Is Fear killing social engagement in the enterprise?

One of the many interesting outcomes from peforming engagement analytics ( is that you get to observe enterprise-wide patterns of social behaviors. This process of organizational self-reflection raises many interesting questions and uncovers some potentially surprising answers.

One question at the top of my list is “What drives people to share openly”. Social sharing isn’t necessarily the most intuitive thing to do since every time you share you are giving up some of your own personal power to a nebulous collection of people, handing over some of your intellectual capital without any guarantee that you will get any return on investment, putting your reputation on the line by releasing your work for criticism or even ridicule. Therefore in order to openly share you have to fundamentally believe in the power of the network; you have to believe that in the longer term the value of what you get back from the network is greater than what you give out. One conclusion that may be drawn is that people who don’t openly share are protecting their power and don’t appreciate the value of networked knowledge. However I am no longer convinced that this is the case.

Just looking at social sharing inside the enterprise, fear of sharing is much more complex and one of the issues that has been recently brought to my attention is the fear of sharing content that you are not allowed to share. This is a really tricky one since there are valid reasons to keep information Confidential limiting access, even inside the enterprise, to those with a “need to know”. However, it really is a social mood killer (fear of being wrapped on the knuckles tends to do that to people) and essentially makes information unavailable for open sharing. Therefore as a label, it needs to be carefully managed in any social and collaborative business.

I’m definitely not qualified to give advice on when things should be labelled Confidential or what to do once they are. However as someone who is extremely open in all my communcations (obsessively so at times), I can share my approach; and its very simple. Firstly, I personally avoid creating Confidential information unless I really need to. Secondly, if I need to create something Confidential then I keep it in Files or Activites where sharing can be controlled to those small groups with a “need to know”. Thirdly, I keep it away from social properties like communities, blogs, forums, wikis, etc. which are more naturally open in nature and may create risk of “over sharing”.

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7 Comments to “Is Fear killing social engagement in the enterprise?”

  1. Your engage link is broken.


  2. I see a few reasons. One is the fear of not being “the” authority. There are many other experts that are “smarter than I am”. Could come from a general fear of putting one’s self out there.
    Another is the fear of not being complete. So many thoughts (even 100 slide PPTs) are works in progress. Social sharing can help improve the work, but on the other hand, its scary to put something out in the world if you’re afraid of its wings not being ready.
    There may a cultural element to this as well. I’ve done work in Japan and there is a clear fear of doing anything that isn’t clearly sanctioned by the boss. (obviously this isn’t true everywhere but from my limited experience I’ve seen this).
    I actually had a thought exercise on this in the past that might be worth digging up to see if the fears I saw in 2007 still prevent open sharing and communication.


    • The sad thing is that the smarter the person (generally) the more anxious they are about putting themselves out there (fear of not be 100% right, whatever that is), which is a real loss to the social sphere.


  3. Simon – I did not have any problems with the link. I wonder if its going to a server that has limited access?


  4. Fear is not, IMO, the main or unique reason even if it is a very important obstacle. Colleagues don’t engage on internal social platforms also because they never embedded these platforms, and the related behaviours, in their daily work. Engaging on social platforms is considered by many of them as an extra-task which comes after all the others of the usual business. An optional. While it should be considered as part of the normal job.


    • l totally agree that there are many obstacles to social engagement, and you are spot on that lack of integration into business apps is a huge issue. This has been a big area of focus inside IBM and does make a massive difference; not only in helping with adoption, but also in allowing the data generated by engagement to be much more useful since its contextual.


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