Me, Myselves and My Team

Gepostet von am Mai 12, 2012 in Blog, News, Research | Kommentare deaktiviert

Me, Myselves and My Team

Are you on Facebook?

Only four years ago, this simple question would have been a hot topic among professional communicators. Today, it has become a rather obsolete ice-breaker as we ought to ask an entirely different question: “Who are you on Facebook?”. As a matter of fact, professionals, who engage in communication during a significant part of their job, often maintain simultaneous profiles on multiple social media outlets, covering different aspects of their online existences. Many of them create a number of entirely separate “online selves” to take on different strategic roles, and to freely communicate with their audiences. One might for example engage in conversations with customers on an eye-to-eye level, another might share company news with colleagues and industry communities and yet another “self” might advertise personal milestones and musings to a small circle of friends. Such a conscious and diversified impression management not only allows for playful and rather safe experimentation with different audiences and communication styles, it also helps bridging our professional, semi-professional and private communities, and thus, opens up unexpected brain pools and creativity. The question remains: how we can harness our multiple selves to the advantage of our communication teams?

The 2011 EACD survey focuses precisely on this question and scrutinizes professionals’ maintenance of different identities in social media. The survey builds on answers from over 600 communication practitioners and looks at how consciously designed social media selves could help professionals to reconcile their different roles (e.g. communication expert, corporate employee, blog author, mentor, team leader, colleague or friend) and, consequently, how communicators might use their different social media appearances and networks to the advantage of their teams.


With a little help from our friends: Meet the new “team”

The communication, as well as the communication mode, is, within social media, essentially private in nature. Thus, it is not surprising that professionals – even in communications – have long hesitated to dedicate resources into tending presences in social media. However, as Facebook and co. have evolved to be much more than just throwing sheep, poking friends and “liking” videos, social media are no longer a uniquely private playground; instead, they have evolved into a vast and buzzing field for professional interaction, too. It is precisely this merging of professional and private purposes that makes digital media particularly valuable for professional communication. The advent of social media encourages professionals to revisit the formal boundaries of their staff, considering the possibility of “extended teams” where contacts from outside the strict office sphere would be allowed to partake in work related questions and processes, thereby contributing to the team’s brain pool and creativity. The management of such “extended teams”, however, poses a series of challenges. How to “lead” an extended team in the hierarchy-free space of social media? How to ask the community outside the formal team for input or even help without compromising one’s authority or professional credibility? How to interact with extended team members in an informal way, when the interaction among core team members is formally regulated?

The answer lies in a professional and well planned impression management consisting of multiple, distinctive, but complementary selves. One single online presence might in fact struggle to reconcile interaction with professional, semi-private and private communities, as well as internal and external team dynamics. Multiple online presences (or multiple “online personas”) in turn enable communication professionals to harness the potential of their various communities and networks, be they private or professional. Among European communication practitioners, four separate, yet complementary, online personas are most frequent: the online leader, the help-seeker, the digital care-giver and the self-promoter.


The online leader

Judging from how communicators act on the Internet, formal hierarchies seem not to be in contradiction with social media use. Leadership can indeed be translated online, by creating a social-media-bound “extended team”, online leaders are capable of mediating their formal professional role with the connections belonging to all the other parts of their lives. In fact, including private contacts and interactions within the general social media use allows team members to have a more complete, and more personal, view over their peers. This means being able to guide, and eventually correct, the behavior of one’s peers, but also involving others in more deeply participated conversations. Furthermore, a vision of leadership which is socially mediated can help in better shaping formal relationships, and preventing informal ones from being entirely overlooked.

The extended team is for the online leader persona a source of experimentation and a space for testing ideas: creative outlets and campaigns emerge from the exchange with all of his contacts, and can be easily reported to the “core” team for revision. Through a digital exposure, the online leader has therefore a chance to extend his active audience, and establish an informal, down-to-earth, digital leadership.


The self-promoter

Self-expression seems like the most obvious use of social media; however, there is a huge difference between random chatter and a conscious and strategized self-promotion through the circulation of information about us. The self-promoter uses social media to make her colleagues aware of her successes, of the progression of her projects and of what goes on in her work; this keeps her friends from outside the office updated on her life, but also contributes to the well-being of her team. The reinforcement of one’s strengths and successes can be a way to foster the confidence of the whole team by stressing that objectives are, indeed, aligned, and each personal achievement goes towards a common goal. Being informal and casual about one’s achievements, as is often the case with social media communication, helps managers keep their feet on the ground, and motivates peers to strive for more.

The extended team is for the self-promoter an option to “keep her peers closer than her friends”, as she allows for informal news about herself to circulate from her professional to her personal networks, and vice versa. A precise management of the type of shared information allows for an equilibrate level of self-promotion, without resulting in excessive exposure.


The one who needs some help

Sending out a message presumes a choice over the recipients, which is why an “extended team” vision offers, online and in the real world, an option to find the answers needed by exploiting connections which go beyond those suggested by the formal hierarchies. The assistance-seeker is an example of this: he uses social media to find the support he needs for daily work-related activities. Within his group of colleagues, but even further, within his connections and acquaintances, he has a good opportunity to find the requested information. Furthermore, given the connection among his contacts, answers can be exploited also for unspoken or unsolicited questions: in this sometimes affection-driven form of crowdsourcing, the “extended team” maximizes the options to find support, reinforcing the motivation for individuals to stay within the network.

The extended team is for the assistance-seeker an occasion to reach out from his professional network towards more or less established personal contacts, finding the acquaintances endowed with the skills to support him in his search for answers.


The digital care-giver

The same works also for the opposite approach: collective problem-solving is, in fact, maximized when the skills of individuals have the biggest opportunity of meeting a match among peers. Meet therefore the peer-supporter: she uses social media as an opportunity to share her knowledge, and to make sure that the members of her network, be it colleagues, or friends, or both, are provided with assistance and support at any time they need it. This works within the informal, “extended” team, as a reinforcement of the bond that exists, and allows managers to be there for their peers in the same way they’d be by the side of their friends. In a wider perspective, we can think of care-givers and contributors to be the engine on which collaborative social media exists, as wikis and crowdsourcing platforms rely heavily on knowledge-sharing efforts.

Within organizational boundaries, the extended team is for the peer-supporter a way to provide support and to strengthen her feeling of being helpful to her “core” team, providing to their needs, independently from how far away they are.


Digital (human) nature

Whether you might recognize yourself in one, or more, of the digital selves exemplified within our study, one element remains clear: interaction through social media, just like relationships “in real life”, is widely shaped by personal characteristics of the individuals involved. Unlike real life, however, social media offers the possibility for managers to share with their colleagues a wider array of their personal traits, through the different roles they cover throughout their days. The online extension of their formal teams, including acquaintances, friends and other contacts, allows for a truer representation of a person’s multiple selves, and guarantees the option to make one’s progress known, or ask for support, without losing credibility or authority.  Furthermore, an “extended team” in which all components feel free to express themselves with their personal traits, characteristics and perks brings experimentation to the formal “core” team by means of creativity, boundary-spanning and crowdsourcing.

The effort to be made by managers, overall, comes before even strategizing practices of impression management: it stands in exploring what social media can do for themselves and their teams, accepting the higher degree of flexibility which comes with the representation of more than their strict, professional persona. Establishing a climate of digital tolerance, and openness to all the selves that the members represent, can bring unexpected resources, and can lead to previously unconceivable objectives.