Sunday, September 27, 2015

In defence of the humble Like

I’ve seen a few discussions of late where questions have been raised about the relevance of social media ‘Likes’. Some feel that it isn’t necessary or relevant and conveys no value in the context it appears, especially when it comes to business social networks such as Yammer. Hopefully here, I can shed some light on why, in fact, social media ‘Likes” are a very important part of the business communications fabric going forward and how they should always be encouraged.

Social media represents a monumental shift in the way people communicate online. Initially email was the primary method, but that is being replaced rapidly by social media. Why? Email is typically one to one or maybe one to a few at most, while social media is about making information public so everyone can see it.

How does that make social media valuable, especially inside a business I hear you ask. Stop and think about all the emails you have received recently. I’ll pretty much bet that 90% of them don’t need to be private at all. I’ll also bet that at least one other person would receive value from the information in those emails if they were made public.

The simple problem with business emails is that they silo information. They lock away information that others may benefit from to do their job or complete their tasks. However, if that information is made public, others can find that information, then use and build on it. They can take such information and add further value to it with their own input and again share that publically. The more people who see the information the more value it has as per Metcalfe’s law.

So sharing rather than siloing has value, that is why social media networks are fundamentally important to businesses. The problem is that many people in management positions have little exposure or experience with social media and thus fail to comprehend its adoption within a business. They base their judgements of social media on what they see on public social networks like Facebook and wrongly equate this to exactly what they would see inside a business social network.

I would contend that most businesses are not using email correctly anyway. They are using ineffectively and inefficiently. Why? Because few people in a business have ever been trained on the effective use of email have they? Thus, without proper training, people use it in a way that makes sense to them NOT in a way that makes sense for the business. Look at how much time people actually spend managing their email rather than actually getting work done. Business social media is no different. If people aren’t given appropriate guidance and training on the correct method to use any business social media tools they will revert to using in a way that they know, i.e. just like they use their personal Facebook.

Hopefully, you’ll appreciate that by implementing effective guidance and training business enterprise networks can be a highly efficient methods of sharing knowledge within a business and allowing everyone to have access to that information to do a better job. However, where does this concept of ‘Likes’ add value?

Here’s an analogy for you. When I do a presentation to a room of people hopefully at the end I get some acknowledgment that the information I presented was valuable to those in attendance. How is that conveyed? Applause. The more applause and the louder it is the more valuable people have found the content. Such applause is a indication to those nearby of the value of what I presented. If they weren't present, loud applause would indicate greater value and may prompt them to pay more attention to future topics or perhaps review a recording if it was available.

Thus, each person’s applause is an indication of their ‘Like” of the what they have seen. The more people that applaud, the more ‘Liked’ the information was. Attendees are still free to approach the speaker and thank them personally afterwards or ask for more information but it is not practical for everyone to do that is it? Thus, applauding is the socially acceptable way of showing appreciation.  One might argue that applause doesn’t have much value because it doesn’t convey very much or provide value, however if that was the case why do people still applaud performances today? Humans have been performing to crowds for years and the use of applause doesn’t show any signs of decline does it?

So, ‘Likes’ are an easy method of providing recognition of the information supplied. Remember, each person only gets to ‘Like’ something once. Thus, it is also like a vote. The more votes, the more value the information has. If you see something on social media that has lots of ‘Likes’ you are probably going to pause and review that item in curiosity aren’t you? That system of voting is then an unconscious method of rating information and bringing it to then attention of those who may not have seen it.

Here’s where ‘Likes’ become even more powerful. Lurking beneath all social networks are machine learning algorithms that attempt to determine the relevancy of all the information inside a network for each individual. When you look at your social network feed you are viewing what the algorithm believes is most important for you to see. The more ‘Liked’ information is the more of a signal it is to the algorithm that this information should be given priority in peoples feed. So not only are you making a judgement to view information when you see many ‘Likes’ so is the algorithm behind the social network which is attempting to prioritise relevant information for each user of the network.

This is one of the crucial points about embracing the value of social media. Those who haven’t grown up with it or embraced it struggle to understand why they see some stuff and not other stuff. They come from a world of email where each message came into their inbox and remained there for review. A social network relies on a algorithm to determine what is most relevant. It relies on signals, inputs and interactions with others inside that network to determine relevancy for each user. In essence it delivers a customised view of the information for each user. Truly productive people DON’T NEED to see everything, they just NEED to see what is most relevant. That is what a social network delivers.

To provide this customised view of the breadth of information inside a social network the algorithm relies heavily on signals and one of the most important signals is ‘Likes’. That is why you should be using them. You should be looking to help the algorithm and your network understand what is relevant by casting your vote (i.e. ‘Like’) for the material you see. You can certainly contribute more than mere applause to what you see by adding further to what is there, but in essence by applauding (i.e. ‘Liking’ ) it you are telling everyone in your network, including the algorithm, that to you this information has value. Your ‘Like’ helps add value to your social network. It is about the network as a collective benefiting, not just the individual.

In my experience there is a very clear delineation between those who understand social media and those who don’t. If the first thing you check when you get up is your emails, then unfortunately you don’t. Today’s modern information worker understand the value of social, understands the value of team, understands the benefits of sharing and thus goes to their social network first each and every day. They trust the network to help them get their job done. They trust the network will deliver the information they need. They understand the network is there to support them. They trust those inside the network and the algorithm to make relevancy decisions for them so they can get on with their jobs without the need to review everything.

Business social networks are tools they need to be used appropriately. If people are not given guidance with tools they will start using a screwdriver as a hammer ‘because it does the job’. Technology is no different. The secret to effective use is guidance and training. That will then unleash far more power than could have every been envisioned within an organisation. Thus, used correctly, the humble social media ‘Like’ has the ability to transform something obscure into something that truly has value, for the business and the individual. So please make sure you ‘Like’ this post!