Social Media at Work

Riitta Suominen ©   

The use of social media applications at work and in teaching is found to be problematic in many organisations. Are blogs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube more trouble than they're worth? Could these tools be used to make something beneficial or are working hours wasted with online chitchat?

Help or Hype?

It's pointless taking on social media at the office simply for the sake of general enthusiasm, but there ought to be a sensible use for it. If the new tools don't promote efficacy in work or learning, the usage will fade together with the hype. On the other hand, the tools won't grow into their full potential in a small or hierarchical community - they call for an operational culture which is open and equal with a sufficiently large group of participants.

According to Kari Hintikka, there are two main types of social media: content and network services. In content services, the users produce and share contents which create sociality. For example, the user will upload a picture on Flickr or a video on YouTube, and other users view the productions and comment them. In social networking services such as Facebook, sociality itself creates the contents. The users will create profiles of themselves which are linked with their own blogs and other online sources.


A company can use content-sharing services for marketing and communication, as long as they remember to adjust their way of communication to the tool. One-sided briefing or advertising doesn't really fit in with the nature of social media. A more humane and personalized approach has proven difficult for organisations, but the new mode of operation is being learned via company blogs and online services provided by the public sector. An expert blog has long brightened the brand of even Finland's foreign minister, and the blog comments are useful for gathering essential, directional feedback.

Controlling the right tone of communication is an important skill for those who are active in the online environment. For general advice, you could say that positivity and interactivity suit the web as well as any other form of communication. Humour is difficult to master, but at least some levity is in order. Any pomposity is well worth forgetting, because - as proven by studies - a unique personal touch will guarantee interest in an online environment.

Follow the Discussion

Two-way communication is at the core of social media. Therefore following and producing information go hand in hand. If you don't have the time to keep track of the messages of others, you probably won't be able to fit your own input into the conversation. The only way to survive in the flood of information is by filtering it: it's essential to pick the relevant sources of knowledge from your own field. Following updates is easy by ordering them to an RSS reader which allows you to read the new posts from all your sources on the same page.

One of the benefits of social media is precisely that it enables fast and wide data monitoring necessary for maintaining professional skills. Network services widen the social circle and offer instructions just when you need it, unlike formal education. The user may ask for information when he needs it or crowdsource his problem to be solved by the network. Networks are also handy for creating attitudes and atmospheres.

How can you utilize social media at work and in teaching? You might as well ask how you can use the email or the telephone for these tasks. They are used for all communication. A new feature of the social media services is multilateralism and publicity which diversify their field of use, but demand the setting of ground rules in the communities and, above all, the practice of public debate.

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