Essential Social Media Tools for the Office

fonzie_jumps_the_sharkI’ve been thinking about technology and the office. Beyond the Internet and cell phones in general, how is web technology changing the workplace? Although PDAs and Google Reader have Jumped the Shark, social media in general has not become less useful over time. In fact, social media can make it easier and more enjoyable to do your job at work. It’s time to consider whether your office up to speed in integrating these technologies in the workplace.


New research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project in September pointed out that many workers think technology at work is a mixed blessing. A new “wired and ready” workforce is using the Internet, cell phones and email. Market share is big with more than three of five use the web and email, and many others are hooked on cell phones (and back in 2008, PDAs).

On the downside people report these prolific technologies adds stress and demands to their job, and often blurs the line between the home and office. Almost half said they do some work at home and nearly one in five say that happens daily.

On the plus side:

  • 80 percent say these technologies have improved their ability to do their job
  • 73 percent say these technologies have improved their ability to share ideas with co-workers
  • 58 percent say these tools have allowed them more flexibility in the hours they work

With many of today’s “wired and ready” workforce is they are hooked on web 2.0, there are challenges to offices more accustomed to command and control environments. Ignoring it is not a viable option. It is happening with or without your consent if it is “outlawed” – it just moves underground.

To adapt to a web 2.0 world at work, it is far more smarty to embrace the best of what’s in the marketplace, and put yourself in step with your workforce and your audience so you are not left behind. It starts with understanding the term.

In a seminal article defining Web 2.0 published in 2005, Tim O’Reilly wrote that the term conveys a new way of delivering and consuming technology:

  • the rise of software as a service and hosted solutions
  • new means to crowd-source intelligence
  • data that can be “mashed-up” and is portable (love the embeds!)
  • light-weight tools and business models

Collectively, the evolving world of web 2.0 technologies lets you change your game. That means making changes in behavior to get the job done. Whether it is staying current on the news and blogs, status updates, online meetings, transparency or project management, new tools are out there that are gaining market share and making us all more efficient and aware.


At the root of this change is the fact that content ownership and transparency are being pushed into new territory. Depending on where you stand, this is either scary or inspiring. For those who are frightened, you often hear complaints that real people don’t have time for social media.

And it is true that being involved in social media can take time. One blogger who examined this topic found that participants spent one to five hours doing social media activities, while on the other end of the scale, community directors were spending upwards to 20 hours a week on the same. I think it is important to consider whether the time you are spending on social media is replacing other activities or in addition to current activities.

For those who are inspired, they are participating in the social media wave and evolving the way communities use the web in their daily lives at work and beyond.

Jyri Engeström, co-founder of Jaiku and now at Google, gave a presentation now online that says a recent conference, the Portals to the Internet have transformed from browsing the web (think yahoo) to searching the web (think Google) to sharing (think social media), making peripheral vision a valuable commodity. He provides a killer quote from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky to underscore the value of being able to see what’s ahead: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” The peripheral vision you gain from sharing on the web, Jyri would say, gives you the edge like Gertzky has.

Another fundamental change picked up by Read Write Web last month is that the “walled garden” days are over. You can no longer build a website and run it like an island. AOL abandoned their paid subscription service years ago in a bid at survival. The game is now played on a field where sharing content and services that belong to others is where gains in market share are earned. A recent announcement that Yahoo is doing a home page makeover to feature viral widget services follows the trend.

Ted Leonis, one of the founders of AOL and now Clearspring Chairman of the Board, said as much in comments in the Boomtown story about the acquisition of Add-This by ClearSpring Widget Network “If you said to me 10 years ago that you were going to be successful by sending people away from your site, I would have said you were crazy,” he told Boomtown. “But that is what the Web is about now.”


If you are ready to bring social media to your office, I have 10 places where Web 2.0 tools for business can make a difference for today’s tech-savvy worker. If you haven’t adopted them, what’s stopping you?

On This Page:


In the old world, that meant a newspaper on your doorstep in the morning. For today’s wired worker, it means logging onto their custom news aggregators page where they have created a dashboard for news on demand that lets them catch up on up-to-the-minute information about topics they care about, and get access to widgets and services from a growing list of providers.

In the old world, you opened your browser and went from link to link, scanning pages for what might be important before you signed off and logged onto the next page. Finding out who was publishing new stuff was hit or miss, and learning what was worth reading was a chore.

Today’s wired worker subscribes to a news aggregator, which puts all your subscriptions inside one beautifully designed page. They recently added a feature to let you share your favorites with a personal note about what inspired you about the article. It’s a “blog on a blog”. By having it all in one page, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but you can use your settings to be able to scan headings and see only what’s new, consuming as many blogs as you like from one open browser. And because this is on the public Web, you can invite people to follow you, sign-up to follow others you admire, or silently drop what has become stale without hurting anybody’s feelings.

A wonderful (if dated rant) by one of the Blogospheres most prolific consumers of Tech Blogs – Scobleizer – written in 2004 identifies the benefits of using Really Simple Syndication services to consume your online news makes sense: makes you more productive by serving up only the new stuff, no more wasted browser loading time, no advertising clutter and easier reading in same font. Plus, as Rick Klau about pointed out at an event in the DC Google office earlier this year, segregating your online reading you’re your emails makes it much easier to manage the email inbox, since your email is now reserved for stuff you must act on.

Other tips from a recent post on Web Worker Daily about saving productivity with Google Reader provide solace to those who might be overwhelmed by the torrent of information that pours out at you once you setup your page. Their practical tips include a recommendation to limit your reader visits to once a day, to make yourself select a limited number – say five – to read, to restrict the feeds you subscribe to no more than 10, and to set default settings to list view to enable quick scans of headlines.



Twitter is all the rage with a bleeding edge set of “wired workers”. For those who are scratching their heads: Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. Users can receive updates via the Twitter Web site, instant messaging, SMS, RSS, email or through an application such as Twitterrific or Facebook. That sounds find for social networks, but what about work.

With the launch of, now you’ve got a choice that make more sense of the office. sees itself as “Twitter with a business model”. Like Twitter it free service, with a paid service available for those who want to control administration and security, unlike Twitter it is a closed network available only to those who share your domain email. Like Twitter, it invokes the hash # tag to let people create threads on the same conversation topics on the fly that can be easily sorted, create threaded and followed.

The CEO of Yammer calls it a ‘water cooler’ for the company to share news, links, answers, status updates on what you are working on, ideas and opinions and more. Because these messages can be archived and searched, it’s an instant knowledge base. Because you can see in an instant who has the most followers and posts, you can see who is wielding influence in the new flatter organization where hierarchy no longer easily translates into power.

And Yammer isn’t alone in targeting the business enterprise with a Twitter look-alike. Another service called is competing for the business slice of the micro-blogging pie. They let you host the service locally, unlike Yammer which only offers hosted services.



In the old world, meetings are done by conference calls or face-to-face table-top discussions. These are prone to distractions, and you are not alone in thinking that most people on these conference calls seem to be multi-tasking and not really paying attention to you or the speaker. Plus anything that involved communicating something visually was extremely difficult to do, since descriptions of visuals are famously misinterpreted all the time.

In the new world, meetings can be hosted via go-to-meeting for online meetings and conference calls or VOIP connectivity. The online meeting has revolutionized the ability to communicate with geographically dispersed teams. Because you are involving visual as well as audio participation your audience is more engaged and less likely to day-dream or wander off to check their email.

The collaboration features are very useful. If the speaker wants to control the environment or presentation they can, and if they want to turn over controls or share the screen with other participants, that’s an option too. A whiteboard is available to keep notes and a highlight pen helps you verbally underscore the take-away points.

The Go-To-Meeting has a very nice price-point for small business at $500 a year for unlimited global meetings or $49 per month for project based work.



In the old world, bookmarks were trapped on your desktop so if you were at home or on travel and couldn’t remember the web URL you were out of luck.

In the new world, today’s wired worker puts their bookmarks online no a site like Delicious. Here you get the benefits of being able to share bookmarks, organize them with your own tag names and create an RSS feed on the fly since each tag on your bookmark page is automatically an RSS feed. Michael Whitney gives a wonderful tutorial on how to use this elegent RSS hack on his blog.

The site lets you put in your own descriptions and headlines for each tag so you control the content, letting you use it for promotional purposes if it suits your needs. You can also export your tags as links in tag clouds where you control how large the font is and how many tags to display.

It’s a great way to share information across Web sites. Lately, I’ve been encouraging organizations to think about creating an organization page on Delicious with selective content bookmarking. By selling the embed code/tag cloud as valuable content for like-minded Webmasters you meet their need for authoritative content and also spread the word about your issues.



In the old world, a bio page on a company web site had a headshot and a CV that lists your accomplishments, job history and where you got your education. Sometimes it included a vCard download, sometimes an email.

Today’s “wired worker” is likely to have a bio page that shows a little more personality, adopting the ethos of “Lifestreaming.” Lifestreaming is a term for creating an online record of a person’s daily activities, either via direct video feed or via aggregating the person’s online content such as blog posts, social network updates, and online photos online calendars, flickr photos, your SM sites. There are gadgets and widgets out there that do this for you, but nothing is stopping you from just creating a list of relevant links in html and putting them on your bio page.




In the old world, project management turns into a very complex task, especially when you introduce hard to use and expensive software like Microsoft Project. When you juggle multiple projects with multiple partners inside and outside the organization the complexity skyrockets.

In the new world, wired workers gravitate to Basecamp by 37 Signals. This collaboration environment is light-weight and easy to use. You can stand it up in a matter of hours and quickly populate your online hub with calendars, to-do lists, contact information and documents.

With the RSS features and functionality, you can subscribe to updates to get real-time notice of changes. Because the calendar is done with the iCal standard, you can pull it into your Outlook or Google Calendar with ease. They offer a free edition, and as they add features the price goes up, but the affordable monthly pricing makes this an easy tool to add to your toolkit.



Keeping track of your contacts when people change jobs or email addresses can be a challenge. In the old world, you learned about moves and saved up the new data to add to your contact system when you had time.

In the new wired world you let the people who own the information maintain it, and then use the email updates and home page at-a-glance summary of changes to see who is moving where. All of this happens at LinkedIn, which some people call Facebook for adults.

This site has plenty of features to like. LinkedIn lets you port your data to Excel anytime you please, and their people search lets you scan their growing community to find people you know. Because it provides visibility on your contacts and their information, unless you turn on the privacy feature, you get an easy way to network and reconnect with others. The questions feature lets you pulse your network and beyond if you have a topic you want feedback on from the “experts”. A group function allows you to organize like-minded people under a common badge so you can find each other easily.

They also have recently added a feature to let you view and edit details on each contact, which has its drawbacks. I can see people who now use linked in as their contact management system loving the ability to input phone numbers, addresses, birthdays and other info. But if this person moves or changes their contact info you may be stuck with the out-of-date info you manually added.



The to-do list is as ever-present for the wired worker as it is for the old-school office. In the old world, this list is hand-written on your desk or on post-it notes, and you get the satisfaction of scratching a line through each item as you move down your tasks.

In the wired worker’s world, the to-do list has moved online. Two worth recommending are “Remember the Milk” and “todoist”. Remember the Milk has a free version, and a pro account that costs $25 per year. It allows you to get reminders in nearly any format imaginable, including SMS, email, IM, Skype and more. You can keep your list up to date on the fly using eMail or a Website and assign or change due-dates. And the lists themselves let you organize yourself with plenty of flexibility.

Todoist has less bells and whistles, but it is clean and lightweight and lets you have nested folders inside your list categories. The drag and drop functionality for re-ordering the list, and the color coding for creating a hierarchy that suits you are both nice to haves. This service has a free version and a premium edition for $3/month which adds SSL security and reminder features.



Most organizations when they get big enough have a desire to have an online place for organization content to reside, for collaboration work to happen and for announcements to be made and communicated. When you bless a decentralized publishing model that lets anyone publish and provide a text editor that is as easy as word-processing, your Intranet is ready for lift-off.

In the old world, it starts with a shared filing cabinet and then moves to a shared directory on the network. This often morphs into having an Intranet which requires hiring a Web developer to build a system on proprietary software and setting up a publishing system that could be expensive to maintain. It often mirrored offline publishing with one person as a gatekeeper and a tendency for bottlenecks to develop.

In the new wired world, some now try to go paperless. A clunky intranet has been replaced by a Wiki that opens up community publishing as a fast, easy and cheap alternative. Benefits include the ability to move your conversations and core shared documents off of desktops and into a shared space. The effort to set one of these up is well worth the price. If you use Google Sites, the project costs nothing. Other wiki sites offer exciting social media integration.

SocialText pricing starts at $10 per user per month ($120/year) and also provides a larger hosted or appliance service for just shy of $5000. PB Wiki fancies itself the world’s easiest, fastest, free wiki. Like Basecamp, it has project management features as well, and a premium version starts at $8 per user per month ($96/year).



User motivation is one key to understanding the value of social networks. Who is the audience is and what task are they are trying to do? Answer these questions and understand current work patterns, and you’ll be ready to consider shifting how you get the work done.

Adopting a new social media tool it is not too far of a stretch past activities that you may already be engaged in –like conference calls, keeping a contact list, a to-do list or keeping up on news in your industry. The challenge will be in the transition. Are you willing to give up the old as you adopt the new? It may not always be possible, but when and if you do, this is where the game will truly change. The growing inventory of tools serving the “wired worker” make them poised to gain ground on the analog worker.

(Last Updated: May, 2016)