Wednesday, 15 August 2007

The revolution will be uploaded

August's RSA Journal includes an article written by social entrepreneur MT Rainey on social media technology and social capital, supporting the RSA's intent to develop "pro-social behaviour" in order to close the "social aspiration gap".

The article argues that the rise of web 2.0 or social web technology is leading to a grassroots revolution of "connectivity, coalition, collaboration, creativity and control" which is transforming the world into "empires of the mind" - as predicted by Winston Churchill (foreseeing the creation of Second Life?).

This new environment enables substantially improved communication that replicates word of mouth:

"We can now create, produce and share ideas, opinions and artifacts within an infinite number of networks and without the agency of established organisation or institution. New and dynamic forms of organisation and collaboration can rise up and fall away as their purpose is served. There is no 'overhead' in cyberspace."

And this enhanced ability to communicate positively and significantly impacts on the creation of social capital. The article even argues that these bonds can be even more powerful than those created through face-to-face contact (for the record, I believe both are important):

"Paradoxically, even when under the cover of a user name, anonymity can foster increased honesty and authenticity, and many argue that online relationships, decoupled as they are from the tyranny of physics and chemistry, are more 'real' than real. As the metaphor shifts from consumption to participation, all of this is turning 'consumers' back into people - players, not just payers."

The same applies within organisations - 'employees' need to be seen as people too. And whole organisations need to be remodelled.

One of the best illustrations that I've come across of this is a story provided by ex BBC communicator, Euan Semple, in a Ragan Communications webinar, 'The Quiet Revolution' earlier this year. Euan talked about an ex colleague of his from the BBC, a world of warcraft fan, who was contrasting very unfavourably his ability to spend his evenings engaging with a large number of people to achieve very complex processes in a stimulating and engaging environment, to what was possible at work.

The RSA article also includes a warning for those who will seek to measure organisational social capital in order to better manage it (who will be first to develop a social capital index I wonder?). Social capital is owned by the network, and is valued in qualitative, not quantitative terms:

"It is increasingly via the web that we codify, experiment with and display our identity - not as the state sees it, in terms of passport, driving licence and National insurance numbers, nor, as Tesco sees it, in terms of our Clubcard number and buying preferences, but in our own terms: richly expressive, deeply connective, occasionally banal but always unique."