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Social media continues to evolve new and effective workforce applications.

By Debbie Bolla
The adoption of social media sites has soared during the last few years. According to Information Week, social media use is up 230 percent since 2007, and a new report by Experian Simmons shows that 66 percent of Americans visit sites such as Facebook and Twitter daily.
Leading technology providers are taking inspiration from the social networking trend to drive new product developments and innovation. In fact, SkillSoft and Saba released software—inGenius and Saba Live—that mirror social media sites and their functionality to bring informal learning to a new level.
According to Aberdeen’s research analyst Mollie Lombardi, organizations need to ensure that their content and methodologies correspond to the changing needs of the workforce. “We’re certainly seeing social learning come to the forefront,” says Lombardi.  “From our research, one of the top pressures organizations face is being able to adapt to the needs of the multiple generations, and they are doing that through the use of new technologies.”
SkillSoft noted that trend and brought inGenius to the market. “I think that we’re dealing in an information-based economy. Social learning is a new way of helping individuals to connect with one another with rapid access to information,” says John Ambrose, senior vice president, strategy, corporate development and emerging business for SkillSoft. “Millenials, who think TiVo is TV, are forcing learning organizations to offer tools that can be rolled out to bring these capabilities.”
Built on Books 24×7 on-demand platform (with access to books, book summaries, research reports and best practices), inGenius allows employees to find, create, and share knowledge with their colleagues through a library of information. Employees can create a profile and search the database for content to support any project they are working on. Once they locate the appropriate data, it can be “bookmarked” with room to take notes as reference. The information can be shared and collaborated on with others who can post their own insights about the material through an online discussion.
“If any employee is getting ready to go to China, they can do a search and find the most relevant book,” notes Ambrose. “But they will also have the ability to see discussion threads, and join them to add their own feedback and get their questions answered.”
Milind Pansare, senior director of product marketing, says Saba Live, part of Saba’s Collaboration Suite, is a reflection of the shift in interoffice communication.
“Customers have a multiple-generation workforce, with people entering the organization who mostly communicate through Facebook and texting,” he notes. “It’s important to blend the ways that people communicate.”
Users of Saba Live have the ability to “follow” anyone within their organizations, and access files, comments, and other posted content. Employees will be able to form groups around particular tasks or interests. The program can track all content that is posted. The software also contains a commenting and rating system to help managers highlight best practices as well as biggest concerns.
“Everything is a resource—a link, a document, a PowerPoint presentation, a person. By having that, it allows you to put together lists and bookmarks. You can create a small group to share documents and activity feeds that are relative to your group,” says Pansare. “For example, if I am a sales manager, and I want to identify the key things to sell Saba software, I could share a presentation, a video, and the top people to talk to. And this becomes a virtual sales kit.”
According to Aberdeen research, sharing, rating, commenting, and making notes on relevant content is a key factor in success. After surveying more than 500 organizations on learning and development, Aberdeen found that companies using tools including threaded discussions, communities, and groups for learning recorded higher metrics in employee performance, manager performance, productivity, and customer satisfaction.
Potential Challenges
Any type of new technology is not without its critics. Some hurdles social learning technology will have to surpass for a solid business case include:
• Metrics/analytics;  
• Adoption; and
• Time spent engaging.
Metrics/analytics. Aberdeen research shows that social learning and collaboration drive value, but demonstrating and measuring that value can be difficult. Further research shows that linking this type of learning to business value is the top hurdle that will need to be overcome for successful and future implementation.
“That’s going to be one of the real challenges,” said Lombardi. “My next research is around tracking and managing this social and informal learning. You want to track the value of their interest, but how do I know this type of informal learning will be part of the development plan? Is it OK to believe in the tools and not track them?”
Early metrics include engagement levels—number of discussions, amount of documents shared, number of impressions, and ratings.
“Down the road, I think we will see more sophisticated metrics that will analyze data and recognize patterns that can create a map on how organizations collaborate and work together,” says Ambrose.
Adoption. Some employees—and different generations might be an underlying factor—are slow to adapt and have resistance in seeing the value of this type of learning. According to Aberdeen, organizations still enlist and favor instructor-led, classroom-based training, asynchronous e-learning, and synchronous online learning. But Pansare argues that proponents will see the value after delving into the program. And Saba Live encourages adoption by emailing alerts to employees, notifying new posts and sharing of best practices. Recipients can then decide if they want to venture into the program if the applicable information has value for them.
Time spent engaging. While employers are putting this type of technology in place to encourage engagement, organizations have expressed concern with having their employees spend too much of their time in the program and away from other projects. Ambrose deems this outlook immature. “I think it sends the signal that it’s a trust issue,” he explains. “We don’t give our employees Microsoft Outlook and wonder if they will spend too much time with it. This type of software is just another tool, one that is used to be productive.”
Pansare echoes that sentiment. “It’s about work and not chatting with co-workers about personal information. We haven’t heard from clients that it’s too time-consuming since everything is relative to work.”
As the workforce and its needs change, organizations might look to these types of solutions to stay competitive and get ahead of the game. Social networking software is maturing, and maturing quickly, and there’s no doubt that new applications will continue to come to market. Will this type of innovation be accepted? Only time will tell, but social learning could just be where the market is headed. 

Tags: Engaged Workforce, HRO Today Global, Learning

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