Social Media and The “Casual Friday Problem”

Why can’t all software be more like Facebook?

That was a big theme at’s Chatter launch on Tuesday. Chatter, like Jive, Yammer and other similar solutions, aims to solve the challenges of business collaboration in a highly fluid and connected world.

So it stands to reason that, by innovating on the well-worn conventions of Facebook–feeds, “likes,” threaded conversations–Chatter would solve the problem of how people communicate inside organizations.  Chatter is, as Marc Benioff proclaimed, “Facebook for the enterprise.”

Which reminds me, unavoidably, of  a dark period in corporate America: the early days of “casual Fridays.” [Yes, I’m dating myself; let’s move on.]

When I graduated college, I had two wardrobes. One was “professional,” which I wore dutifully if not enthusiastically to work. Those clothes were correct, easy and reliable, and I would never be caught dead in them during off-hours. The second was my “real” wardrobe, which consisted of jeans and sweatpants, concert T-shirts, and a lot of oversized sweaters.

So I was horrified at the advent of casual Fridays. What could I possibly wear? Wardrobe #1 was too formal, while Wardrobe #2 was clearly outside the bounds of acceptability. So I had to figure out a third wardrobe that would satisfy the conventions of wardrobe #1 without falling to the sartorial depths of wardrobe #2.

I have to tell you that I failed a few times; so much so that our department issued a very complete if somewhat oxymoronic “Casual Friday Dress Policy” that, I am quite sure, was written specifically in my honor.

Which brings me back to enterprise collaboration.

What happens when we layer a set of social conventions onto the work environment? Marc Benioff punted the question at the Chatter launch Tuesday, but it’s really important. People need to know the rules–partly to avoid some small percentage of bad behavior, but mainly to avoid a large measure of awkwardness. Here are some of the questions we’ve heard (and brainstormed) at Altimeter lately:

  • “What if my boss friends me on Facebook and I’m not comfortable friending her back?
  • “What if my company asks me to “like” something that I may actually like but prefer not to [publicly] “like?”
  • “Can I “defriend” a colleague?
  • “What if someone asks me to donate to a cause I don’t support or can’t afford to donate to [and everyone else in my department has already donated and there’s all this peer pressure and I don’t want to look like a jerk]?

Every culture has its rules, written and unwritten, and as we layer social norms on top of work norms, we’re headed for at least some culture clash. I think it’s ultimately the organization’s responsibility to set out the “sandbox covenants,” as Charlene Li calls them, but the only way these platforms will work is if solution providers are thinking about this messy aspect of the user experience too.

More thinking on these issues from:
Deb Schultz, All a-Chatter: A Cautionary Sign of the Times
Adina Levin: Social is a Layer: Making the Vision a Reality in the Enterprise
Charlene Li, Open Leadership

About susanetlinger

Industry Analyst at Altimeter Group
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1 Response to Social Media and The “Casual Friday Problem”

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