Social Media Can Lead To Better Companies
With every new development in social media, communications departments are faced with new challenges. If the end goal is to control the message – and that is the boiled-down purpose of communications departments – then the expansion and adoption of social media is a direct obstacle to that goal.
Blogs became a problem quickly once the meme hit critical mass a few years ago. What used to be a novel event – an employee being fired for blogging – has become so standard that it is hardly newsworthy anymore.
While a blogging policy may work to an extent on a top-down basis, even if the company comes out occasionally looking like the bully, what do you do when an executive airs the company’s dirty laundry? Pack your desk, probably, as the company’s often sunk when that happens.
It used to be that the main risk you faced was an employee blabbing at a bar to a few indifferent earlobes, or worst case scenario, a disgruntled employee going to the press with a complaint, whether valid or not. But there was no guarantee the press would cover the incident.
And now it’s out there, just out there, on blogs, on social networking profiles, over instant messaging, via SMS, on YouTube, on Twitter. Everybody has their own personal broadcast network.
On a macro-level, that’s a good thing. It gives voices to the voiceless, puts pressure on the corrupt, robs the powerbrokers, spooks the machine. But idiots, too, can use it. And humans, who sometimes make mistakes.
Michael Krigsman at ZDNet, writing specifically about Twitter and the danger it poses as a many-to-many communication device, suggests companies have three options when dealing with a new platform that’s clearly not going away: ignore it; block and/or monitor; establish clear information-sharing guidelines. He recommends the last one, with strong enforcement.
But there’s something else that could evolve as well, something that will make the communication professionals job easier in the long run. It’s an optimistic model that will have to allow for the occasional negative exception.
When everyone’s a potential whistleblower, and the ears potentially listening to that whistle are ever expanding, we could see the rise of greater corporate consciousness toward ethical consistency, Google’s Don’t Be Evil philosophy expanded beyond Mountain View. This is a somewhat traditional moralistic view, an invisible eye that makes you behave.
I told you it was optimistic, as even Google has trouble with it. But the potential is there, a goal to strive toward, if a company is in this game for the long run. Transparency breeds trust (or distrust, if you don’t watch it), and when there’s trust and fulfillment of trust, controlling the message is easier as there is less to control.