The Twitter trolling debate this week will not put at ease internal communicators already concerned that social media will have a negative affect on morale and work. But are they right to worry? Are corporate forums a pit of employee angst and grievances, populated by whingers and timewasters?
I’ve found one of the biggest barriers in persuading comms managers and CEOs of the benefits of social media in a corporate environment – increased engagement, two-way dialogue among colleagues on all levels, insight into issues – is the fear that employees are going to leave abusive messages or stir up negative feelings with tirades about company policies and strategy.
This week’s reports will fuel these concerns, with Twitter’s lack of filtering or monitoring appearing to allow users to say what they like. However, these specific incidents have also highlighted that social media is not the anonymous space many believe it is. If you don’t play nicely by the rules – and any organisation actively using social media must have a set of guidelines – you can expect to be made an example of.
One Twitter user has been arrested for making violent threats, while another who sent offensive remarks direct to a TV presenter faced the possibly more worrying fate of being reported to his mum after someone found his home address on an online database. Cue: a grovelling apology, the swift deletion of his account and various pictures circulating of his time on the TV show Pointless. Truly, the Internet knows everything about you.
Of course, Twitter – the big, sometimes bad, wide world of Twitter – is a different beast to internal social media sites.
Internally, on Yammer or other forums, a degree of policing is still required, in part to keep an eye on potentially insulting comments, but also to ensure someone is responding – to employees’ complaints as well as queries, questions and positive statements. It’s useful to hear the grumbles and stay alert to a groundswell of negative opinion, and important to let staff know you are listening.
As a leader, how do you expect to improve your working environment if you don’t know what gets people’s backs up? They won’t stop you in the corridor and tell you to your face or invite a group of people to the canteen for an open forum, but they might start a discussion online.
Internal forums can be a good opportunity to engage with people who care enough about an organisation to express a view, however dispirited that opinion is. They want to see change. If they are passionate enough to share a view online, invite them to talk more openly in a face-to-face discussion. Employees who talk about your business behind closed doors are, frankly, little help in your evolution.
And anyway, who is going to create a post that jeopardises their position? With email log-ins and passwords, there isn’t the opportunity to hide behind a made-up username. Any offensive post can be reported and quickly traced back to the sender. From there, you can choose to discuss the problem. Or tell his/her mum.
Tips for implementing an internal social media channel
Make it part of someone’s job to monitor the channel. Remember: you’re not just looking for employees who are abusing the privilege of free speech. Get a feel for the common issues and concerns, as well as the subjects that are enthusing people. Register these and feed back to the company’s decision-makers.
Note what else employees are using the channel for. Are they sharing advice and best practice? Are they using it as a means to informally speak with directors? Is it easing working processes among geographically dispersed project teams? Exploit the channel to support these requirements.
Listen and respond. If a moderator doesn’t have the answer to a query or complaint, at least engage in dialogue – get more information from the user if necessary, and then seek a response from the relevant person internally.
Encourage senior managers and directors to get involved. Social media is not about young people telling us what they’ve had for breakfast. It’s about a community learning, sharing and engaging. Your leadership should be switched on to all your comms channels and interested in what people have to say, reacting accordingly.
Your employees are entitled to their opinion, within reason. No one wants to work for a company where the CEO puts his fingers in his ears and goes “La la la la la” whenever someone says something critical. As long as a post isn’t abusive or threatening, don’t be discouraged by a negative remark. Get to the heart of the issue with the poster and either explain your point of view and why things are done in such a way, or look at resolving the conflict. Convert cynics; don’t ignore them.
Make the most of the channel. Share images and documents, and post links to your intranet and corporate website. Get people moving around your channels and learning more about your business.
Clarify your guidelines about respectable behaviour on the channel. Be clear about the aim of the channel and how you expect people to use it. Advise what content is off-limits and what tone of voice is inappropriate.