Internal Communications – Freedom of Speech? You Cannot Be Serious – Part 2

In a recent post, I suggested that allowing employees to post to social networking sites without checking what they’re posting first (which is, pretty much, what Ford and Coke are planning to do) was just on the howling-at-the-moon side of psychotic insanity. For the record, I blame the inappropriate and unmerited levels of influence ascribed to the rash of self-styled ‘social media strategists’ that are oozing out of the woodwork wherever you look these days.

I got a response. Here it is:

“I completely agree! That’s why it’s so important to make sure your employees are all always well-briefed. That goes for every single employee throughout the company. John C. Havens and Shel Holtz give several good examples of the importance of internal transperancy in their book, Tactical Transperancy.

Good, up-to-the-minute internal communications will make sure your employees are always on-message and well-briefed. Asking them to recommend the brand to friends in person is no different than asking them to do so online, except that online their voices can be heard by a lot more people.

Your point is well-made for employers that urge their employees to go out into cyberspace (and the real world) and promote the brand. That’s why a good social media strategy includes a strategy for keeping the employees well-briefed and well-aware of the message.”

Ah – would that it were so easy.

 ‘Internal transparency’ (in one meaning of the term) shouldn’t exist. There is no argument whatsoever for ensuring that everyone knows everything. In fact, it would be dangerous – it’s not that you cannot trust your employees with the information, it’s that you cannot trust their interpretation of the information.

 No matter how good and up-to-the-minute your internal comms is, unless you undertake to brief each employee individually, on a one-to-one basis, then you cannot guarantee understanding and a correct interpretation of the data. Which is why all internal comms messages need to be broad-brush and unambiguous – there is no room for subtlety in internal comms. Because of this, good internal comms does not give you the control you need to allow your people to go off on their own.

 I would never ask an employee to recommend the brand or organisation to their friends – it seems needy and might, in fact, turn that employee against me. I want to capture the hearts and minds of the employee (through broad-brush, unambiguous internal comms) and then I want them to talk to their friends, in their own words, of their own accord, with the unambiguity that I have provided for them. And talking to their friends is very different to them posting online PRECISELY because it can be seen/heard by so many more people.

 I wouldn’t ask my employees to post about my brand or organisation on social networking sites – and if they decided to do so, I would want to see every post before it was posted. There may be a strategy for keeping employees well-briefed (isn’t that simply another reference to our internal comms programme?) but it will – I’m afraid – have the same lack of subtlety that I’ve just mentioned. The added issue with social media is that it’s not just your employees that may misinterpret the message – their misinterpretation will then be freely misinterpreted by an audience that you cannot track or measure.

 It still seems like a recipe for disaster to me.

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