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Twitter and Onboarding

February 19, 2009

For the last few weeks I have been using Twitter and Snitter a lot more.  I’ve also read some of the musings on my colleagues on the value of Twitter.  Aaron basically argues that it’s a way to stay in front of clients. Jim argued that it’s mostly noise, but that there might be value if you “…put together a strong network of like-minded individuals…” which might lead to “…highly relevant, interesting, helpful posts…” He then went on to argue that staying on topic is basically impossible.

I actually think that they are both half right (which means together they are “all right”). One of the things Aaron noted is that Twitter provides “…a continual partial presence to clients, friends and other thought leaders.” I think this is dead-on. But I would add to this: continual partial presence to colleagues and prospects as well. Couple this with Jim’s dismissed value of putting “together a strong network of like-minded individuals” and I think we have something worth being excited about.

What we potentially have here is a stream of real-time “highly relevant, interesting, helpful posts” among a group of clients, a group of colleagues, a group of thought leaders etc… Let’s consider a workplace Twitter group. Each person Twitters about the various tidbits and interesting links they come across, random thoughts about relevant work-related stuff, or even stuff not so work-related. Now imagine we bring a new hire into our group. How much more quickly will this new hire get integrated into the “flow” of the group? How much better will they connect to their coworkers? How much more quickly will they come up to speed? When you think about it in this context, Twitter is fundamentally two things: a “collective stream of consciousness” and an “aggregator of attention data.”

Through the “collective stream of consciousness,” I get a sense of what is foremost in my colleagues’ minds. When that’s work-related, I learn more about how they think and what they think about. Collectively, this creates a sort of emergent zeitgeist that helps me stay in touch with trends, news items, changing attitudes, technology movements etc… If I were a new hire or even a junior person on the team, all of this would be incredibly valuable. It’s almost a kind of cognitive apprenticeship. When the stream is personal, I learn more about what’s going on in my co-workers lives, enabling us to “gel” more quickly and to stay connected across geographic distance.

Through the “attention data,” I see the kinds of news, sites, blogs, trends etc… that capture my colleagues’ attention. As with their stream of consciousness ramblings, this gives me greater insight into how they think and what matters to them. If some of these same people also blog, I can get a real sense of their intellectual world. In many cases, my colleagues’ Twitter streams have led me to investigate blogs and feeds that I knew nothing about. In a couple of cases, I have extended my professional network by connecting to the thought leaders my colleagues were following.

Again, in the example of the new hire, this is incredibly powerful. It’s a way to model the professional best practices of not just of an individual, but of a whole group. Ask yourself what you would rather do? Take a whole lot of “formal courses” about what matters to the thought leaders in your company, or “follow” a bunch of thought leaders in your organization to learn what matters to them? Through the collective attention data, I can model my own attention practices on those of my more experienced colleagues.

Through the aforementioned benefits, Twitter strikes at the heart of the performance and training issues we face today: training used to be about imparting knowledge and skills. Today knowledge is easy. Google and Amazon, pretty much by themselves, have almost made knowledge a given. In a world where knowledge is easy, wisdom, experience, and expertise are that much more important, both to individuals and to organizations. While Twitter is by no means a complete answer to this issue, it does start moving the needle toward a kind of collective expertise that has significant ramifications for performance and learning and development.

For decades, learning professionals have known that apprenticeships and mentoring are incredibly powerful ways to ramp new hires and transfer expertise from “old salts” to newbies. And here, today, staring us in the face is this thing called “Twitter.” It has a funny name. It’s yet another web 2.0 technology. It seems like a glorified version of IM. And yet, a few layers beneath the tweets and Twitters, there is something profound; a new way of thinking about mentoring and apprenticeship; a new way of modeling expert behavior; a faster, more efficient way of on-boarding and integrating new hires. This is where web 2.0 is going – toward attention data and a social version of RSS where I don’t just subscribe to news, but where I subscribe to people. Applied properly and in the right contexts, Twittering could be a disruptive technology in the training and development world.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2009 1:12 am

    Love your post! Your perspectives are bang-on particularly for onboarding Millenials. I’m going to share your post with my Onboarding Best Practices Group on LinkedIn
    Perhaps you’d like to join and share more of your perspectives with this group.

    Sue Edwards
    Follow me on Twitter:

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      February 20, 2009 6:50 pm

      Thanks Sue, both for the comments and the “tweet love.” I’ll definately join the group; sounds really interesting.

      Interesting related story: we onboarded a new sales hire about five months ago and before she came on board, we asked everyone in her group to connect with her on Facebook, Linkedin, AIM, Twitter etc… so we could all get to know each other a little better before she got started. The result? When she came on board, she already knew everybody, had a good sense of what was going on, and knew who to connect to for important info. She now holds the record for “fastest sale from point of hire,” and she has one of the strongest sales pipelines and close records of her team.

      Is this all a result of how we onboarded her? Of course not, but I have to believe it played a role and maybe not an insignificant one. I think the social changes the game in terms of time-to-competency and “team cohesion,” particularly over geogrpahic distance.

  2. March 6, 2009 3:16 pm

    Great story! I have no doubt that fostering this connectivity was a significant part of setting this new hire up for success. Love to hear it! Best part is that it needn’t require a high-tech software onboarding software solution…doesn’t come across nearly as genuine anyway when that’s the only approach taken.


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