Does Social Media Belong in CAD Applications?

Via the excellent TenLinks newsletter, I found this Cadalyst article by Robert Green on social media in the CAD workplace. Robert admits he is not a big fan of social media in the workplace:

I do see some value in it for CAD managers, as long as it is used judiciously. However, I foresee nothing but problems if users are allowed to access social media as they see fit on corporate networks.

He then invites other people’s views on the topic, so I have dropped him an email.

My perspective

Being social in the workplace is nothing new. Before we had Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, we had numerous other ways to communicate online, through bulletin boards, chat-rooms, mailing lists, etc. Email, in particular, enabled users to keep in touch with friends and family from their work computer and rarely caught the eye of the line manager because, unless he or she looked closely, it looked like the user was working. And if you took away our internet access and our smartphones, we could always pick up the telephone, break out for a coffee and a chat about football with Fred from the office next door, or go to the toilet. I am also old enough to remember working in construction businesses which limited access to email, and later restricted access to the world-wide web…

Social media has its place in the work environment, but its use needs to be carefully managed and employees need guidelines on what is (and isn’t) appropriate. In many cases, this may be an extension of existing guidelines on work access to the web and use of email, stopping people from looking at porn sites, or sending malicious or offensive emails. IT departments can support line managers by monitoring internet content access; if employees know their web habits are being scrutinised, they often modify their habits.

Once controls are in place, users can be guided on how to use social media effectively. For example, many CAD/BIM-related websites and communities have embraced various social media platforms, but for the newbie it can sometimes be difficult to separate the useful from the time-wasting. As a Twitter power-user, I use a desktop client to monitor and search for key terms relevant to my daily work (I really value the energy of my UK BIM friends on Twitter); I use Google Reader to monitor relevant blogs, and Google Alerts to track certain companies or topics. Indiscriminate use of social media, like surfing the web, can be time-consuming, presenting the user with lots of information, but by being targeted I make sure I find just what I need and little more. And occasionally asking Twitter for help can be useful, with targeted responses and recommendations bypassing endless Google searches. As Clay Shirkey suggests, there is no such thing as information overload, only filter failure.

I do wonder sometimes about the push to include social media sharing into line-of-business applications, but there are instances where it can be appropriate. I have talked to organisations that use Salesforce Chatter or Yammer (recently acquired by Microsoft, of course) as an internal Twitter-like tool for collaboration and information sharing (post). As an observer of the SaaS-based construction collaboration scene, I have also seen vendors begin to adopt interface ideas that are familiar from social media – using a “wall” for comments on designs rather than threaded discussions, for example. And the growing use of smartphones and tablets is driving increasingly real-time discussions that once used to take place asynchronously via email, so we are likely to see more online collaboration that is optimised for mobile platforms.

You are right to be concerned about vendors using social media as a marketing channel to reach CAD users, but I have also seen social media used very effectively as a customer service platform. I have twice received exemplary support from companies (Orange, for example) via Twitter, neatly sidestepping their overloaded email, bloated websites and laborious telephone systems (“your call is important to us, please wait until a representative becomes available”), and some vendors’ user communities can offer even more rapid help than the vendors themselves (I have picked up a few useful work-arounds via LinkedIn user groups, for example).

I will be interested to hear what others have to say on this topic.

Update (14 September 2012): Judging from the feedback that Robert received, the majority of his CAD manager respondents shared his frustration about social media. Read his follow-up article: CAD Managers Resist Social Media Infiltration.

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