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.