Thursday, August 21, 2008

iabc q&a: trust employees?

Bringing the Flip video camera to my social media talk for IABC Washington last week worked so well that at least one attendee, seeing the crowd around me after the talk ended, used the camera to record a question so others had the chance to talk to me live. Here's her question:
videoMy favorite example of trusting employees with social media tools comes from Microsoft, where it's estimated that tens of thousands of the company's employees blog about the company--without any review or interference from Microsoft. Colleagues of mine at the company say that, while many of those blogs share internal memos and inside views, just as many gripe about the cafeteria food or other, less high-minded topics. Microsoft, which is ubiquitous enough to have a constant stream of customer feedback, even hired tech blogger Robert Scoble for a time to blog about the company, no strings attached. (See Scoble's latest "what bloggers want from PR people" post here.) They've kept the lines of communication open, which helps the company's credibility--and ensures they know more about what employees and customers want.

Many other major corporations let employees write their corporate blogs to give an inside, human perspective that adds to the company's image. Check out Google's blog here, which covers its products, but also provides insight into its internal culture. One of my favorite posts stems from an employee who decided to order a huge amount of Silly Putty, and the adventures that resulted from trying to divide 250 pounds of the stuff to share with fellow workers--you can see that here.

My own take: The comments and feedback you get via social networking sites or blogs represent opinions and ideas that would exist without the technology. You just wouldn't know about them. Wouldn't you rather know?

And to answer the question, yes, I do think companies can trust their employees with social media tools like blogs, Facebook and Twitter. In fact, when I train companies and groups to create blogs or social networking pages or sites, I recommend that they find bloggers they trust--and let them do their thing. Readers today look for authentic voices, and there's nothing that sounds less authentic than an edited blog. John Palfrey of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society has said it well: “Once you get to the point where lawyers review everything in a blog, it ain’t a blog anymore.” (Check out this related post about internal communications blogs.)

That's why I'm glad that my latest blogging client, a retail business, told me they wanted a blog that would let their on-the-floor sales staff show off what they know. They're the product experts, and they know the customers. Each salesperson has a distinctive set of skills and knowledge, and the owners -- who don't have the time to blog themselves -- see the blog not just as a way to reach new and existing customers, but as an employee benefit. They want their staff to have visibility, and expect it to build stronger customer relationships. The owners also have worked hard to create a system that makes it as easy as possible for the staff to add blogging to its other duties, including no reviews by the owners. I'd recommend trying this approach before you assume the employees can't be trusted. You may be pleasantly surprised, and you'll have a better blog or social networking site as a result.

Still thinking through this approach? Your company or organization may benefit from one of our customized social media orientation/strategy sessions to think through the options. Contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught.biz for more information. (Thanks to Emily Deck for capturing this on the Flip video camera!)

1 comment:

Christine Tiernay said...

Thank you for posting this question!

I'm an advocate of allowing and encouraging employees, including leaders, to present a more personal and human perspective at work. I asked the question "Can we trust employees with social media?" to give voice to the common concerns that I hear from business leaders in large organizations.

I understand the concerns, and believe some safe guards need to be in place, but would love to share examples of the productivity and morale gains that can result from a more open dialog. Thank you for the great examples.