Earlier today, Sam Laird of Mashable wrote an article asking “Does Every Employee Need Social Media Training?”
Absolutely. All employees are brand ambassadors whether they want to be or not. There’s no way to stop information from flowing in or out of an organization. Social media policies are, by their very nature, reactive so by the time they come into play the damage is already done.
The only way to get ahead of (and hopefully avoid) the negative consequences of a radically-transparent world is to make sure employees are aware of the dynamics of the new world we live in where Internet connectivity is ubiquitous and everyone has a multimedia studio in their phone.
Focusing myopically on the negative possibilities in social media is like focusing only on the villains in comic books. They’re only part of the equation (and often easily vanquished).
The flip side of the worry over employees and social media is that most organizations are missing out on POSITIVE opportunities (which are far more numerous than the negatives). Properly-focused and empowered, employees can wield the power of social media for an organization’s benefit (improving workflow, engaging customers, and sharing the stories that build a brand).
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel: there are loads of infographics, charts, checklists, fliers, videos and other resources a simple Google search away and the training can be as simple as an informal jam session that starts with you asking what employees’ questions are and building the conversation from there.
As we hurtle into the future, we’re leaving a larger digital wake behind us. International Data Corporation estimates humans will produce 1,800,000,000 terabytes of data this year alone.
Simultaneously, the power to sift through these vast stores of information is getting keener. In 2009, the team BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos won the Netflix prize by crafting an algorithm for recommending movies with ten percent better accuracy than the movie company’s own engine.
“Mashup Bombs” are what await us as these two phenomena converge. Our ability to compare the increasing amounts of data will improve and previously undetectable patterns will emerge. Not only that, but the ability to produce revelations won’t be confined to future data – we’ll have the power to look back through all of the petabytes of data already cached on server farms around the world.
- What if the GPS records of mobile phones were matched with employee payroll records to spot when people are fudging their hours?
- What if anonymous publishers could be outed through algorithms that compare writing samples?
- What if aggregate market data and networks of personal connections could be filtered to show when bidders were given preferential treatment for government contracts?
Things are well underway:
- Wikipedia + IP Address Location Database= in 2007, a CalTech student named Virgil Griffith created a tool called Wikipedia Scanner that tracked the IP addresses of Wikipedia editors back to their sources and outed institutions from Diebold to the CIA as having edited their own Wikipedia entries.
- Twitter + Maps = The Centers for Disease Control are monitoring Twitter, watching for keywords related to illness in order to spot pandemics before they get going.
- Sex Offender Databases + Real Estate Listings + Google Maps = As local governments have begun to publish sex offender photos and profiles on their websites, this information has been cached and combined with real estate listings and Google’s open API for its versatile maps tool. The result is the ability to see if the location of a house you’re interested in looks like it has chicken pox.
- IRS Records + Google Maps + Facebook =Fundrace is a site that allows users to map out what political campaigns their neighbors are contributing to, as well as compare those same databases to find out who your friends on Facebook are donating to.
Just because an indiscretion has gone unnoticed is no guarantee that it will go unnoticed in the future. As a PR pro, I don’t look forward to responding to the indiscretions of predecessors, but that may be something we have to prepare for.
[Update: I was able to find a link someone posted to the Google Cache of the original blog: http://tinyurl.com/4tubjsv]
As part of a webinar I’m presenting this week on Social Media Policy (“Social Media – Campus Policies & Protocol” – February 17, 2011 from 2-3:30 p.m. EST), I’ve been tracking some very recent case studies to discuss with the audience.
One of them was the story of Natalie Munroe, a High School English Teacher who was just suspended from Central Bucks East High School last week Wednesday after a current student happened across her blog (http://natalieshandbasket.blogspot.com/) which contained disparaging comments (including calling one student a “rude, beligerent [sic], argumentative f*ck”) about students, parents and co-workers. The student forwarded the link to past students of Munroe’s. Eventually some parents found out about it and notified school officials.
What’s become particularly fascinating about the case is that yesterday, Munroe used her blog to respond with her side of the story (as I write this, the local news media in Bucks County appears not to have picked this up yet).
For what it’s worth – responding via one’s blog is a rather bold and inspired strategy. In the research I’ve done on cases like these (and in crisis public relations situations generally) people typically regret remaining silent at the advice of counsel and wish they would have weighed in to help influence public opinion on their own behalf.
From a PR perspective, I might suggest to Natalie that she undelete/republish all of the content from her blog. Here’s why:
- hiding it tends to imply that one is admitting that the content is shameful (whereas being transparent tends to be a quality that inspires respect/deference)
- it removes the context that the benign portions of the blog provide and allows people to focus on the sensational excerpts posted in the news
- as Natalie herself noted, there are already cached copies in circulation anyway
Our society is going to be engaged in a difficult debate about the limits of free speech for the next few years as more people begin to publish information about themselves via social media.
Until we’ve crystallized opinion and established a legal/societal framework around how open we allow people to be depending on their role – it’s best to avoid becoming a case study at all costs. The nascent legal framework in place and the fact that many judges/prosecutors/jurors/board members are largely ignorant of the intricacies of social media means you can’t be guaranteed a fair trial.
It’s true. 100 percent. They just don’t know it.
Research by Manpower (published at mashable.com) turned up that only 29 percent of corporations have a social media policy. Problem is, employees are using social media in both their professional lives (which affects your organization) and in their personal lives (which affects your organization – and which isn’t hampered in the least by banning the use of social media at work).
Just like with sex – it’s never too early to start talking to people about it. You don’t have to have every single detail nailed down with bullet points and legalese approved by your general counsel – just let your employees know that we’re in a new world where what goes online is much more accessible and permanent than ever before so they should use their good judgment. Most of the social media face plants I’ve seen have been from sheer ignorance – not malice – and a kind warning likely would have stopped them.
So for those institutions that think they DON’T have a social media policy – you’re wrong. You have one – and right now it’s “ANYTHING GOES.” Better do something about that.
"...and you shall have no pie."As my parents tell it, when I was an infant my first word wasn't a word - it was an entire sentence. Very little has changed.
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