Is Social Recognition Social Enough to be Meaningful?

June 16, 2014
It’s everywhere. Social media is where our culture lives and breathes right now, every moment. At home, we're on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Yelp. We check our blog stats and post reviews on line. In the workplace, clients are asking, “Does your platform include social recognition?” Pulse surveys capture happy days, sad days, so-so days. Colleagues “like” each other’s birthdays and recognition awards. But for all the chatter, social recognition may not be social enough for employee engagement. Ryan Holiday wrote an interesting piece in his Betabeat.com blog called “The Joke’s On Us: ‘Sharing’ Becomes an Excuse Not to Care.” Holiday reminds us about NPR’s April Fool’s prank, when NPR posted a piece on Facebook titled, “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore.” Immediately, Facebook users began commenting on the post. What they didn’t realize was that the content was not an article about reading, but was instead an experiment to see if people would comment without actually clicking through to the article. Some of their comments can be seen in this Mediaite article on the prank. It’s a good joke, but Holiday notes that there is deeper meaning here. He writes, “And now, tweeting feels the same as reading. Commenting feels the same as understanding. Signing a petition feels like making a difference. Liking feels like taking a stand. Our reactions are symbolic and themselves often reactions to symbols. It’s unreality.” If we're just going through the motions - click here! - are we forgetting about the meaning behind the actions? When we “like” or comment on something in a social media environment, there's a risk that we won't also pick up the phone or walk down the hall to say, “Hey! Congratulations!” And when it comes to recognition in the workplace, employee engagement experts agree: Make it personal. Christina Bielaszka-DuVernay, in her Harvard Business Review Article, “Are You Using Recognition Effectively?” wrote, “Effective recognition is tailored to the individual. What’s meaningful to one employee versus another can vary significantly. A particularly ambitious employee might really value face time with the CEO or appointment to a high-level project team as recognition for her efforts. A very conscientious employee who always seems to have trouble leaving the office might get more out of an explicit directive to take a day off and take his family to the zoo, courtesy of the company.” While the act of publicly sharing recognition in a social stream certainly has merit, the “great job!” should be accompanied by a handshake or a thoughtful conversation. This is what HR columnist, Meghan Biro calls “Authentic, not automatic.” If you want recognition to count, you have to mean it and you have to show it. A “like” click on a social media stream just won’t do if it’s disconnected from the actual person-to-person “thank you," whether at a formal recognition event or in the CEO's office. People are inherently social and seek real social connection to others at home and a work. Holiday writes, “This is what social media and online news have made easier. Weak ties. And the easier it becomes to build weak ties, the harder strong ties feel. Because it takes real work, in real life." So go ahead and post the e-card to the social stream to let everyone know of your colleague’s accomplishment. It’s a great way to broadcast the achievement. But after you do, be sure to take the walk down the hall to say, “Well done!”

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