpful resources.

If I were to think of one of them as a mentor and discuss my career and personal development, I would probably start with one-to-one dialog online. Possibly, using Facebook and instant messaging. Eventually a phone call or two may be in order--even then--using Skype maybe the easiest tool, rather than the phone.

I will continue to have my closest professional confidants. Some of these are, of course, local--some are not. These are my sounding boards. I call them when trying to make a decision. I ask for their opinions or advice. I have known these people for years. I cannot expect that my social networking activities in the last 9 months could produce friends like them in just 9 months. Maybe after years of getting to know someone--I will develop a "at a distance" confidant.

For my current friends who are not local, it is a shame that I don't have more constant contact with them so we can engage in conversations more often. Online tools are helping; some are adopting these tools, and we are beginning to find that geography is not preventing us from staying in contact.

One final note: Web 2.0 is about a change in attitude toward open content, sharing, and collaboration. Social networking is part of Web 2.0. The social networking sites (Facebook, Linkedin, Ning) and presence technologies smooths the zigzag route of collaboration. From Wikipedia, Web 2.0 is referred to as:

a perceived second generation of web-based communities and hosted services — such as social-networking sites, wikis and folksonomies — which aim to facilitate collaboration and sharing between users.
To expect great deep-seeded trust to be built through Web 2.0 is overstretching its immediate expectations. However, Web 2.0 can help all of us create diverse knowledge and share and improve knowledge. Web 2.0 tools provide mechanisms for developing professional trust and respect that results in influencing behavior.

From my observations, professional trust can and is being built online. It mirrors the way trust is built in physical environments. I learn to trust individuals by observing their behavior, attitude, language, and tone, and by listening to their philosophies. We can observe the same kinds of things online, but in different ways than they way we observe physically.

Web 2.0 does not mean that we forget about Web 1.0. Do you no longer search on the Web? Of course not. Does online social networking mean that we no longer meet face-to-face and make phone calls? Of course not. What social networking and Web 2.0 may mean is that in our face-to-face encounters, we start in the middle of conversations.

I do like Mitch's question:
"Think of a stranger you have met online... in what way would you develop a high
level of trust using WEB 2.0?"
Describe how you began to trust that person. Describe what you might have learned or how your attitude or practice may have changed.


Eli Sagor said...

This is one of the best blog posts I've read in a long time. For better or worse, I'm the first and only user of most web 2.0 tools in my program team and group of close colleagues. I often think of how great it would be if I could communicate with ANY of them using these tools. But I just haven't been able to break through yet to get anyone to use them.

This post includes several ideas for ways that these tools can make our work lives work better. In particular, the idea of mentoring via the web seems right on. As you describe, our Extension team is all over the state. Local connections are few and far between. As a consequence, in many cases new employees do not receive mentoring that would be of great benefit.

Thanks Anne for another great post.

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