by the Members of the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board
Date Published - Last Updated February 25, 2016

The human race has used a variety of communication mediums over its long history. Stone, metal, clay, wax, and paper: all have been used to capture and disseminate information. For the most part, these mediums facilitated communication between individuals and groups (one broadcasting to many). Over a hundred years ago, we began doing this electronically, and today, new technologies are helping us communicate in vastly different ways. These technologies are the cause and consequence of the social media revolution.

Nonlinear Meetings

What makes a medium social? A social medium gives people the ability to interact, comment, and contribute to conversations, and then pass those conversations along to others. It’s also characterized by absence: we no longer have to be present or simultaneously available to converse. The tools of social media help us piece information together and participate in nonlinear discussions. Take, for example, staff meetings, and how they’ve evolved over time.

Traditionally, staff meetings were regularly scheduled events that everyone was expected to attend on site. This format was a roadblock for support groups. To many, it seemed unreasonable to close the service desk, so not everyone could attend these meetings; desktop support team members likewise struggled with the time constraints. If, for example, an appointment took longer than expected, staff would either have to be late for the meeting or cut their appointments short. Support staffs couldn’t ignore their customers’ needs, but scheduling staff meetings outside of open hours was a strain. The result? Disjointed meetings, a struggle to disseminate information, and a loss of community.

With modern technology, teams can now capture meetings electronically, via audio and video recordings. But rich audio and video alone don’t make media social. What does? Cutting together video from many people and allowing teams to comment, ask questions, and interact, bringing meetings to life and making them bidirectional. By using social media, staff meetings don’t have to take place at a single time or even at a single location.

Open and Public

Social communication is changing our society, opening up forms of communication that once were private and making them public. For better or worse, social media often provides a greater degree of transparency. Prior to the widespread dissemination of cell phones, many desktop support organizations relied on two-way radios for communication. Though cheap and easy to use, technicians felt uncomfortable broadcasting to the entire office that they didn’t know how to solve an issue and needed to ask for help.

Now it’s commonplace to admit you’re stumped and then broadcast your request for assistance out into cyberspace. This type of collaboration entails building a network of support that includes peers in your organization and colleagues around the world. A thriving network requires nourishment from everyone involved in it. We’ve become accustomed to taking time away from our jobs and our day-to-day lives to help people outside of our organizations fix issues with which they may be struggling.

This network or forum model, extended to your user base, could be a useful tool for improving desktop support in your organization. Over the course of your career, you’ve likely used some sort of forum to solve an issue. Do you provide a forum where users can post issues and anyone in the company can provide answers? People are naturally inclined to turn to their peers for help before contacting the support organization, and, in that regard, support forums decrease the burden on the IT department and often lead to quicker resolution. However, such forums can also promote bad habits, propagate misinformation, and lead to more work for the IT department.

There are pros and cons to social media, but the fact that it has changed the dynamics of support cannot be denied. Water-cooler conversations are going to happen, whether electronically or in person. Social media can allow the support organization to be part of such conversations, enabling it to address issues quickly and effectively.

What Is Desktop Support?

The lines separating desktop support and the service desk have begun to blur. Many organizations now see the two groups as one and the same. Social media and communication tools have facilitated that blurring, but it has been hastened by the removal of hardware from the support equation. Automation tools, mobility, VDI, and BYOD have forced changes in desktop support. Desktop support teams no longer need to be located at client sites; they just need to be specialists in their clients’ operating systems.

Newer social media support phenomena, such as crowdsourcing and swarming support, have the potential to shake up desktop support as well. Through profiling, these tools make support quicker and more efficient by identifying the right analyst or technician to handle an incident, provide a solution, or participate in the problem-solving process. Individuals can shape their profiles by declaring their skills and specialties, or they can be autogenerated based on past performance. (In some cases, the profile selected may not even be from the IT team!)

If used properly, the social aspect of social media can help build a sense of cohesion between individual team members, strengthening the team as a whole. This is especially useful for distributed desktop support teams that are spread out across the country or even around the world. It is hard enough to work as a team when you’re all clustered together in the same building, but it’s much harder when you’re all in different locations and you work at different times. Social media can help teams get to know each other, build understanding, and work more effectively.

The Challenges of Social Media

The consumerization of IT has shifted the focus from a small handful of operating systems and devices to hundreds of types of devices. And when it comes to the features on those devices, the possibilities are endless. Most devices have a camera, a microphone, and removable storage; users can then customize their devices with apps and accessories (like Bluetooth headsets). But while this gives devices greater social utility, it increases the complexity involved in ensuring that these devices work together seamlessly.

This is increasingly important, because, in many respects, social media has taken work out of the office. Because it’s easier to communicate with people, there’s an expectation that staff should be available at all times. When a user needs to restart a print spooler, she may not know (or care) that it’s after hours, or that her favorite support technician is on vacation. If social media says an analyst or technician is available, users are likely to reach out. For better or worse, the 9-to-5 work day has evaporated in many organizations.

Organizations also face a dilemma when it comes to setting boundaries for checking, reading, and participating in social media during work hours: What are work hours? And with the popularity of telecommunicating, where is work? Certainly, there are challenges associated with having social media in the organization. Social media has changed and is changing the boundaries, but these challenges have also created opportunities. For example, organizations have had to come up with ways to manage user behavior. Is it acceptable to criticize your boss or company on social media? What if you shared your post with a small group, but a group member shared it with the public? Some companies are bound by law, others by policy. And while some question the permanence of social media, calling it a fad, others have embraced social media and embraced the concept of blending work and social media. These organizations encourage their employees to use social media at work as long as that use follows certain guidelines and obeys any restrictions.

Another challenge associated with social media interactions is the subtlety of human communication. Electronic communication is often one-dimensional, and misunderstandings happen frequently. Short emails, tweets, or posts can’t convey the nuances of a discussion, an issue, or an incident, and we need those verbal and visual cues to respond appropriately. This, coupled with the rapid response social media demands, can complicate the communication process. On the surface, social media has created more inputs for communicating and interpreting information; yet, for all that, there are still limitations.

Social media and consumer devices are two waves of the same invasion. Whether you have a plan or not, you need to be prepared to respond to those who want to use social media in your organization, addressing the challenges and embracing the benefits where appropriate.

As social media continues to change and mature, so, too, do support organizations, both in their use and support of these tools. Use your network to find out what has worked for others and be willing to try new approaches to supporting technology. Social media is more than just tweeting your thoughts and posting pictures of your last vacation; it’s about building a personal network and creating a community.


The primary mission of the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board is to provide advice and guidance for the creation of industry standards, best practices, research, and professional development opportunities. The twenty-five board members represent organizations from a range of industries, and regardless of how large their organizations are or which support model their organizations employ, each member provides critical insight into the trends and needs of the desktop support community.

Tag(s): desktop support, social media


More from the Members of the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board :