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The Upside (and Downside) of Transparency

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Cisco Employee

One interesting tenent that social tools offer is transparency.  By this I mean the information that people know about one another - what they're doing, what they're thinking, what they like/don't like, where they are, who their friends/contact are, etc.  Social tools have redefined human interaction and have enabled a level of transparancy that wasn't previously possible.  But is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I feel like we've heard countless stories of invidividuals facing major consqeunces as a result of the transparency of social media.  We've seen it on all the major outlets-

  • Twitter:  People have gotten fired, reprimanded or publicly shamed due to inappropriate tweets (Gilbert Godfried, Anthony Weiner, countless athletes and entertainers, people criticizing their employer, etc.).
  • Facebook:  People have gotten arrested after posting pictures crimes they committed.  Teachers have gotten fired for expressing controversial viewpoints or posting inappropriate content.  Prospecitve employees have lost out on job opportunities becaues of inappropriate content on their Well.
  • YouTube:  Another favorite for criminals - so much so that some police stations actively monitor it.  Also people getting fired for making fun of their employer.

So there's no doubt with the great power of social transparency comes the great responsibility of managing it.  Many of the examples noted above were driving forces to the way that Google designed their social platform, Google Plus.  The ability to cordon off certain groups of people and control the distrubtion of certain content was a key principle of theirs.  But those examples are primarly consumer-related interaction.  What does all this mean for enterprise social collaboration?  I believe the same principles apply when sharing in a public setting or an enterprise setting.  But transparency is certainly a key area to derive benefit at the enterprise level.  Here are a few ways how that can happen:

  • Serendipity. One of the buzz words that's almost always put on the table when discussing the benefits of social collaboration.  This is the "happy accident" of running into information that you weren't looking for, but can definitely use.  When I create a presentation, I always upload to "My Library" on our internal Quad site, mark it as public, and tag with appropriate key words.  I constantly get notes from others who saw my action of posting the document show up in their activity feed which led them to download it for their own use.  Without transparency, they never would have seen that activity pop up in their feed.  In the old days of document-based collaboration (vs. people-based), I would simply upload my presentation when I was done and that would be it.  Unless someone was searching for it, they'd never see it.  Transparency is what enables serendipity.
  • Micro Blog.  For those of you familiar with Quad, you know that the Micro Blog is akin to a Tweet - and can really be used as your current status - what you're doing, what you're working on.  I have a had a number of instances where thanks to the transparency of others - them posting things like "presenting on Quad to customer xxx" or "working on a whitepaper on xxx" - I've been able to reach out an help offer up support or other insight.  Before social collaboration, there was no easy way to do this. 
  • Communities.  On Quad, community managers have the ability to create a community as open, private, or hidden.  I heard a social collaboration advocate once say that all should be open otherwise you are missing the point.  While that may be extreme in some cases (sensitive payroll, HR, etc. type information), I do agree that the default for communities should be open.  This gives others the ability to join, contribute, and learn.  I've seen a number of instances where some of the most active community members were those who joined the community after the fact - after being made aware it existed.
  • Content. I mentioned "My Library" above.  Opening up my content - not just what I've created, but other key presentations and collateral is a big part of my Quad usage.  Some may get stuck in the "knowledge is power" or "information horde-ing" metality, but I've noticed the more I share, the more I'm recognized and people come to me.  Plus, it's a lot easier to point people to an area within Quad than to keep emailing out the same docs.  And it's gave and take.  I offer up to others and they do the same.  I'm constantly pulling down presentations and other material that others store in their library.  I certainly can't browse someone's harddrive for their files but with the transparency of tools like Quad, everyone helps one another by taking what was once hidden to making it public.

I'd love to hear any other thoughts on transparency and how this new era of openess can be very beneficial in an enterprise setting!

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