Being Social, Electronically

video chat_450x300As I head into my office I see my colleague Scott and ask him how his kids liked the hockey game last night.  He replies that they had a terrific time. It was a special promotion night at the arena and his kids got to talk and take pictures with the team. The picture of his small daughter sitting next to the burly, nearly toothless forward is especially precious.

That is the kind of friendly personal chat that co-workers have all the time. Enjoying a personal interest in the lives of the people you work with makes tackling your daily duties less of an individual chore and more of team effort – these guys and gals are your teammates, your friends.

There’s nothing really special about Scott and I chatting, except that Scott lives in North Carolina and I live in New Jersey.   I knew he went to the game because I saw it on Facebook – right along with the cute picture of his daughter and the hockey player. When I said “I see my colleague Scott” it was because an instant message client pop-up (called “toast”) came-up on my PC screen letting me know he was now available on-line. I asked him about the game in an instant message. At the end of this little IM chat, Scott asked me what the status of a project was. We clicked a button and were then speaking to each other using high definition video and audio. We didn’t schedule or plan this videoconference, we just “escalated” our instant message to it.  It didn’t last very long — maybe 5 or 6 minutes — but we shared the information we had to and then went back to our individual tasks.

The formula of social media plus unified communications does more than just simulating the “in office experience,” it extends it across huge geographic regions. Scott and I would never be able to work as closely as we do living 500 miles apart. This formula has allowed some of the firms I’ve worked with to appoint London-based leaders of U.S.-based teams. The camaraderie that develops between distant employees simply cannot be matched by organizations that don’t use these tools. It is human nature to “demonize” those people we don’t see. Blaming “those other guys over there” becomes harder to do when you see pictures of their family’s weekend activities and you chat face to face whenever you feel like it — with no restrictions that come from having to find and reserve a room.

The video collaboration and unified communication tools that allow this have been around for a number of years, but only with the recent explosion of social media has the experience been completed. Not everyone in business understands or makes good use of social media. I know industry people who still ask me what Twitter is and who poo-poo “that Facebook thing.”  They claim it is a waste of time. I try to tell them that their clients, colleagues and competitors don’t think so, as they make use of it all the time.

People follow me on Twitter (@NJDavidD) because they can count on hearing collaboration, video and technology news from me before anyone else reports it. They can also count on me NOT tweeting about the nasty sales clerk I may have just interacted with or what I just had for dinner. I leave the more personal comments to Facebook, but even there I try to limit my posts to words and pictures of interesting places I and my family go to, and funny or relevant articles I’ve come across. You can tell I’m over 30 (well over 30) as all of my Facebook friends are people I’ve actually met — RLFs (real life friends), as the under 30s call them.  A surprisingly decent number of them are acquaintances, colleagues, competitors and clients from my professional life.

Now there are plenty of terrible things about social media. There are games that want you to buy farm animals or boosts at a few bucks a pop to complete your activity.  Heck, there is even a completely unregulated Facebook casino gambling industry that sells you “coins” or “chips” to play in slot machines that don’t pay you any money. (Just more coins or chips to play — and lose — as they cheat, so you’ll always have to buy more.  I can’t wait till state and federal regulators finally crack down on these “beta” sites that charge real money.)  However, avoiding the benefits of social media because of these bad things is no better than avoiding travel to a city because there is some crime there.  If you avoid the bad parts, your social media experience can be both fun and professionally rewarding.  More importantly though, relationships are being built and reinforced there.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met a new client who says, “I’ve read your blogs and tweets online for years.”  Our participation on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (and many other public and private sites) defines us.  There are idiots out there that define themselves negatively — as vulgar, drunk, or similar -– but there are those of us that use the opportunity to define ourselves in the best possible light. People in human resources get this -– they almost never ask for references anymore.  They don’t have to -– everything about potential employees is right there in social media. Ask yourself, would you hire you if you looked at your Facebook or LinkedIn page?

So the takeaways here are 1.) Start using social media (responsibly) because your clients and competition are, and 2.) Mixing a well-planned unified communications strategy with social media will make your organization more cohesive and happy, and will create a sense of teamwork that is hard to match by organizations that just don’t get it.

This blog post originally appeared on David’s site, danto.info. It’s reprinted here with his permission. David will be speaking about unified communications and video collaboration standards at InfoComm 2013 in Orlando.

About David Danto

David Danto has over 30 years of experience providing problem-solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds, including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He now works with Dimension Data as Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology.

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