How about neither?
This week has been fairly busy in the Social Media world when it comes to shakeups. First it was the news that Forrester (an independent market research firm) began telling its analyst employees to either take down or redirect their personal blogs to the Forrester main site (as referenced in the article here: http://thesocialcustomer.com/Home/15561). The idea Forrester was going with here is that market analysis is intellectual property owned by Forrester and that should be under the control of the company. We’ve seen this corporate behaviour before when ESPN cracked down on its employees in the same fashion, stating that “Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted” (reference the BrandBuilder blog for more details).
What we are seeing here are corporations overly worried about governance, and looking for the easy way to control perceived property. Rather than embracing the employees who are displaying a passion for the industries they represent, allowing them to flourish, and drive forward as thought leaders in their space, these employees are now being constrained and stifled by corporate mandates; driven through the funnel of their governance into a single space where the company has its security blanket of control in full force.
It won’t take a genius to figure out how I feel about that. But that doesn’t mean I want the pendulum swinging to the other end either.
Take today’s news of the new BBC Director -mandating- that all journalists employed by the BBC begin using social media. See Mashable’s coverage here for the story and links to sources: http://mashable.com/2010/02/10/bbc-social-media/
While I appreciate that Mr. Horrocks believes in at least using the content with attribution, I can’t imagine how his staff feel about being mandated to use social media now. Yes, I believe there IS a place for social media in the newsroom. Yes, I think journalists should be paying attention here and not ignoring the information trending through Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etcetera. But I don’t believe that should warrant a mandate either.
Any policies which demand action on any side of the spectrum here are destined for failure; either you will fail at controlling your employees with a tight enough reign, or you will fail to ensure they are engaged in the spaces you want them to be paying attention.
I have said this before about other things (like tattoos, TV shows, or even working from home), but Social Media isn’t for everyone. That doesn’t mean Social Media is the devil either. People all learn differently, work differently, and consume information differently. When corporations adopt policies allowing their employees the freedom to engage in the venues and areas in which they as individuals find passion, THAT is when you will see great successes. Not everyone will be excited by social media outlets, just like others are not excited by more traditional avenues of content consumption. But when you allow those people with the passion to find their niche, your company will grow as the thought leaders in your industry, and as the communities grow and each individual you employ becomes those respected subject matter experts in their related fields… soon, your clients will see your brand as the knowledge experts.
THAT is something you can not force through policy or mandates. That is only something that can come from the social communities in a purely organic fashion, and only with proper care and cultivation over time. Stifling your employees on EITHER end of the spectrum will not empower them to excel in your controlled space or adopt new methods of working. Empowering your employees happens when you allow them to follow their passions and work in their own ways.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t call out my own company’s brilliant policies surrounding social media involvement. Yes, I work for IBM Rational Client Support as a knowledge manager with a focal role in social media/web2.0 initiatives, and yes IBM has what I consider to be one of the best social media guidelines around: http://www.ibm.com/blogs/zz/en/guidelines.html
And others seem to share my respect for IBM’s progressive policies, like Olivier Blanchard from his BrandBuilder blog article referenced above, and Casey Hibbard in her article on the SocialMedia Examiner here.
I figure, if a company as large and diverse as IBM can successfully implement such open policies surrounding social media, why can’t yours?
And lastly, a disclaimer as is appropriate: The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions. The words I write are mine and mine alone, please don’t attribute them to any person or company other than me.