The shared values, attitudes and behaviors (the culture) of any of the social groups and organizations we belong to strongly influence how we behave as individuals within that group or organization. Consequently, when we are working for an organization, we are greatly influenced by the culture of that organization.
The emergence of social media and the social web (I prefer this phrase to label the second generation of the web to other phrases or terms such as “Web 2.0”) has showed us that the web is a very suitable platform for cultures that encourage social behavior: people communicating, interacting and building relationships with each other. The more we use the web to communicate, interact and build relationships with each other, the more social it becomes. Values such as openness, trust and participation stimulate us to be more social and thus drive the shift to the social web.
Which role do Web 2.0 and social media have to play in this shift? Both terms describe a set of technologies (applications, tools…) that allow us to find each other, connect, interact, communicate, express ourselves, and engage in conversations to exchange perspectives, ideas, opinions, or whatever. These technologies – which I prefer to call social technologies – and the web as platform provide social cultures a place where they can not only live and prosper, but also grow beyond almost any limits thanks to the ability on the web to reach out to virtually anyone anywhere in the world.
Still, culture always comes first and technology second. It is how we use these new capabilities that matters. Social technologies are only social technologies if we use them for socializing with each other. Too often we focus almost entirely on the characteristics, design and features of tools and technologies - as if those things are what make them social. Sure, it helps if they are visually appealing and easy to use. It helps if they are interactive and people-centered. But in the end, what makes them social is who uses them, for what purpose and how.
What is also important to understand is how the combination of the web as platform and social technologies help cultures which foster social behavior to spread. When people use a tool or platform for socializing, that makes it interesting and attractive to use for other people who share similar values, attitudes and behaviors. Since the social web is open, easy to use, “free” and accessible to virtually anyone, cultures that foster social behavior can spread in an almost epidemic manner. The barriers that still exist lie more in our own values, attitudes and behaviors than in the technologies.
So how does the web help social behavior to spread? Well, every time we are using the web to connect, interact and share things with each other, we also demonstrate our values through our actions. On the web, our actions are visible and can reach out to anyone. Thereby we might influence other people who are using the web but who might not share the same kind of values. Eventually they might be influenced enought to adopt the same or similar kind of values and behaviors as we have. In that sense, the web has become a vehicle for transferring values and behaviors to new audiences. It is a platform for culture change. Used wisely, it can also become a platform for bringing about a culture change within an organization. How to do that is another story (blog post).
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This post and comment(s) reflect the personal perspectives of community members, and not necessarily those of their employers or of AIIM International