Social Media and Social Cognitive Theory

Image as seen at PeopleINT blog

Human beings are social animals. We do not float through existence in bubbles composed only of our own experiences. We are constantly interacting with others and drawing on these relationships to co-construct our reality.

According to Social Cognitive Theory, people acquire much of their knowledge by observing others , often through media influences, such as social media.

Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely
solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human
behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea
of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a
guide for action (Bandura, 1977)

This knowledge forms a person’s understanding of the world around them and how to act within it. The more a person derives their understanding of reality based on what they observe through media sources, the greater the impact of those media sources.

Bandura identifies two “communication pathways” used in mass communication:

  1. The “direct pathway” (the traditional mass media approach): Communications directly promote certain information or encourage people to take specific action.
  2. The socially mediated pathway (the social media approach): Communications connect people to social networks that provide a tailored experience, with “personalized guidance, as well as natural incentives and social support”

Bandura asserts the superiority of using the socially mediated pathway, saying “the absence of individualized guidance limits the power of one-way mass communications….tailored communications are viewed as more relevant and credible, are better remembered, and are more effective in influencing behavior than general messages” (Bandura, 2001).

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Don’t focus on the new “it” tools to understand what social media is all about

The list of social media tools is long and constantly growing longer. New “it” are being released every few months and older tools reaching maturity very quickly. Given this mercurial environment, it doesn’t seem productive to focus on the tools when trying to understand social media.

The Conversation Prism, by Brian Solis and JESS3, as seen at

In his book, Social Media ROI, Oliver Blanchard offers a wonderful metaphor that I have used many times when explaining social media to others:

The term social media describes the pipes; social communication and social interaction describe what people do with them.

Instead it is best to focus on understanding the sorts of interactions people have when using these tools and how that knowledge might be used to create better communication experiences and facilitate improved access to information

Focus on building relationships and connecting with people,  then choose the best tool for the job.

The difference between using these social media tools in addition to or in place of more traditional communication tools, will be in your message’s velocity and reach.

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Measuring the Effectiveness of Social Media in Health Care – A Brief Rant

To measure the effectiveness of social media communication efforts in health care, it is important to look at social media as one more tool in a health communicator’s tool box. The success of these efforts must be measured in relation to the business objectives they support and the degree to which those objectives are met.

While some communicators try to use return-on-investment to evaluate social media efforts, this technique is often not very useful, except in those rare instances when a clear causal relationship can be drawn between a specific communication effort and a specific outcome.

For health care organizations, social media is about more than profit and loss; it is about fostering relationships that promote the health of patients and the health of the organization. 

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As My Yammer Project Begins, I’m Counting My Blessings



With an endeavor as challenging as this Yammer work group project it’s important to count my blessings.

Blessing #1: Starting with a clean slate. Every single member of this work group is new to Yammer. A few of us have logged in and used it casually in the past, but none of us had any real experience using it in a project-oriented setting. While this inexperience presents certain challenges, it also presents some real advantages. We have little or nothing to unlearn. All impressions are first impressions. No habits are old habits. This is as close to a control group as I’m ever likely to get. This is a real boon for my research project.

Blessing #2: Diversity.  Kudos to our leadership sponsor for managing to corral such a diverse group of employees. This is truly a cross-functional group; I don’t think there are any areas of our organization that are unrepresented. In addition, we have managed to attract participation from a broad demographic group (or as broad as we can achieve, based on the level of diversity in our organization as a whole). We have a wide range of ages represented and even a decent range of ethnic backgrounds.

Blessing #3: Everbody’s GGG. Every single member of our group is open to trying something new. Some may be more comfortable with our experiment than others, but everybody displays a positive attitude and willingness to learn. That’s good, giving and game…in a business sense.

Blessing #4: Cheapitude. I’m so thankful that I managed to pick a project that requires few additional resources. The software is effectively free, as it had already been licensed by the enterprise and our use of it incurs no added costs. In addition, thus far, most of the group communication we’ve engaged in via Yammer simply replaces communication that would have occurred via email or meetings. It is my hope that, over time, our Yammer communication will become more efficient than other methods of group communication. If that happens, that would be a big win.


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The Yammer Work Groups Project

Periodically, my employer conducts an All Staff Survey. The last one was in 2011. The goals of the survey are:

  • to shape change at the workplace at all levels of the organization
  • provide a way of measuring how employees feel about their work and their work environment
  • to provide opportunities for open communication

Several weeks ago, I was invited to join a work group to address the results of the survey in my particular work unit. It’s not often that an employee is given a chance–in fact, charged with–becoming an agent of change in the workplace. I can’t say I jumped for joy (my mountain of work is just as high as everybody else’s). But under my load, I hopped a little.

An Opportunity to Introduce Social Communication into the Workplace

Ever since I returned to school to finish my Master’s degree in Communications in June, I’ve been casting about for the right work project to double as a Master’s capstone project. Something related to business applications of social communication (using tools like Facebook, Twitter, etc…). This new work group seemed like the perfect opportunity to conduct a trial run of Yammer Premium Groups.

For those who may not have heard of it, Yammer is an enterprise social networking tool that functions like a cross between Facebook and Twitter. Users can share information and collaborate across the enterprise using this tool. With Premium Groups, users can set up special work groups (private or public). Members of the group can collaborate on a project in this space, sharing files, asking and answering questions, and posting announcements. It provides a sort of virtual meeting environment that can often take the place of in-person meetings and email. The potentials of this tool are very exciting.

I was thrilled when our project’s leadership sponsor agreed to allow me to use this group to run a pilot of Yammer work groups.  I was still more thrilled at how supportive she was of the scholarly side of my goals.

Wish us luck. This promises to be a very challenging and rewarding project.

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