The Social Media Rift between Employees and Companies

Many companies and individuals using social media are struggling with the balance of supporting one’s employer, while maintaining their individuality online through blogs, social networks, and whatever comes next. Research indicates that the adoption of social media tools is here, and will continue to normalize, just take a look at Generation Y to see this is native to them.

The Social Media Rift between Employees and Companies

Public Disclosure Policy
I remember at the Blog Business Summit in 2005, the high talk of this budding industry was for “every company to adopt a blogging policy”. Fast forward 4 years later, not every company has a blogging policy. In fact, it’s not really needed in many cases as the scope is too limited.

I remember one seasoned marketer at HDS, who lead the ethics policy, this was shared among every employee, and a printed booklet landed on every desk. I don’t recall the exact words, but it stated that employees should be mindful of their communication regardless whether they were online, in person, and using blogs.

Individual and Collective Brands
The next challenge is for the many personal and career brands that are developing using social media tools. More and more bloggers are self-branding themselves beyond their first and last name, much like this ‘web strategy blog’. There’s an opportunity for both the individual blogger and the company to benefit each other, although the balance has to be found.

With the human faces coming forward due to social media tools, the opportunity for employees to build real human relationships with others can be the most natural bridges for prospects to become customers.

For example, to me, the Oracle brand was pretty much just a logo and a series of large towers in Redwood Shores. Lately, I’ve been interacting with the many Oracle employees on Twitter (mainly OracleJulio, yes his twitter screen name) who has done a great job of getting to know me, sharing with me, and sometimes challenging me as he should. It’s fascinating that he didn’t just create a twitter account called “Oracle” or one called “Julio”, instead he’s merged the best of both, and exemplifies the best behavior of both. It’s working.

Hiring trusted employees, and trusting them too
On the podcast interview yesterday with Shel Holtz, we discussed how transparency within the corporate environment could lead to customers and employees working together to create next-generation products, and why employees, who are experts at their craft, may often be called to discuss these in public.

In the end, it really policies and guidelines are only as strong as the people behind it. In the case of IBM, (as I recall) the blogging policy was created on an internal wiki, vetted by the employees, then given a quick review, edit and approval from legal. The thing about most employees is that they may enjoy working for their company, feel a sense of ownership, and when trusted, feel empowered to do the right thing.

So in the end, reasonable policies and guidelines are often a good thing, they set the lines of acceptability and protect both the company and individual, yet despite any amount of rules we put in place, there will always be areas of objection and questionably. Expect there to be changes and modifications made to any policy on a case by case basis, but learn to trust your employees, who when feel like owners and empowered, will often do what’s right for them and the company.

8 Replies to “The Social Media Rift between Employees and Companies”

  1. That’s an excellent post Jeremiah. It’s only going to get worse as the lines blur between work and personal. It’s mostly a conflict between people who get-it and people who don’t have a clue. We have a lot of these conflicts brewing. It’s really a leadership paradox: burst vs busyness, and on-and-on…

  2. Very well summed up, Jeremiah. It’s hard to put corporate boundaries on a very personal media form(s. Like you, I imagine there will always be some sort of tension in these situations.

  3. Good morning Jeremiah –

    This will continue to be a challenge and I expect will flare up occasionally as court cases.

    An aside – furthering your reference to IBM’s policy and rapid adoption. IBM’s Business Conduct Guidelines – recertified annually by every employee – restrict what an IBM employee can and can not do in both the professional and personal space. These guidelines are quite comprehensive encompassing not only the electronic realm but the corporeal realm as well. From a corporate perspective they are designed to ensure that IBM’s interests are not compromised. In truth they net out to common sense etiquette for professional and individual conduct.

    Now back to consideration of your assertions – I think that it is a case of not mixing issues. Adherence to a corporate constraint requires a complete separation from expressing a completely personal point of view. If we are clear about which hat is being worn then I believe it is quite possible to maintain all three states of being – 1) I am an individual, 2)I am a professional, 3) I am a “product” of my employer. At least for myself I have been careful to keep this kind of separation. Part of the reason is easy and a good illustration of what I am getting at – IBM, my employer does not have much to do with the Greek Orthodox Church. I as an individual have a lot to do with both. If I am to tell a story about a miracle in the middle of discussing a organizational strategy it would be quite incongruent.

    Ok one more thought – in general electronic social communication is not much different then a cocktail party. I think one would only say what one would be willing to say in an open room in front of all the people there. If what needs to be said is not for public consumption then like a whisper, there is email or the phone.

  4. Awesome post… And a topic that actually xe up this week for me.

    My take… I think companies, of course, need to be involved in social media, but I see a lot of value in letting employees be their own social media identity. For example, if I Tweet about Facebook, I have the impression that nobody is listening. But of I tweet about LinkedIn, I know Mario probably is.

    People find it hard to engage with a company. They find it natural to engage with a human. So, this I’d another area where companies must “let go, jump in”. Hire people you trust to represent you.

  5. Would love to see more examples of guidelines. What if you’re in a highly regulated industy such as financial services, for ex.? We can’t just pretend we’re at a cocktail party any time we speak in public. Would love to hear how some of the more regulated companies are dealing with this…

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