Humanizing Our Organizations Through Social Media


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Alyssa L. Miller

Social Media is becoming dominant in every facet of our society.  I remember years ago, walking into a church for a concert and seeing on their TV screens, links to their Facebook and Twitter pages and them sharing ways that  you could connect to them.  It was interesting to think of an institution that is usually known for being so steeped in tradition, thinking of ways they could use this new technology to connect with people that live in an ever-changing world.  Yet we still see many schools and school districts fearful of what social media can do in a negative manner to possibly the way they do their day-to-day “business” or even the impact it can have (in a negative way) on their reputation.

As more organizations outside of school begin to embrace social media, we have to think about what the purpose of using social media is and how we can learn from others.  This technology has proven to be an effective way to learn openly, but there is also an opportunity to create a deeper connection with those that we serve.

Culture of fear

As society changes, schools need to change with it.  We have to model how we continue to grow and learn.  Yet many schools are extremely fearful of using social media or are pushing the idea aside as if it were a fad.  As I have traveled around to many different schools, I have been frustrated by the blocking of social media sites from not only students, but staff as well.  We cannot simply flick a switch and say “go”, but as Greg Whitby stated, we need to “start moving yesterday” on changes within our schools.  There are many purposeful ways that our schools can be utilizing social media sites, and we need to start figuring this out sooner than later as everyone has the technology to these sites in their pockets any way.

But even in business, companies are extremely fearful of what social media can do.

“In just a few years, social media has come to dominate many of our personal communications. We collaborate daily, sometimes productively, sometimes not. Most organizations, however, still view social media as a threat to productivity, intellectual capital, security, privacy, management authority, or regulatory compliance.” Most Organizations Still Fear Social Media

Recently, social media has impacted a school when a 9 year old student was reporting about the inadequate lunches that were being served in the school cafeteria through her blog.  Ewan McIntosh wrote about this so eloquently in his recent blog post about the subject and how the school tried to actually ban Martha Payne from uploading content to her blog:

Argyll and Bute, the school district rather than the otherwise very supportive school itself, issued a damning edict, preventing Martha from taking any more photos, writing any more blog posts about her lunches. Dinner ladies were, said the illiterate press release (we serve “deserts” to our children, really?), “afraid for their jobs”.

So as a school, the easy thing to do would be simply to ban blogs, Facebook, or Twitter, in fear of people saying negative things about the organization.  The hard work though (and the right thing to do), is to focus on actually getting better.  The voice of those we serve is, and should be, extremely important in the way we do our day-to-day work.  If the meals served there were of an adequate quality, there would have been nothing to block. In fact, I would be surprised if Martha would have even started the blog.  Customers of businesses have learned that they are not happy with something, having a voice on social networks is now an option.  Schools need to realize this as well.  We can be fearful of having these sites that represent our schools, but really, shouldn’t we be more fearful that someone else is going to start our Facebook page for us and misrepresent what our values are?

We should focus on just being better.

Changing world

More leaders from around the world know that connecting with people is imperative.  From the recent article “Twiplomacy“, some interesting statistics were shared regarding the use of social media by many political leaders:

“Some 264 world leaders now have a Twitter account, and the researchers believe that 30 of them do their own tweeting. Altogether they have sent more than 350,000 tweets to almost 52 million followers, the study shows…

World leaders tweet in 43 languages, with English favored by 90 of the accounts. Spanish is the next most-used, with 41 accounts, French is third with 25 accounts and Arabic fourth with 17 accounts.”

Although many nations and their leaders are using Twitter and other social media sites to connect with constituents, the same article goes on to discuss some of the countries that are not as open to the use of this type of communication:

“Sixteen of the G-20 leaders are actively using Twitter for public diplomacy, but it is sad to see that the heads of state and government in China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Italy still have not joined the Twitterverse,” said Matthias Luefkens of Burson-Marteller in Geneva.”

On that list are obviously some countries that would not be considered the most democratic so is it a surprise that they have no interest in extending conversations through social media?  Seeing political leaders like Mayor Nenshi from Calgary not only share his political beliefs, but actually reach out and have conversations with people is something that many are learning will create very strong connections with constituents.

The world is taking notice of the power of social media and are continuously developing ways that they can reach out.

The need for human connection

Recently I read this great article from Simply Zesty regarding the use of social media use within corporations and how they really stress how “customers” want to connect with organizations and how they are connecting back:

“People want to interact and connect with these major companies, and these platforms are the bridge directly to the heart of these organizations,” according to Burson-Marsteller Chief Global Digital Strategist Dallas Lawrence. “What’s even more impressive is how much companies are engaging back with followers. Seventy-nine percent of corporate accounts attempt to engage on Twitter with retweets and ‘@mentions’, and 70% of corporate Facebook pages are responding to comments on their walls and timelines.”

Artists like Lady Gaga, whether you like her or not, understand the importance of connecting with fans (customers) and how they actually make them feel like they are part of something bigger.  Entertainers and athletes can connect with fans in a way that was not possible when I was growing up, and you are seeing people have a different connection with them because of this human connection.

Although the “social” part of social media is extremely important, some businesses are looking to automate responses and prioritizing who they connect with and also what is being said.  This is something that organizations, especially schools, need to really think about as it may cause more harm than good:

“But social media’s real value — what distinguished it from the start from traditional media —  lies in creating deeper, personal connections with followers.  And here automation of content risks backfiring.  When consumers used to turning to social media for real, human intervention and connection end up running up against yet another automated message, the results may not be pretty.” From “Here come the tweeting robots

What many organizations are learning is that actually humanizing their business through social media is something that is helping to build a deeper loyalty to not only the company, but to the vision of the organization.  This recent Adidas campaign that is currently at over two million views on YouTube, has shown how doing something so little can make such a huge impact.  It doesn’t just create excitement, but it brings out a powerful human connection to the business, not only through a famous celebrity connecting with fans, but by showing the emotion of the fan themselves.  What starts off simply as a sweet gesture, turns into an extremely powerful story:

Would you consider buying an Adidas product after seeing this? I know that they have now entered my own consciousness through this campaign.

Great companies and organizations will learn how to evoke this emotion.

Concluding Thoughts

It is easy to say that technology has dehumanized our society, but I would argue that it can actually have the opposite effect.  We can now connect to people in a way that is much easier than in previous generations, and help to build relationships that probably couldn’t exist before.  There is also the ability to further the existing relationships through the use of social media.  Face-to-face is always better, but the opportunity doesn’t always exist.

I love this Marc Prensky quote that really states to me the importance of moving forward in the work that we do, yet still valuing what great schools have always been built upon; relationships.

“We need to teach kids to respect the past but to live in the future.”

As we do move forward during this “printing press time in history”, using social media is something that is inevitable.  It will be present in every facet of our society, as humans innately have a need and desire to connect.  The sooner we as schools learn how to make use of this technology in an effective manner, the more positives that can come out of it.  We will continue to see good organizations make effective use out of using Web 2.0 technologies, but I believe that the great organizations will use social media to connect, learn, and humanize their organization in a way that we never could have before.  If used properly, the future can be more human than ever.

  • http://teachwellnow.blogspot.com/ Maureen Devlin

    I agree! Social media is humanizing the classroom and changing our collective focus to the needs and desires of students; this is one, very important outcome of social media in education. Thanks for advocating for school systems' thoughtful implementation of this powerful, positive tool.

    • georgecouros

      Thanks Maureen :) It is interesting that I have experienced through my work several organizations blocking all of this technology and really seeing how much they are missing out.

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  • http://www.dalecope.com Dale Cope

    I totally agree and I think schools could not only humanize the classroom, but the school experience as well. I think the schools should embrace it to help keep in contact with parents so the families can have a greater connection with the learning of the kids and make a stronger learning community expanding out of the school. I put some of my thoughts in my newest post: http://dalecope.edublogs.org/2012/07/31/lesson-12

  • georgecouros

    Totally agree…Thanks for sharing Dale!

  • http://www.schoolhouseconsulting.ca Paul W. Bennett

    You have very very accurately identified the "culture of fear" that currently envelops far too many school districts and schools. Where I part company with you is in identifying the source of the resistance. When it comes to Online Learning, as The Sky Has Limits (SQE, 2012) demonstrated, those who control the system (superintendents and teacher unions) are very skillful at containing and limiting digital learning under the current IT "lockdown system"

    Your post was very stimulating and prompted me to respond at http://educhatter.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/digita

    Keep your eye on Dr. Michael Fullan. He's now discovered "the cloud" and is likely trying to cut off "the crowd" at source.

    • georgecouros

      Thanks Paul…I just commented on your blog :)

  • julianstodd

    Nice article, thanks for sharing these thoughts, best wishes, Julian

  • julianstodd

    Thinking about it, this may be related (http://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/research-paper-communication-in-online-spaces-trust-and-disclosure/). I'm quite interested in issues of trust and disclosure in social learning. Getting people to engage, especially in the semi formal world of social media and business, is one thing, but understanding the 'ground rules' is key. People tend to adopt the notions of trust and integrity that we use in the 'real' world, but social is different, and it's easy to get your fingers burnt.

    I think you are absolutely right that people and businesses will continue to use social media to connect, but i do worry that we will miss a disenfranchised minority who lack the social capital to effectively engage in this space, and it may not simply be an age issue as some people think. It's deeper than that.

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  • http://www.edutopia.org Elana Leoni

    Thanks for this post George. I couldn't agree more. I'm actually reading a book all about what you're talking about: social media humanizing the world. It's worth a read: "Humanize" by Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter.

    Thanks again for spreading the gospel about the positive effects of social media :)

    @elanaleoni

    • georgecouros

      Downloaded :)Thanks for the suggestion!

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  • JUDY WILSON

    I stated a Facebook page for my school. As an elementary school principal everyone from colleagues to parents to staff said, “Ooooh you are going to get in trouble. Be careful what you post.” I am in my third year and it has been a huge success. I post pictures of everyday happenings at my school. The parents love seeing pictures of kids doing what they do best – being kids! Grandparents and relatives far away love seeing their grandchildren and sharing what they are doing at school as well. I also have a PS 3 twitter account where I share important articles and information with colleagues and other educators. Im glad I made the move toward embracing social media ‘yesterday’!

  • Andrew Pass

    As an educational entrepreneur I would argue that many businesses are afraid of social media because they don’t understand it. We’ve all seen posts that have totally embarrassed businesses such as fast food restaurants. In order to engage with social media a businessperson must be willing to say something like, “I am doing this in an effort to develop a better business, and perhaps more educated self. I know that not everything that I do is perfect. I will use what I learn on social media to grow and help me to further develop my business.”

    George, given this thought, I wonder if it’s fair to say that the Adidas video above is not an exemplar of social media. Rather than engaging viewers in discussion, this video simply highlighted something neat about the company. I could easily imagine this video being a television commercial.

    What do you think?

    @apasseducation