There was an interesting article in BusinessWeek last week about Web 2.0 and managing corporate reputations. I am often asked about the challenges that come with the open conversations created by social media. It’s a valid concern for organizations and one that should be taken seriously.
Some organizations choose to block employee access to social networking sites. That seems to be old paradigm thinking to me and it is a bit like locking the barn door after the horse has already walked out. There are all sorts of ways around being blocked. Think about how many staff members have an iPhone or a BlackBerry and can get online that way (and that number is only growing) or they can use an Internet stick (we use one quite often when we give presentations to organizations). And – there is always time away from the office.
What if, instead of shutting it down or ignoring what is being said on the Web, you took the opportunity to find people in your organization that are online and ask for their input on what you should be doing online? What if it became someone’s role to see what is being said online and you took a good look it – especially if it is negative.
There are many horror stories about people saying things or uploading video online that they shouldn’t. We’re in a new age of freedoms and many of us are still finding our way around it. Mistakes are going to happen – and people seem to forget that what is written online may be read and passed on to many people. However, when I see some of the more “high profile” examples of things that are inappropriate, unprofessional or just plain wrong being put online, one question comes to mind: Does your organization have a social media policy that everyone in your organization is aware of – and understands? There are two sides to this kind of policy – what staff members can do or say online in regards to your organization and what they can’t. If you are going to tell them what is acceptable, you also need to outline what is not acceptable. There is a lot of gray area here and you really need to be clear.
There is risk involved with embracing social media (in my opinion, there are more risks involved in ignoring it), but there are also some amazing opportunities. You do have to be open to criticism and to learning some new things as you go, but there are incredible opportunities to extend your stakeholder community, to engage individuals and groups that are interested in what you do, and to join a conversation that is already happening.