Defend your mess

Half way through the life of our bulletin board at the BBC we came under pressure to make it more structured. Most of the early adopters, myself included, were happy with the really simple structure and organic growth that had helped it find its place in the organisation. But it was beginning to be noticed by other people; people who were less experienced on the web; people who liked things tidy and organised. We came under pressure to make the forum more structured. They wanted a structure that reflected the organisational structure at the time. They thought that people would find it difficult to navigate if it didn’t follow the familiar patterns.

But this wasn’t the point. The forum worked because it didn’t fit the patterns. The patterns didn't work. The silos bore little relationship to the real patterns that emerged from our day to day exchanges with each other. The structure reflected one view of the organisation, the networked conversations in our forum another. One was formal and managed, the other was informal and emergent. We needed both. Don’t let people try to tidy up your internal use of social too soon. At least let it find its feet before you start worrying about mess. Mess is in the eye of the beholder.

Part of your job as the instigator of social in your organisation is to defend it. You are there to keep reactive forces at bay until the tool achieves a robust enough culture to look after itself. This will probably take years.