Part 1 is here. Part 2 provides an additional example.
Use Case Scenarios
The following archetypes help illustrate dynamics involving identity within social structures.
Structured Task Worker
Mary is an opinionated call center agent for a large insurance company. Her role is strictly prescribed by her job description. As a call center agent, her job is to handle in-bound calls, assist customers, and escalate issues as necessary. With several years experience across call centers in different companies (spanning health care, traditional insurance, as well as annuity and pensions), she has a very low call-to-escalation ratio and receives high marks from post-call surveys. While Mary is a senior staff resource, management in the customer service area does not considered her to be one of its “star” agents. In addition, call center agents are not considered knowledge workers by the organization. In some ways, she has reached the end of her current career path in terms of pay and promotional opportunities. However, given current economics and her companies deteriorating competitive position in the market, there is little she can do to “be noticed” by management.
Mary finds out that her area (as well as others in marketing and product development), are part of a “Corporate Facebook” pilot. Mary creates a profile where she adds information to describe herself beyond what resides in corporate directories and contact applications. Her profile notes her prior job experience (including supervisory roles) in call centers at other companies. While HR and her manager had that background information already, it is the first time many of her co-workers are aware of her background. Mary proactively creates her area’s first community space to come up with best practices for reducing escalation calls. She uses a wiki to achieve that goal and establishes herself as one of the more active wiki “gardeners” (maintaining wiki content).
Mary also joins communities outside her own customer service area. In particular, she joins a marketing community and a product development community. In the marketing community, her feedback in a discussion forum is constantly discounted or ignored. However, in the product development community the reaction is very different. Her front-line stories captured and shared via internal podcasts and YouTube-like video clips help that group brainstorm on ways for them to improve current coverage features while brainstorming about products that leverage synergies across different insurance products. Several lead product developers end up following Mary’s blog that she sets up to capture information from her call center activities. Part of the learnings published on Mary’s blog provide insight on the marketing characteristics of products people are commenting on during call center calls.
Product strategists following her blog posts tag those pages and bookmark them to be shared on the Corporate Facebook site. Members of the marketing team who had previously discounted Mary’s insights in the discussion forum discover these tags since they follow the product strategists closely. Over time, Mary finds a change in tone to her discussion forum comments over time as she gains credibility in the eyes of the marketing team. This "change in heart" is due in part to her her blog (discovered by the marketing team through tags and social bookmarks), but primarily, the inferred endorsement of her insight by the product developers persuades the marketing team to view Mary differently - beyond her call center role.
Mary is now discussing future job openings in both marketing and product development groups.
Social Roles & Social Identities:
Clearly, the “structured task worker” use case scenario is contrived to suit our purpose but it is not entirely unimaginable and contains several interesting social dynamics that illustrate points raised in Part 1 of Relationships and Identity: Two Sides of the Social Networking Coin.
- Mary is considered “opinionated” by peers but that perception is altered once co-workers have access to information that provides her social footing in terms of credibility and expertise (i.e., she has worked at different companies in call centers and at times had a supervisory position).
- Mary takes on a social role (i.e., wiki gardener) in a departmental wiki. Her edits are often the last ones made during debates on completeness and accuracy of wiki content. Mary’s work behind the scenes with other editors has created a community-like atmosphere among other “gardeners”. Performing this "social role" elevates Mary in ways not possible in her formal role and work activity. It also provides Mary with peer reinforcement of her reputation regarding her expertise.
- When Mary attempts to join a marketing community (via a discussion forum), her efforts to establish her social footing are rebuked. Marketing does not consider customer service and call center agents as having any type of standing when it comes to marketing-related discussions.
- When Mary attempts to join a product development community however, her efforts are more welcome. Product development teams often have formal processes defined between the two groups to solicit feedback and to handle escalation issues related to product tickets.
- Mary’s ultimate acceptance by Marketing was due to her ties with product development. Those ties strengthened her reputation beyond what she had achieved within customer service.
- Mary may not be considered a “star” by her own management, but after establishing a more visible social identity, she is “followed” by key decision-makers in product development and (eventually), marketing.
- Establishing social identity facets across different groups created options for Mary to move into other areas of the company. These opportunities might not have happened through formal channels associated with her institutional role as a call center agent. Even if those doors did open up, at the very least, discussions with management in those other areas would have been more challenging given a limited view of her talent and knowledge.
- Social tools and applications enabled a more participatory culture in this use case scenario where she could define herself outside her institutional role.
Potential Blocking Points
Not all organizations implement social tools and applications in an open manner. In this scenario (contrived as it is), Mary might not have been permitted to join communities outside her own department:
- Many times, an organization’s “need to know” (NTK) policies prevent employees from participating in areas outside their formal role and departmental membership.
- Some organizations are also leery of employee blogs.
- This is a consistent finding when I ask customers about employee blogs are concerns over social etiquette, hostile workplace, leakage of confidential information, or disclosure of intellectual property.
- Similar concerns are sometimes expressed when it comes to wikis.
- Privacy constraints can also come into play. If this had been a scenario where Mary resided in a country with strong privacy regulations, some of her previous work history that was inserted into her social network site profile by the system might have been disallowed.
- Absence of this information would have hindered Mary gaining social footing within her own team regarding her expertise (based on her industry experience).
- The result – identity management and security controls can maintain structural holes in social networks by artificially blocking participation and contributions by employees across barriers that the enterprise has erected.
- These barriers may be completely valid and required for the organization to effectively management risk – but there are derivative impacts to social networks resulting from those practices.