How to Position Social Media for Learning Success

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Are you thinking about how much time your employees are spending on social media blogs, wikis, Twitter, Instant Messenger, Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn in their work place? Are you also thinking about how that time could be used to support learning activities at your organization? 

Today, many employees access social media websites on their cellphones and computers all the time. Talent development practitioners are able to use positive work-related aspects of this medium to enhance workplace learning, encourage knowledge sharing, and improve the overall organization’s effectiveness.  In fact, according to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, 69 percent of executives who have implemented a social media strategy report that their companies have gained measurable business benefits, including better access to knowledge and higher revenue. 

To be sure, there are plenty of encouraging and inspirational anecdotes about how organizations have used social media for brand awareness, customer service, and so forth. Many talent development professionals, however, have found it challenging to incorporate social media into their offerings. This challenge is due in part to skepticism at management and leadership levels about whether employees will use these tools for work-related reasons. 

Indeed, even though the potential for social media to enhance learning and gain competitive advantage is clear, and the audience for these tools is already built in (organizations know that employees are spending time on social media websites), talent development professionals need to tread carefully in their adoption of these tools. In their recent article, “Social Media as Collaborative Media in Workplace Learning” authors Thomas and Akdere recognize these dilemmas and offer the several recommendations to position social media within the organization as a strategic organizational learning strategy.  

To start, talent leaders need to position social media as a new learning strategy. Relabeling and reframing it as “collaborative media” can help. Using this term can help organizational leaders see beyond the hype and focus on the collaborative benefits of social media tools in the workplace. Next, organizations should adopt multiple approaches to incorporate collaborative media into existing learning programs, or use them to create new unplanned or informal learning opportunities. Here are some examples: 

  • Encourage tweets and instant messages (IMs) by using hashtags related to the organization (such as #learning2016 or #productrelease). The L&D funcation can tag these tweets and IM conversations by topic and store them in a searchable database. For instance, radiologists at the Mayo Clinic use a Twitter-like micro-sharing tool to share X-rays and solicit diagnosis opinions from other physicians.

  • Archive blog posts or create a wiki site on the organization’s intranet. For example, Sabre Holdings, the company that owns Travelocity and other travel reservation systems, has created an informal online learning community called Sabre Town.

  • Use the organization’s Facebook account to post short question-answer discussion as part of new hire orientation. Consulting firms Deloitte and KPMG also use Facebook to create networks for their recent hires.

  • Make use of microblogging platforms like Yammer and Chatter to foster internal communication, restricting information sharing to employees inside the organization.

  • Document critical workplace activities, specific projects, or step-by-step instructions for certain processes using Instagram or Pinterest.  Taking a photo of each step and adding caption with instruction helps learners visualize and recall information more easily. 


Thomas, K. J., & Akdere, M. (2013). Social media as collaborative media in workplace learning. Human Resource Development Review, 12(3), 329-344.

Editor’s Note:This post is part of a series of articles highlighting research from the journals of the Academy of Human Resource Development (AHRD). In partnership with ATD, AHRD is committed to sharing useful research with the practitioner community. 

About the Author

Dena (Fatemeh) Rezaei is a doctoral student in HRD program at Texas A&M University. She received her master’s degree in HRD in 2014, and worked as a business consultant and researcher before coming to the United States in 2014. She cares about people, and is fascinated by their unique and inspirational stories. As a HRD researcher and future practitioner, she is passionate about finding cost-effective and innovative methods of learning and knowledge sharing that will unleash individual inner talent and improve an organization’s productivity and effectiveness. 

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