ARGs, social media and organisations…

The Economist has an interesting article in its Quarterly Technology Review about “alternate reality games (ARGs)” (link possibly needs subscription to work – sorry if so!) and how they are being used for advertising – to build or change the perception of a brand. For instance, McDonald’s ran an ARG as a promotion coupled with the 2008 Olympics, and there were ARGs to promote “The Dark Knight” prior to its release in cinemas.

I have been thinking about this in relation to the way organisations use social media, and their role in training and development.

I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but people I have spoken to have said how their involvement in massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMPORGs) such as World of Warcraft and EVE has given them skills which they have been able to use in their offline lives – both socially and in their work.

When I was working in training and developing my (former) employer’s learning strategy, we looked at America’s Army to get an idea of what could be done. We didn’t go anywhere with those ideas, but the possibilities seemed rich.

ARGs seem richer – because they mix online and offline media: in training terms, they could be called a blended solution – with multiple delivery channels, all working together to delivery a coherent learning experience.

They would also be complex to plan and deliver – and not everyone would get the same experience. On the other hand, users would get an experience that best suited them.

The use of social media like Facebook and Twitter internally could also deliver huge benefits for organisations – building communities of practice, allowing people to source information and support when they need it; but organisations would need to allow their employers the freedom to use these resources as they see fit. Where I used to work, the level of trust was such that working with wikis and blogs weren’t tolerated – it was a counter-cultural approach, and it didn’t float.

The interesting thing is that many employees in the workforce use these tools the whole time – whether their employers want them to or not. With social media being accessed through mobile devices, people will be online even if their employers lock-down their workstations. New employees will have grown up using social media, and whilst their managers may not be so proficient – although I’ll be many of them have Facebook or Twitter accounts – it is curious if organisations choose to ignore these resources – and the skills of their employees in using them.


9 thoughts on “ARGs, social media and organisations…

  1. PhilD

    One of the problems I’ve had in the workplace is trying to explain to non-tech proficient individuals the potential benefits of various sociual media. one person in particular, unfortunately my boss, viewed all such things as a waste of time, she even tried to start disciplinery proceedings against me for using Firefox. (apparently Firefox was a ‘chatroom’ and thus against the organisation’s stated IT use policies. Collapsing into hysterical laughter wasn’t the response she expected I’ll wager.) The point is, that amongst the less tech literate, there’s a profound fear of such things, a feeling that somehow we’re pulling the wool over people’s eyes. How to get beyond that I don’t know but would welcome suggestions.
    I can rant and rave about Eve, but you’ve already heard me expound on it at length :)

  2. PhilD

    Just to add, I think in heirachical organisations where the management tend to be older than those under them, the ‘counter-cultural approach’ you mention is seen as subversive and a direct threat to managerial authority. In a sense this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as the gap between the tech literate and the tech ignorant widens.

  3. Curious Bunny

    At work they’ve just launched an Intranet. Seriously. We are retrograde in our adoption of technology. And said Intranet doesn’t even have a search facility and can’t be edited/added to by the vast majority of users. *headdesk*

    I’d probably agree with Phil that senior management may fear new tech – if not controlled by them – as subversive. But some of my peers are equally clueless! I’ve have been lucky enough to have managers that have been either (a) young or (b) tech-savvy.

    1. Patrick Post author

      That is interesting – I’d have thought academics would have been ahead of the curve, since much of the internet evolved from tools which academics used to share their ideas.

      Hanging around with people who are familiar with new media, I think it is easy to forget that it is a small minority who are actually using these new tools; but as “digital natives” age and join the pool of workers, it will probably become the norm.

      On the other hand, for many people in the world, access to the internet is still by dial-up (if they have access at all), and things we take for granted aren’t accessible by them. Designers of websites forget this, designing for the minority with fast broadband access.

      1. Curious Bunny

        Well, some of my academic colleagues are on top of the tech thing, and innovating in all sorts of interesting ways (some genuinely good and some more for the sake of it), but there are plenty who aren’t. I mean, we can all cope with email, and most people can use PowerPoint, but that’s about as much as you can guarantee.

        1. Patrick Post author

          I think there are lots of interesting ways social media could be used in an academic setting for interactions between students and faculty, and between students and students.

          It might also be hard for academics, though – it is much more open, and therefore it would feel risky. Like other media providers, working with new media means losing control.

          I’m sure it would be an interesting area!

          1. Curious Bunny

            I have colleagues (other depts) who are exploring this – one of the stumbling blocks is things like Facebook, which doesn’t really know whether it’s a social or work-related tool (so for example members of staff sometimes get friend-requests from students … that’s a murky area). It’s a nice idea to leverage the technology, but you’re absolutely right that there are control issues. We use WebCT, which is a very top-down, content-delivery-based system; were we to move to something more democratic (an idea I quite like), there might be issues relating to control of the environment and/or deviation from university SOP. It’s a very interesting space!

            1. Patrick Post author

              When I did my MBA, I was surprised at the pedestrian way the university used web-based delivery. This was before “web2.0”.

              FB is clearly designed for personal use, but with many corporates using the site, this will change – but it isn’t designed for it.

              Perhaps there is room in the market for a halfway house – a not-so-open channel (requiring, say, login) for managing content and discussion.

              Thing is, some lecturers may not like what they read…


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