“Social” Media Make “Voice” and Contribution Possible

by cv harquail on February 22, 2012

What does it mean for organizations to become more “social”?

Becoming “social” means that more people across the organization can contribute their ideas and have influence. Why? Because social technologies make it possible for more people to have Voice.526221178_a235e9af4c_z.jpg

What is Voice?

Voice is having a say with the expectation that you will also be heard.

Voice is one of four famous options for individuals who are dissatisfied with governments and organizations.¹  Voice is the only option through which people can be constructive and make a difference.

Along with Exit, Loyalty and Neglect, Voice  is also one of four ways to imagine organization members across the spectrum from ‘engaged’ to ‘disengaged’

Organization members who are engaged have Voice. They are able to contribute because their ideas can be heard. Organization members without Voice can only be compliant (loyal) or be disengaged (neglectful). Organization members who don’t have effective Voice and have somewhere to go simply leave (exit).

When Members Lack Voice

If you’ve never worked in non-social organization, you may not realize just how common it is not to have Voice.

It’s not only common, it’s awful.

Not having Voice means you have no way to speak up, no way to be heard and thus no way to have a positive impact outside your immediate purview. Being without voice means that what you want and what you think can easily be ignored.

Organizational structures like bureaucracies, hierarchies, and silos make broad-scale, effective Voice difficult.

The combination of the power dynamics and the lack of interactive communication up, down and across these organizational boundaries means that people have few options for getting their ideas outside their immediate group. They have no way to connect with others who share their interests, concerns, or sense of purpose,  or to connect with others whose skills or roles enable them to transform an idea into an innovation.

Social Technologies Enable Voice

Social technologies within and across organizations are intentionally designed to cross structural barriers and stakeholder boundaries. And, they are designed with the expectation that users/ employees/ members/ constituents will initiate their own participation.

Social technologies are biased towards Voice and away from silencing.

With social media technologies like SocialCRM, Social Intranets, systems of engagement, digital communities, activity streaming, and social collaboration systems, everyone from employees to customers to interested constituents to fans can find a place to speak and a forum in which they might be heard.

For example, instead of waiting for the corporate retreat to train folks on a new initiative, a member with an idea to contribute to this initiative can comment on a blog post, or start a conversation on the organization’s social intranet. Instead of waiting for an annual performance review, an employee can list the skills she’d like to develop on her online profile, so that the HR folks sponsoring training classes can find her and sign her up. Instead of waiting for the company to upgrade their product and finally include the tool you really want, you can connect with them in customer forums to discuss the specific features you need next.

Social technologies don’t insure that your voice is heard, listened to, and responded to. We all know what it’s like to tweet about a customer service issue and never hear back from the twitter account of the organization responsible for the service failure. But, social media makes it more likely that people’s Voices will be heard, because their participation is located somewhere specific, visible to others, easy to find, and stored for later access.3061059638_d142eab665_b.jpg

Influence Without Social Technologies

It used to be that, if you wanted to have Voice in an organization and you didn’t have your own platform (i.e., you were not powerful yourself),  you had to align yourself with someone who was powerful. You had to rely on — really, depend upon — some other person to speak for you.

Relying on someone else to represent your voice only worked occasionally, because that person had his or her own interests to represent, and could easily distort your message (intentionally or not) for their own needs.

With social media, participants get to speak for themselves, in their own words, advancing their own reputations, creating their own relationships throughout the organization’s network.

And, with social technologies, participants get to speak in ways that matter.

Voice is not only critical to innovation, collaboration, service, crowdsourcing, and knowledge sharing, but voice is also critical to a sense of contribution, a sense of personal significance, and to the creation of personal meaning.

Voice is not freedom, but …

In organizational networks, the Voice enabled by social technology is not the same as “freedom”. Just because social technologies give us a platform for speaking doesn’t mean we should say what we want, to whom we want, when we want, and in the style we want.

Voice operates within the constraints of context and common courtesy. Words that are irrelevant (e.g., thread hijacking), words that exist only to be mean (e.g., trolling) and words that are tone deaf (e.g., all promotion and no response) are not Voice — they are noise.

Social media doesn’t create Voice, it makes Voice possible. When Voice is possible, influence, contribution and meaning are also possible. With Voice, stakeholders can stay engaged with each other and with the organization in ways that make a positive difference.


See also:
4 Reasons Why Socializing Your Intranet Makes Organizational Change Easier
Are Your Social Business Systems Designed for Extraction or Contribution?
Growing Social: 4 Different Paths to Social Organizations

7 Ways That Social Business Advice is Wrong for Your Organization

Could E2.0 really mean Enlightenment 2.0? by Deb Lavoy
White Paper: Social Intranets and Employee Engagement: An HR Solution for Meaningful Morale Building by ThoughtFarmer

 Re-creating Reputation Through Authentic Interaction: Using Social Media to Connect with Individual Stakeholders (book chapter, by me)

¹ Hirschman, Albert O. (1970). Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
² Farrell, D. (1983). Exit, Voice, Loyalty, and Neglect as Responses toJob Dissatisfaction: A Multidimensional Scaling Study. Academy of Management Journal, 26(4), 596-607.
Rusbult, C. E., Farrell, D., Rogers, G., & Mainous III, A. G. (1988). Impact of Exchange Variables on Exit, Voice, Loyalty, and Neglect: An integrative model of responses to declining job satisfaction.Academy Of Management Journal, 31(3), 599-627.

Images: Puffing UpAttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Property#1, Chirping Carol AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by bogenfreund, on Flickr


Jon Husband February 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Well said. We don’t get to a “flow based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results” without the instantiation offered by individual voices connecting and exchanging about an issue, problem or topic.

Anonymous February 23, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Great reminder, Jon!

I do think of voice as being prior to flow, and of trust & credibility as the reputational outcomes of speaking constructively and authentically.

I bring up Voice because it’s something that seems easy for those privileged in previous org forms to overlook, since it is ‘natural’ for them but new to those who were once marginalized and are now (potentially) more central in the org.

The other concept I struggle with, that’s related to instantiation, is agency. I split them by using voice to mean ‘perspective that’s heard’ and agency as ‘acting to be heard/to influence’, but they are the two wings of instantiation.

Jon Husband February 23, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I bring up Voice because it’s something that seems easy for those privileged in previous org forms to overlook, since it is ‘natural’ for them but new to those who were once marginalized and are now (potentially) more central in the org.

Yes indeed. something i struggled much with in my 20’s through 40’s (because I was reasonably smart and a high performer). Speaking out back then (still today ?) gave us the famous phrase” shooting the messenger”, etc. It’s also why I gave up three separate careers where in I started to move rapidly up the ladder. I was told one time too many “sit there, don’t say too much, keep on performing and when it’s time you’ll get to the really interesting job(s)”.

I said “OK” and shortly thereafter moved on 😉 OD is mainly about enabling or bringing Voice to a group / organization, and then amplifying, shaping and using that Voice to improve (both work processes and the org climate / culture). In my opinion ..

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