Social Media; Who’s doing it right? Forrester? The BBC?

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: 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:

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:

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.

5 thoughts on “Social Media; Who’s doing it right? Forrester? The BBC?

  1. It’s great to see IBM’s open policy toward its blogging employees although I do think there is a considerable difference between IBM and Forrester Research.

    I don’t think Forrester is asking me (or any analyst) to stop blogging – in fact I’m certain of it. Quite the opposite is true (as I pointed out in my own blog post on this). Putting a Forrester brand behind the analysts that represent the firm increases the perceived value of the brand, which is good for the company and for our clients.

    I suspect the intent behind the BBC’s “mandate” is to encourage journalists to get involved in conversations and so drive readers back to the BBC content sites and/or programming. Although, the BBC faces a similar challenge to Forrester in that it is dependent upon the IP of its journalists the difference ends there, because the BBC does not charge for its online content or access to its journalists. By encouraging journalists to participate in the social world, they stand to drive more traffic back to other easily accessible BBC content.

    Despite the sensitive nature of our content, Forrester analysts are actively encouraged to participate in the blogosphere within our social media guidelines – which is very similar to the policy in place at IBM. The big difference is that Forrester analysts are unable to separate their personal opinions from the company they represent because clients pay for analysts’ insights and analysis. For example it would be impossible for me to write a public blog post that was contradictory to the advice I would give to clients. On that basis there is no difference whether the blog has a Forrester logo on it or one that I create myself – it’s still my opinions/commentary.

    One other difference is that with the Forrester logo on it I’m more protected in the blogosphere that I would be under my own blog brand.


  2. Nigel- Brilliant reply! I am glad to see that the information about Forrester may actually be incorrect! At the very least it seems that a LOT of people may be misinterpreting Forrester’s new policy. I truly hope that you are indeed encouraged to continue participating freely in this social world!

    As for the BBC, I do understand the intent is likely not as heavy handed as it may appear at first blush. But using words like “mandate” along with the tone of Mr. Horrocks’ quotes tend to have me believe that while the good intent is there, the execution is sorely lacking. My post here is more to drive home that you can not mandate passion, but encouraging it with open policies is the way to drive participation resulting in growth and profit based on the IP you(they) own. Telling people they “have to” is not the way to succeed.

    From reading your own blog post (under the Forrester brand)explaining the new policy, I do agree with the need to retain IP rights and ensure the stability of the business model. Under IBM, I am bound by the same concepts, just expressed differently: I am not permitted to disclose proprietary information to the public. See? Same concept, but I am not bound under the IBM brand. I retain my own personal site, and my individual ‘brand’.

    That said, I am also a contributor on an ‘official’ IBM Rational Client Support blog, where my posts are more focused on work and company specifics, while here I am free to be more personal in terms of the content I post.

    For me it is about the appropriate venue for content. I’d be very sad if IBM told me I had to post under their brand, as I don’t think it is appropriate for posts about a new tattoo, whiskies tastings, or a motorcycle trip to take space on my IBM branded blog. Just like I don’t see it as appropriate to flood this blog with posts about new releases, user group meetings, or site updates as the audiences are dramatically different.

    From what I understand from your blog post on the Forrester policies, if I were in your shoes, I would be relegated to a single audience under the location and lose my personal blog location in favour of the brand’s. If that is indeed the case (and please correct me if I am wrong), then the appropriateness of particular blog content can change and shift dramatically. I’d no longer feel comfortable posting about my latest ride on a company sponsored site, as it doesn’t really provide value to the client base, whereas, there IS value in that post on my personal blog as my audience has shifted from client heavy to friend/personal relationship heavy.

    I am very curious to hear if I understand Forrester’s policies a bit better now and if they really do mean you are forced to give up a personal blog in favour of blogging under the masthead. And while I am happy to learn that things may not be as bad as I first feared, I think I will have to stand by my initial post as I am not yet convinced the new policy is really the right way to do it.

    That all said, I am overjoyed that you took the time to help enlighten and discuss this. That alone shows the passion for this space is still going strong!
    -Jason O’Donnell

Comments are closed.