How can companies tap their employees’ existing social-networking savvy to succeed with knowledge sharing and collaboration? How can companies avoid possible security and privacy pitfalls and work inefficiencies, and still prepare for integrating whatever the next wave of technology brings? Three practices can guide plugged-in managers and employees to make decisions that support collaboration and knowledge sharing while being realistic about what can and can’t flow across an organization’s network. The third practice is to share the mixing approach described in the last post with as many colleagues as possible. (First practice, Second practice. This series is a continuation of the thinking from my recent Wall Street Journal article, Tapping Into Social Media Smarts.) 

The consumerization of enterprise technologies means that everyone has to play the role of personal systems designer at some level, not just IT staff, and whether or not that’s what leadership would like. Prof. Vijay Gurbaxani of the University of California, Irvine clarifies the reach of these organizational changes: “If Social Media can democratize a country, you better believe it can democratize your company.” The more employees understand the situation, ideally through openness and sharing, the more realistic their expectations will be and the better their decisions.

Consider that of the 40% of respondents who told IDC/Unisys that they used social networking for business, only 10% said they were getting good IT support (pdf of results). Let’s put that into context. Consumers can watch cable TV offerings on their laptops, tablets, and phones, anywhere, using a WiFi connection. They can search for their favorite shows and have an automated system remind them when new shows they like, or might like, are available. How many company collaboration tools have the same level of power? Employees may have unrealistic expectations of the support the company can provide. Sharing the design process may help with expectations and provide more valuable ways of using available systems.

These aren’t steps that you finish.

They are on-going practices (first practice, second practice) to help companies today and in the future. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter may be some of the first models of collaboration to come in-house, but they won’t be the last. Mobile video, location-aware applications, and new kinds of sensors that can attach to cell-phones and report in to tracking sites are all coming into use. Mobile video can be a boon to showing an offsite expert a problem with a machine or it can be a disaster if employees upload hijinks in a fast food kitchen. Location-aware software that lets a nurse know where to find the closest doctor in an emergency can save lives, or it can be an HR nightmare if it’s used to see who’s in the bathroom the most. Networked sensors that track environmental conditions can be great for organizing emergency responders, or provide evidence of safety violations.

Socially networked tools and the expectation of being constantly connected to information, colleagues, and friends is becoming universal. Proactive awareness and management of the technology, organizational, and human dimensions, as well as a bit of flexibility where possible, is a way to stay ahead of the wave.

Sharing is the third practice of the plugged-in manager. (Facebook page for forthcoming book.) I’ve given a few examples here, but what have you seen? How have you practiced sharing in your own organization? What have you seen happen if this practice is skipped?