Social Intent:

Interested vs. Interesting

The real value in enterprise social tools comes when we use them to be interested not interesting.


The value in enterprise social networking tools comes when we use them to be interested in our company’s success rather than use them to be seen as interesting or knowledgeable. However, that value comes with a shift in corporate culture.

Change in Culture

Warren Susman was a well-known author and history professor at Rutgers University. He was most known for his studies in culture during the 70’s and 80’s. If you haven’t read Culture as History — you have to add it to your list.

Susman was said to be “one of the transformative minds of his generation”. During his research he documented 200 years worth of self-help books. He read these books in chronological order, making notes of their key messages. He noted one very significant change right around the 20th century. Susman believed this change formed two distinct periods of culture in our history.

A Brief Look At History

19th Century — the Culture of Character

During the 19th century, the US was primarily a farming society. People rarely left their home towns. The only people we knew lived within 100 miles of us. However, these people formed a very important community that everyone relied on. We think of people during this time as having qualities like being helpful. People valued, above all else: “Character”. Were they good people? Were they generous? Did they benefit and provide value to their community?

Susman called this the Culture of Character.

20th Century — the Culture of Personality

At the turn of the 20th century, the US was undergoing a radical change with the industrial revolution. We evolved from a society of farming, where people never left their homes to one of big cities and booming business. During this time, we think of people with qualities like knowledge and communication skills. People valued “personality” more so than ever. Are you outgoing? A good public speaker? Are you liked among your peers?

Susman called this the Culture of Personality.

Interested vs. Interesting

The cultures of personality and character can be seen today juxtaposed between the cultures of different organizations. These corporate cultures drive behaviors aligned with how employees perceive and measure success. Well established organizations drift into to just celebrating the news. Much like the culture of personality, they share success and wins because they are interesting. Start up companies are rooted in the passion for something bigger. Much like the culture character, people are interested in the collective success of others and their company.

Social Networking Tools

Facebook and Twitter are social networking platforms I’m sure many of us are familiar with. They were created and became popular during the Culture of Personality. It’s not surprising these social platforms define success by things called “Likes” and “Favorites”. While there are many great benefits to these platforms, many people use them to share personal information. And on these tools…they strive to be the most “interesting” or liked person.

Facebook in the Enterprise

In our professional careers, having a message ‘Liked’ by our peers doesn't necessarily have a great correlation to our success. So, it doesn't make a lot of sense that the way we use Facebook and Twitter today would be helpful in collaborating with or leading our teams.

It’s Not a Tool Problem

I argue, it’s actually not a problem with the tools. It’s a problem with our intent. I've heard from many leaders who say they struggle with enterprise social because they fear posting messages that are not insightful to their team… Their intent is to be interesting. I think they have it backwards.

“The real value in enterprise social tools comes
when we use them to be interested, not interesting.”

Never Assume You Know Who May Contribute

Communication Like a Team

In order to succeed as a team, we must communicate like other successful teams we know. Consider an american football team’s huddle. Imagine if a quaterback only huddled with one wide receiver. What happens if that one player isn't open? This is why email can sometimes be a bad form of a huddle. An email assumes only certain people on the team should know what is going on.

When our team communicates, we post messages to our group even if we would have otherwise sent a message to just one or two people. We mention certain people because we need their input or action; however, by communicating openly, we don’t exclude others that might need or want to know. We often get some of the best contributions from people who are interested….but would have otherwise been left out.

A football team wouldn't have a huddle without the entire team, why would we have a conversation without our entire team?

A Team Motivated By A Shared Purpose

A team motivated by a shared purpose has the most people working towards achieving its goals. This doesn't mean people aren't still accountable and responsible for their own commitments. It means we can do even more amazing things when we leverage our passion and strengths together.

For our team, we chose a purpose that everyone could align to. As a team, we've communicated that as a common goal and we celebrate milestones and individual accomplishments as wins for the whole team. Having the right goals, means everyone on the team can be interested in the team’s success, not just their own.

Leaders Set The Tone

When we feel safe, our natural reaction is trust and cooperation. Look at military leaders… Are they recruited from the best leaders in the world? Not necessarily. However, they learn and possess a quality unlike many “leaders” in the corporate world. They create a safe place where their team can do their best work. Team members in the military need to sometimes make split second decisions that often involve self-sacrifice. They do this because they are bound by a belief that their efforts support the greater good of their team. Commonly stated, “Anyone else would do the same for me”

Recently, I heard a quote that I absolutely love. It’s from Simon Sinek:

“The best leaders in the world are like parents. All we want is to provide for our children, so they can grow up to achieve more than we ever imagine for ourselves”
“Leadership is a choice, not a rank”

After our team adopted our enterprise social platform, we soon realized it was our new tool to get work done. It wasn't just a migration from one tool to another… it was an evolution in productivity. We are now communicating better: more efficiently and effectively. As an unintended benefit of working out loud, we found less value in our weekly status meetings. Everyone seemed to already know the status.

We've since eliminated status meetings; they never drove progress for us. As a team, we’re always thinking about ‘what is next’, but burning time just catching up didn’t support that mindset. Shifting from ‘status’ to ‘outcome-based’ discussions allowed us to do that better.

Reprise: Interested vs. Interesting

As you position the value of an enterprise social platform with your teams, here are a few simple tips we've found successful for our team:

  • do actual work out loud
  • if there was time to email, there was time to post on social instead
  • lead by example
  • invite others to participate, by making your group public
  • avoid just sharing “interesting” articles. effect an outcome by driving a conversation

For years, “what we did” and “who we met with” have been the measures of success and contribution. As organizations become more responsive to changing markets and customer demands, it will take the collective effort of every individual at the company to work together to continually evolve to exceed customer expectations.

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