4.1 Gathering and responding to feedback

4.1.1 Performance Appraisal

A performance evaluation system is a systematic way to examine how well an employee is performing in his or her job. If you notice, the word systematic implies the performance evaluation process should be a planned system that allows feedback to be given in a formal—as opposed to informal—sense. Performance evaluations can also be called performance appraisals, performance assessments, or employee appraisals.

It probably goes without saying that different industries and jobs need different kinds of appraisal methods. For our purposes, we will discuss some of the main ways to assess performance in a performance evaluation form. Of course, these will change based upon the job specifications for each position within the company. In addition to industry-specific and job-specific methods, many organizations will use these methods in combination, as opposed to just one method. There are three main methods of determining performance. The first is the trait method, in which managers look at an employee’s specific traits in relation to the job, such as friendliness to the customer. The behavioural method looks at individual actions within a specific job. Comparative methods compare one employee with other employees. Results methods are focused on employee accomplishments, such as whether or not employees met a quota.

Within the categories of performance appraisals, there are two main aspects to appraisal methods. First, the criteria are the aspects the employee is actually being evaluated on, which should be tied directly to the employee᾿s job description. Second, the rating is the type of scale that will be used to rate each criterion in a performance evaluation: for example, scales of 1–5, essay ratings, or yes/no ratings. Tied to the rating and criteria is the weighting each item will be given. For example, if “communication” and “interaction with client” are two criteria, the interaction with the client may be weighted more than communication, depending on the job type. We will discuss the types of criteria and rating methods next.

 

4.1.1.1 Graphic Rating Scale

The graphic rating scale, a behavioural method, is perhaps the most popular choice for performance evaluations. This type of evaluation lists traits required for the job and asks the source to rate the individual on each attribute. A discrete scale is one that shows a number of different points. The ratings can include a scale of 1–10; excellent, average, or poor; or meets, exceeds, or doesn’t meet expectations, for example. A continuous scale shows a scale and the manager puts a mark on the continuum scale that best represents the employee’s performance.

The disadvantage of this type of scale is the subjectivity that can occur. This type of scale focuses on behavioural traits and is not specific enough to some jobs.

Many organizations use a graphic rating scale in conjunction with other appraisal methods to further solidify the tool’s validity. For example, some organizations use a mixed standard scale, which is similar to a graphic rating scale. This scale includes a series of mixed statements representing excellent, average, and poor performance, and the manager is asked to rate a “+” (performance is better than stated), “0” (performance is at stated level), or “−” (performance is below stated level). Mixed standard statements might include the following:

  • The employee gets along with most co-workers and has had only a few interpersonal issues.
  • This employee takes initiative.
  • The employee consistently turns in below-average work.
  • The employee always meets established deadlines.

 

4.1.1.2 Essay Appraisal

In an essay appraisal, the source answers a series of questions about the employee’s performance in essay form. This can be a trait method and/or a behavioural method, depending on how the manager writes the essay. These statements may include strengths and weaknesses about the employee or statements about past performance. They can also include specific examples of past performance. The disadvantage of this type of method (when not combined with other rating systems) is that the manager’s writing ability can contribute to the effectiveness of the evaluation. Also, managers may write less or more, which means less consistency between performance appraisals by various managers.

 

4.1.1.3 Checklist Scale

A checklist method for performance evaluations lessens the subjectivity, although subjectivity will still be present in this type of rating system. With a checklist scale, a series of questions is asked and the manager simply responds yes or no to the questions, which can fall into either the behavioural or the trait method, or both. Another variation to this scale is a check mark in the criteria the employee meets, and a blank in the areas the employee does not meet. The challenge with this format is that it doesn’t allow more detailed answers and analysis of the performance criteria, unless combined with another method, such as essay ratings.

 

4.1.1.4 Critical Incident Appraisals

This method of appraisal, while more time-consuming for the manager, can be effective at providing specific examples of behaviour. With a critical incident appraisal, the manager records examples of the employee’s effective and ineffective behaviour during the time period between evaluations, which is in the behavioural category. When it is time for the employee to be reviewed, the manager will pull out this file and formally record the incidents that occurred over the time period. The disadvantage of this method is the tendency to record only negative incidents instead of positive ones. However, this method can work well if the manager has the proper training to record incidents (perhaps by keeping a weekly diary) in a fair manner. This approach can also work well when specific jobs vary greatly from week to week, unlike, for example, a factory worker who routinely performs the same weekly tasks.

 

4.1.1.5 Work Standards Approach

For certain jobs in which productivity is most important, a work standards approach could be the more effective way of evaluating employees. With this results-focused approach, a minimum level is set and the employee’s performance evaluation is based on this level. For example, if a sales person does not meet a quota of … HUF/EUR, this would be recorded as nonperforming. The downside is that this method does not allow for reasonable deviations. For example, if the quota isn’t made, perhaps the employee just had a bad month but normally performs well. This approach works best in long-term situations, in which a reasonable measure of performance can be over a certain period of time. This method is also used in manufacuring situations where production is extremely important. For example, in an automotive assembly line, the focus is on how many cars are built in a specified period, and therefore, employee performance is measured this way, too. Since this approach is centered on production, it doesn’t allow for rating of other factors, such as ability to work on a team or communication skills, which can be an important part of the job, too.

 

4.2 Promoting communication and collaboration

Management style ties in very closely with communication style. There isn’t necessarily one management style that is better than another; they are simply different and might be used in a variety of situations.

 

4.2.1 Task Style versus People-Centered Style

When we look at the styles of management, we see that most styles fall into one of two categories, a task-oriented management style or a people-centered style. A manager with a task-oriented style will focus on the technical or task aspects of the job. The concern for this manager is that employees know what is expected of them and have the tools needed to do their job.

A people-oriented style is more concerned with the relationships in the workplace. The manager emphasizes the interpersonal relations, as opposed to the task. The manager is most concerned about the welfare of the employee and tends to be friendly and trusting.

Understanding these two main differences in management style, we will now look at other possible styles a manager might use.

 

4.2.2 Participatory, Directing, or Teamwork Styles

Utilization of a participatory management style involves both a task-oriented style and a people-centered style. This style emphasizes how the employee’s assigned task fits into the bigger picture. This style will provide support and input where needed. As a result, the focus is on the task but also on the person and the relationships required to get the task done. This style might be used when the employees are experienced and the deadlines reasonable enough to provide the time needed to focus both on the task and the person. If more hands-on management is required, a directing management style might be appropriate. Consider a very tight deadline or an emergency situation in which someone needs to be calling the shots. For example, in your doggie treats business, you just received an order for one hundred dog cookies by later this afternoon. You might consider using a directing style to make sure it gets done on time. This style doesn’t focus on the person, but rather focuses on getting the task done; hence it tends to be more of a task-oriented style.

A manager who uses a teamwork management style believes there is a value (or necessity) in having people work in teams. As a result, this style tends to require a people-centered approach. Relationships are most important, and assuming the individuals work well together, the task will be successfully accomplished. The advantage to this style, given the type of task and situation, is that as a manager you are able to pool resources and abilities from several different people. Use of a team style can also provide big benefits for the company.

 

4.2.3 Autocratic, Participative, and Free-Reign Styles

An autocratic style of management involves the task-oriented style. The focus is on getting things done, and relationships are secondary. This type of manager tends to tell people what to do and takes a “my way or the highway” approach. Another description for this type of manager is a taskmaster. This person uses his or her authority and makes all the decisions as to who does what, how it is done, and when it should get done.

On the other hand, a participative style constantly seeks input from the employees. Setting goals, making plans, and determining objectives are viewed as a group effort, rather than the manager making all the decisions. At the other extreme, a free-rein style gives employees total freedom to make decisions on how things will get done. The manager may establish a few objectives, but the employees can decide how those objectives are met. In other words, the leader tends to be removed from the day-to-day activities but is available to help employees deal with any situation that may come up.

 

4.2.4 Path Goal Model for Leadership

The path goal theory says that the role of a leader is to define goals and lay down the path for the employees to meet those goals. Aspects include clarification of the task and scope of the process. Clarification of the employee’s role and clarification around how the success of the task will be measured are key aspects in this model. The leader also is involved in guidance and coaching surrounding the goal and removes obstacles for employees that might affect the completion of the task. The path goal theory says that if employees are satisfied by the leadership style, they will be motivated toward the goals of leadership. Part of the model also stresses that the skills, experience, and environmental contingencies of the job play a role in the success of the leader.

 

4.3 Communication and collaboration tools

4.3.1 Blogs

Blogs are best used when individuals provide more than the minimum amount of information and are prepared to discuss a topic at length. As they are an excellent means to facilitate discussion, learners who are interested in debate and dialogue will get the most use from blogs. People looking for communication and collaboration who are short on time will probably not have time to read a series of long blog posts. Blogs are designed to be updated frequently and so can be used for someone who wishes to provide a number of pieces of related information.

Blogs can be used to facilitate:

  • Information sharing - Blog posts can offer all kinds of information – a post could be a user’s opinion, a link to a resource, etc. As a post can be tagged, viewers can access similar subject posts immediately from one post. A blog can quickly and easily address a large number of users with whatever form of information is required.
  • Collaboration - If a number of individuals can post to a single blog, it can be uses to facilitate a group project. Users can work on adding information to a given topic through 1 person writing something & then other users commenting on it or adding additional information.
  • Communication - A blog entry could be seen as a means to “start a discussion”. An author creates a post in which they offer an opinion/ ask a question, link to a resource, etc. Other interested users can then comment on this and a discussion can develop from this.

 

4.3.2 Social Bookmarking

Social Bookmarking tools such as DIGG or Delicious are best used for sharing information. As social bookmarking can be easily updated and made available to others immediately, they allow for simpler distribution of resources. Social Bookmarking may seem like an individual task, but it allows users to benefit from the insight of others when researching and supports problem based group activities assessment. Users should be encouraged to bookmark resources as a constant activity, to ensure that a well-developed and well-maintained repository of resources is available for all.

Social bookmarking can be used to facilitate:

  • Information gathering & sharing – Bookmarks are primarily used for information gathering and sharing. A bookmark is an extremely fast and easy way of gathering & distributing resources. The sharing of a bookmark also means that a bookmark can be saved by others - and may be added to that user’s own collection (information sharing). When a bookmark is made, a tag is assigned to classify the information allowing users to search for resources that have been assigned that particular tag. Thus, by selecting a tag it is possible to access a wide array of bookmarked items related to that tag.
  • Research - Social Bookmarking has benefits in terms of research as it allows people to view a user’s collection of bookmarks. A user could be asked to gather a number of resources related to a particular topic as part of initial research – developing a pool of information that they can refer to for later development.
  • Identifying trends - Bookmarking can also be useful in highlighting current online trends and conventions and in the case of institutions and companies, can show what the most popular intranet pages are. This would be very useful for developing products/ services.

 

4.3.3 Wiki

A wiki is basically a simple web page that anyone can edit. This functionality can provide a collaborative writing tool that users can access and contribute to, and which can represent discussion. A prime example of this can be the use of wikis in developing an extensible document which can be constantly added to (for example product/ service information, internal task information, etc.): In addition, a wiki can be used to provide updatable management documents, such as internal policy information, processes, etc.

Wikis can be remote hosted (such as PBWiki, WetPaint, or collaborative Google Docs) or hosted by an institution – such as MediaWiki or the wiki feature in Moodle. Wikis can be open - where anyone can create an account and edit - or closed - requiring approval from a site administrator. Edits may be handled through simple editing with wiki markup (similar to HTML) or a Word-style formatting bar (in hosted wikis such as PBWiki).

Wikis can be used to facilitate:

  • Information sharing – As wikis are a means of developing collaborative documents, wikis are ideally suited to information sharing – providing information which can be frequently updated to reflect changes to content. The advantage of being a constantly updated document is further enhanced by the ability to view previous versions of a wiki (via the “wiki history” tool) allowing users to see where changes were made and to track the “evolution” of the wiki & its content over time. Wikis also allow comments, allowing users to give their opinion on the information contained in the wiki so a wiki is not limited to information which cannot be challenged or questioned.
  • Collaboration – Wikis can be used collaboratively by allowing a number of individuals to work on a single wiki – this is especially true of group wikis, which allow all group members to work on a single wiki, developing different iterations of the wiki and storing all previous versions. By using wikis collaboratively in a process such as this, it is possible to facilitate a group project. Users developing a wiki on an area of expertise/ information will constantly revise the information on the wiki to ensure that the most up-to-date and accurate information is reflected on the wiki & offer differing opinion through the comments function.
  • Distribution – Wikis can be used to distribute information and workload. Group wikis in particular facilitate the ability to make numerous changes to a single wiki, thereby allowing the development of a document amongst a number of platform users. Such features can be especially useful for something like a group project- providing users with an initial wiki and then asking them to make changes to update the wiki with correct/ up-to-date information.

 

4.3.4 Email

Electronic mail, often abbreviated as email, e.mail, or e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages, designed primarily for human use. E-mail systems are based on a store and- forward model in which e-mail computer server systems accept, forward, deliver and store messages on behalf of users, who only need to connect to the e-mail infrastructure, typically an e-mail server, with a network-enabled device (e.g., a personal computer) for the duration of message submission or retrieval.

Most organisations will have their own email client in use – generally email clients do not tend to differ hugely in terms of function.

Email can be used to facilitate:

  • Communication – Email can be used to communicate with someone in privacy. Emails should be used to facilitate asynchronous communication (as one would use typically use email)
  • Distribution - Email can be used to distribute information and files in privacy. The need to inform certain users on the platform, without wanting to let other users know could be done via the messaging system.

 

4.3.5 IM (Instant Messaging)

Instant Messaging (IM) relies on entering text, not speaking. To this end, it is a useful tool for facilitating communication with partners/ other organisations whose speaking abilities in a language may not be very strong. The IM tool provides a means for them to consult a reference source (a book, a language dictionary, a translation device, etc) when communicating with another user. The IM tool may be especially useful in facilitating group activities, such as group discussion, brainstorming, gathering group opinion, etc.

IM tools can include Google Talk, which is particularly useful if the organisation or clients have a google mail account. Jabber is a very useful open source IM tools and so can be edited and customised to suit the needs of your organisation. Windows Live Messenger is useful as it is standard with Windows Operating Systems – so if all employees have this, it is an immediately available IM tool. Finally, ICQ is a commonly used IM client in Russia and Germany, which may be useful to be aware of if dealing with clients from these areas.

Instant Messaging can be used to facilitate:

  • Communication – The primary function of the IM tool is to facilitate communication. An IM tool is especially useful for communication with more than 2 users. The IM tool provides everybody with the same ability to put their point of view across. Unlike the VoIP/ Skype tool, a user does not need to speak louder than another to put their point of view across. All users have the same opportunity to communicate their opinion.
  • Collaboration – As mentioned, the IM tool provides all users with an equal ability to put their point of view across. The text which they type remains in the IM window and can be viewed by all other users in the same IM room. This makes the IM tool especially useful for collaboration – in particular for functions that involve many users such as brainstorming and other creative development techniques.

 

4.3.6 VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) Tool

The primary synchronous (real-time) communication tool in the platform is the voice over IP/ Skype tool. The main advantage which the VoIP tool possesses is its ability to let users speak to each other. This can be particularly useful for collaboration as it allows users to brainstorm in real-time.

The VoIP tool can be used to facilitate:

  • Communication – The primary function of the VoIP tool is to facilitate communication, but in addition to this, it also provides a means of developing communicative skills. This can then be extremely useful for additional work and in real life also.
  • Assessment - The VoIP tool can be an extremely useful means of assessing a user’s spoken language abilities. As the users must communicate verbally, their language skills can put be into practice and good practice in speaking a language can be encouraged (e.g.: both listening and speaking skills are improved).
  • Collaboration – As mentioned, the VOIP tool provides all users with an equal ability to put their point of view across. This makes the VOIP tool especially useful for collaboration – in particular, as with the IM tool, for functions that involve many users such as brainstorming and other creative development techniques.

 

4.3.7 Podcasting

Podcasting is the distribution of audio online through RSS. Technology has developed to the point where one can record and distribute audio files with only a computer, a microphone, and internet access. Of particular potential in audio is the increased use of different audio tools for easy collaboration (such as Seesmic or Voice Thread). While podcasting is generally a one-way flow, collaborative audio creation around images adds the learner’s/listener’s voice to the exchange.

Podcasts can be created with Audacity, Odeo, Garage Band, or digital voice recorders. Audio files can be shared via services such as PodBean, iTunes, or plugins for blogging software (such as Word Press). As with blogs, learners can subscribe to RSS feeds of podcasts. Learners can listen to podcasts on a computer or iPod (or similar audio device).

Podcasting can be used to facilitate:

  • Information sharing – Podcasting can make audible information accessible to all via download.
  • Distribution – Podcasting can be accessed as many times as required.

 

4.3.8 Video

The last decade has seen the web transition from a text-based medium to a multi-media platform with audio, video, and greater interactivity. Easy to create video – with a web cam, Flip Video, or video recorder – are more accessible to individual educators than studio-produced recordings and the increased bandwidth available to most computer users has opened the door for a new approach to extend businesses.

The Video toll can be used to facilitate:

  • Information Sharing – Information sharing can be achieved very easily and quickly through video. The advantage of video is that is allows for very visible information to be put across featuring both visual and audible information. Examples of video for information sharing can include short demonstrations, recorded presentations, video developed by other institutions/organizations, etc.
  • Distribution – Video is an excellent means to distribute information, particularly due to the advent of easy video recording, using video recorders, web cams, flip Videos, even mobile phones.
  • Collaboration - Due to the advent of easy video recording, the possibility for developing a large pool of resources is strong. By encouraging employees to develop their own video resources for their work tasks, their work processes, etc. a large pool of very practical video learning resources.

 

4.3.9 Document Repository

The Document repository tool should be used when necessary. As the tool provides a means to upload information which could not otherwise be made available through the platform, the document repositorys tool should be used primarily to provide information (e.g.: the document repositorys) which could not be made available through other tools on the platform (therefore, if the document being uploaded is plain text without formatting, or a link, there is no need to leave this information in a document repository – it can be added via a blog post or a bookmark).

Document repositories can be used to facilitate:

  • Information sharing – The main use of the document repository tool is in providing access to information which cannot be displayed via other means. Through the document repository, it is possible to make available any type of document repository for other users to download.
  • Distribution – Files in document repositories can be downloaded as many times as required. A user who uploads a file to a document repository can determine who has access to the document repository, when it can no longer be downloaded, etc.
  • Organisation – Through the document repository tool, it is possible to upload documents which will aid in the organisation of activities. These include gannt charts, time plans, activity lists and other documents which are required to provide more information to a user that what can be added to an event calendar.
  • Collaboration/ Evaluation – A common use of the document repository tool in a manner very useful to everyday work processes would is getting employees to complete a task on their local machine and then to upload the file(s) to the document repository. This can also be used to help evaluate the work done as all others with access to the file can provide feedback, encouraging participation & communication.

 

4.3.10 Social Media

Social media is an emerging tool in the use for communication and collaboration in an SME. In addition to its functions for marketing, advertisement, recruitment, etc. it has emerged as a dynamic tool for internal use in an organisation.

Social media can be used to facilitate:

  • Collaboration – When a user is friends with another user who is a co-worker, or even with someone with similar interests with whom he can collaborate, the process of joint development of content can begin easily. This, in turn, allows users to develop a collaborative mindset. Another important facet of the friends system is the ability to determine who has access to content developed, who has the ability to communicate with who, etc.
  • Communication – An extremely useful facet of the social media tool is the variety of communication tools available – facebook, for instance, has a wall, which functions as a blog of sorts, as well as gathering posts from friends, which functions as social bookmarking, and chat, which functions as instant messaging, etc. Users who are friends in most social networks can usually send each other private messages, view each other’s content by default and comment on this content.
  • Organisation – Gathering a collection of friends on a social network is an extremely useful means of developing a pool of expertise and/ or skills in human resources. To this end, it is suggested that collections of friends be grouped according to an area of interest.

 

4.4 Time management and tracking tools

Time management and tracking is a hugely important element in and SME.

4.4.1 Calendar tools

Calendar tools are hugely useful in terms of time management and tracking, in addition to be hugely useful for project elements such as organisation and tracking meetings and appointments. Typical tasks for project management include elements such as tracking the number of hours worked and on what, the creation of start and end dates for tasks, the reviewing of tasks and development of timeplans, etc. Typically on Calendars, users can be assigned for certain tasks and responsibilities. All assigned users and reviewers can typically enter comments on a task to discuss it.

Some frequently used calendar tools include:

 

4.4.2 Task List

Task lists are useful for organizing tasks and processes. Typical tasks involve adding tasks that need to get done, prioritizing them, and checking them off when they are done. This is very useful for avoiding difficulties in scheduling and ensuring that processes run smoothly and that tasks are not overlooked and put aside and forgotten.

Some frequently used task list tools include:

 

4.4.3 Project management

Project management systems involve the combination of a number of different tools –typically including elements such as calendars, task management tools, task logging tools, document repository tools, etc. Project management systems can sometimes be too much for a particular organisation, depending on its needs.

 

4.4.4 Analytics & Time Management

Time management tasks and analysis tools are typically used to track activity performed. This has the advantage of allowing one to identify habits in their work processes, reducing and eliminating waste and redundant tasks. The analytics element of these tasks allow one to break down websites visited, software used, etc.

 

4.5 Time management procedures

There are a wide variety of time management procedures available nowadays. Included below are 4 time management techniques commonly held to be highly effective for SMEs:

4.5.1 The Pomodoro Technique

The concept behind the Pomodoro technique is to break down periods of activity into 25-minute intervals. Entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo, who developed this method based on the concept that one’s mind can focus effectively for approximately 25 minutes, called these periods "pomodoros" (Italian for tomato).

The technique requires one to decide what they wish to accomplish for the day by breaking their day down into constituent tasks and then focusing on one task for 25 minutes, work free of distractions and focus solely on this until the timer, set to 25 minutes, rings. Following this, a 5-minute break is taken to allow the brain to rest and recharge and then the process is repeated. Every four intervals, a longer break of between 10-20 minutes, is taken. These are the basics of the technique - the technique gets more complicated as one progresses with it.

4.5.2 18 Minutes

The concept behind 18 minutes is somewhat similar to the pomodero technique.  The process is broken down into 3 main stages.

At the start of the day, one develops a list of what they wish to accomplish for the day to ensure that they are successful. In the book “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done” the author, Peter Bregman chief executive officer of the global management consulting firm Bregman Partners, asks "What can you realistically accomplish that will further your focus for the year and allow you to leave at the end of the day feeling that you've been productive and successful? Then take those things off your to-do list and schedule them into your calendar." Following this, one should take one minute per hour of work to refocus and review the last hour. Finally, one should review what they have completed at the end of the day.

4.5.3 COPE

Developed by personal productivity expert Peggy Duncan, the COPE technique – or, the Clear-Organized-Productive-Efficient technique – focuses on the root cause of why workers tend not to have enough time to complete all tasks during the day. The system “incorporates getting to the root cause of why you don't have enough time and what you can do about it”.  The process focuses on the analysis of one’s activities by logging all activities and eliminating time wasting activities. Following this, one should organize and prioritize tasks and focus on completing tasks without multitasking.

4.5.4 ABC & Pareto Analyses Combo

This technique pairs the combination of the ABC and Pareto analyses techniques. The ABC technique involves categorizing tasks to A (personal / professional long-term goal), B (important, but doesn't meet the "A" criteria of urgency) or C (nice thing to do, but really not that important) categories. The Pareto technique suggests that 80 percent of tasks can be completed in 20 percent of disposable time and the remaining 20 percent will take up 80 percent of time. Therefore one should focus on the 20 percent of tasks that really matter throughout the day.

The combination of these two techniques involve the categorization of tasks throughout the day to focus on the most important tasks.

 

4.6 Social media

An essential elements in social media is that it provides a means for participants to develop communities of practice (CoPs) – these are gatherings of users who share a common interest, craft, and/or a profession and who work collaboratively to discuss, share and improve their knowledge of this common knowledge/ skill area.  The advantage of social media is that it facilitates effective CoPs by providing a way for members to share tips and best practices, ask questions of their peers, collaborate on documents and discussion boards, provide constant updating of information and provide support for each other. In this way, CoPs can help provide collaboration, motivation and communication.

As mentioned previously, Social media is used to facilitate:

  • Collaboration - If a number of individuals can post to a single social media page – like a facebook wall, it can be used to create a shared resource – with the information on this social media page limited to the social media’s main subject matter (e.g.: a project task/ deliverable/ target group, etc.). As the social media page is shared, there will be a number of users adding to it (therefore, if a user contributes, it is still worth them revisiting the social media page often in order to view posts left by other users) and other users can comment on these posts. The final product is something similar to a blog with contributions from a number of users on a very specific subject.
  • Communication – Social media networks offer a number of different tools for communication purposes. The primary social media communication tool is typically a messaging system which can be sent internally in the platform to other users.  A social media page/ wall as discussed above can make it possible for users to start discussions and communicate with other social media members by leaving posts on this common section.
  • Information gathering & sharing – Social media networks are an excellent means of gathering and sharing information on a specific topic or language, for a specific, limited number of users. As a member of a social media network related to a particular area of expertise (such as a professional area of expertise or a specific language) can be specific in providing information for this area. In addition, via the social media communication tools the social media network is an excellent place to make requests for information related to a particular uers’s subject area.
  • Organisation – as part of the social media network, members can categorize themselves according to their areas of expertise. In this way, it is possible to identify an array of people who possess knowledge of a very specific area, which can then be useful in seeking sources of information.

The use of a social network as a business tool has been somewhat overshadowed by the huge use of it in everyday life (e.g.: facebook), but social software has a role in buseiness, facilitating communication and collaboration which are organic and emergent, formed from bottom-up control rather than top-down design.  Information sharing in social network platforms typically revolve around the use of a core set of tools which allow the publishing of updatable web pages – such as wikis and blogs. For example,

In Facebook, a post on a wall could be used to outline a user’s opinion or interpretation of some information, a link to a resource, etc., the facebook chat function could be used as an instant messaging tool to collaboratively discuss a task or deliverable, etc. When using a social network for information sharing, it is beneficial to consider information sharing in a social context – e.g: information may be shared one-to-one, one-to many, many-to-many, many-to-one, etc. This in turn can determine the tool on the social network which is used to share information. Mass online collaborative projects are very suitable for social network platforms as these projects are often facilitated using a combination of social software and collaboration tools, all of which could be provided by a social network.

A consideration in using communication tools in a social network platform is whether a tool is synchronous or asynchronous. Within Facebook, for example, there are a number of asynchronous communication tools such as discussion groups and walls which can aid in the development of particular information areas. Synchronous communication tools in Facebook are mainly focused on developing communicative skills as well as forming contacts with other users from the social media network.  As communication in a social network platform is so myriad and as there are so many tools for communication, for business purposes it is often easier to think of communication in a social networking platform in terms of its social context and its appropriateness in reaching its intended target audience – e.g.: communication tools may be one-to-one, one-to many, many-to-many, many-to-one, etc.

Undoubtedly, the main advantage which using social network platforms for education provide lies in social interaction. This social/ contextual interaction affects all elements of the platform’s main characteristics – information sharing, collaboration and communication – thus leading to the characteristic “bottom-up control” rather than “top-down design” approach for learners. It is necessary to be aware & if possible, develop a plan of action around social interaction on the platform – including guidelines on the use of particular platform tools for particular purposes and particular audiences in order to promote, encourage and moderate interaction.