Social Media and Complexity in Organisations

This post has a specific purpose: it is a summary of the conversation I proposed, and had at Bore Place a few days ago with some of the friends who joined.

We defined two uses of social media and focused our conversation on the second one.

  1. You can use social media to connect with your audience, and develop your personal or organizational branding, or manage relationships with your customers (also called Social CRM);
  2. You can use social media to collaborate.

Among the forms of collaboration we have also defined two broad categories.

a. Communities: collaboration among people who are not particularly focused on specific objectives: (don’t have to get things done), and

b. Organisations in various forms: collaboration among people who are working together in order to achieve some (business or organizational) goal. This is closely connected with the topic of our retreat: complexity in organizations.


We have diverse examples; they mostly fulfill needs of socialization, connection and learning around topics of interest.

These are environments where people can connect with others who are passionate about the same topics, or are living a similar experience in life (eg. illnesses, hobbies), and are great opportunities of interaction most of us have been experiencing for years by now. Linkedin groups make an example (several groups on Appreciative Inquiry), facebook groups; communities around topics of interest. These conversations take place within technological environments that become social spaces. (The most recent example is Google Plus with original and interesting features).

The typical features of these environments are:

  • communication can take place both asynchronously (at different times), or synchronously (at the same time for those who are involved eg. tweetchats on tweeter, google+ hangouts).
  • participants interact freely without some rules defined by those who facilitate the community. These rules can be enforced more or less strictly.
  • the sense making process involves participants to the extent, and in the way, each likes to; it is not a one way communication. Technology must provide forms of interaction that are conducive to valuable experiences.
  • most times the conversation develops around content, and it is valuable per se.
  • some times the conversation evolves and becomes more action oriented: groups of people decide to start and support an initiative.

The conversation in this groups can be facilitated to different extents and with different styles. At the beginning, when they are born, one or more facilitators (also called community managers) play a meaningful role. With time a community can become self-sustainable and support itself without much effort by any single person.

The value is in learning on content provided by others, developing one’s own thinking around a topic and sharing it, in a safe environment that encourages contributions.


The second category relates to organizations and how using social media helps them achieve their goals. Or … does it?

This part of the conversation was truly connected with the topic of our gathering: complexity in organizations.

Most organizations are still managed within a linear framework of thinking; organizational and flow charts are thought to be the most useful tools to describe them.

Instead, the true nature of an organization is that of a Complex Adaptive System: a web of interdependencies that emerges in the system and develops in ways that are predictable in some of their patterns, but are not predictable in their outcomes in terms of univocal, linear, links of cause and effect.

As social media enable “many to many” communication across the organization (departments and levels), and let the interdipendencies emerge in full sight, they support the interpretation of organizations as complex adaptive systems, and rather than suffocating the complexity, they give life to it. You let the network of people in the system become apparent, collaborate, and produce outcomes in a way that takes advantage of how reality is.

The extent to which organizations can take advantage of these new ways of communicating, sharing knowledge, learning, and working, depends on leadership models, and the dominant organizational culture. The topic is wide and fascinating.

I like to think that:

  1. on one hand social media are a powerful stimulus to organizational culture change; and at the same time
  2. require a cultural change in order to become accepted, adopted, and provide benefits.

I recommend to connect the use of social media to specific organizational purposes, selecting carefully their use and the benefits expected, within an accurate social media strategy.

In conclusion, some of the resources I mentioned during our conversation: Harold Jarche, Jane Hart, Beth Kanter, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, to name a few.

How do you value the opportunity of using social media in your organisation? Send me an e-mail, if you’d like to have a conversation.

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