The Savagery of Social – implications for internal communication

This, I suspect, may get me into trouble. Let’s talk about the nastier side of social media for a moment, and then let’s consider the implications that arise for internal communication and the already established trend of using enterprise social networks like Yammer, Workplace by Facebook and, well, Sharepoint. (There are others, clearly – like Slack and Unily – arguably collaboration tools, or bespoke intranets, but as it’s all about ‘sharing’ – and odds are on that ‘conversation’ is also being mentioned – they’ve got all the characteristics of the established social media channels.)

And that’s the issue, really. Here’s a piece from The Irish Times (written by Jennifer O’Connell) which says ‘social media has shown us that when humans gather with no rules, savagery prevails’ and goes on to say ‘there’s a brutality now in the way we communicate with one another that did not exist before social media’. The article, which is definitely worth a few minutes, starts out looking at Ed Sheeran’s decision to leave Twitter, touches on the Orange Mussolini in the White House and uses personal experience to further illustrate the point. And it’s all demonstrably true.

Quite some time ago, I attempted to categorise this phenomenon. (If you can be bothered, you can find my original post here.) It’s ‘an ailment that afflicts a small but significant proportion of the population when they are presented with the opportunity to post whatever they like to a public forum’ – appearing to be compulsive and involuntary. It can take the form of simple intolerance of anyone else’s point of view, or extreme bad language, or posting of inappropriate material (visual or written), or racial harassment or career-threatening stupidity. That it’s a small proportion of the population is important – although the Brexit ‘debate’ has shown that the proportion may be larger than first imagined – however, as is always the case, it only takes one.

So – what does this mean for enterprise social networks? First, let’s go back to the Irish Times piece (above) and note the words ‘with no rules’. Social media have no rules, and anyone can say whatever they like, hiding behind a blank avatar and an anonymous username. Obviously, in the workplace, there will be rules governing the use of corporate intranets, collaboration tools and how employees represent their employer on external social media. Won’t there?

Well, actually, not necessarily. From personal experience, there are companies that have not thought about a code of practice. That do not have a Use of Social Media Policy. That – and this is terrifying – won’t implement guidelines because they don’t see them being at one with the spirit of social media. It’s all about sharing and collaboration and conversation, apparently – placing guidelines on how you do it would stifle its very essence. Hang the potential consequences.

Again, quite some time ago, I did a piece on my experience of implementing a very early version of an enterprise social network. (And again, if you can be bothered, you can read the whole thing here.) The conclusion was – ‘give people a voice and they will use it, as if it is a right. They will use it despite the fact they have nothing to say. They will use it to settle grievances, even scores, wash dirty laundry, put hearts on sleeves, bare souls and share the unthinkable. And probably try to unscrew the inscrutable, given half the chance.’

There are many companies (three that I know personally) – no names, no pack drill – who use enterprise social networks. There are consultancies who offer to implement an enterprise social network in your business. My experience is that they do not work – amongst the workplace as a whole – as they were meant to, generally because a busy workforce does not have the time to add an extra layer of complexity to its day-to-day and also – obviously – because not everyone wants to share their work. Because it’s theirs.

So what happens is that the expensive tool becomes a means for the few to blow their own trumpets and a further few to ‘like’ the fact that they’ve done so. And there is always the risk of wholly inappropriate, reputation-damaging content – although, in fairness, there is a less of it than I envisaged, way back when. But still, the expensive tool is a reflection of the shiny object that it imitates – faint, but a reflection nonetheless. And if social is becoming increasingly savage, thoughtless, stupid and radical then – without the policies, guidelines, checks and balances in place – so must your internal network.

From all of this, there are clear take-outs:

  • If you have an enterprise social network, govern it with a strict policy
  • Have a corporate ‘Use of Social Media’ policy in any case – you never know when you’ll need it
  • If you haven’t got an enterprise social network, think carefully – do you need one, or is it Shiny Object Syndrome?
  • Remember, the role of internal communication is to keep the workforce appraised of the organisation’s successes, vision, values, strategy, policies, procedures and its corporate religion, thereby generating a sense of belonging, belief and purpose. It is not to encourage free debate around these things, as Google has found out.

 

The Dark Net – Well, How Terribly Cyberpunk Of You

Frankly, I am sometimes left rooted to the spot with my mouth hanging open at how much you couldn’t really make things up if you tried. (I’m sorry if, at first sight, this last sentence doesn’t seem to make sense. Read it again slowly.)

In my free time, when I’m not saving whales, teaching orphaned ravens to fly underwater, or re-charging battery hens, I sometimes dip into a book, and the genre of book that I enjoy a good dip into is science fiction, particularly post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk science fiction. Now, it might just be metal-tinted glasses, but it’s my vivid impression that many works of cyberpunk (particularly at the lower-rent end of the genre spectrum) contain a key common theme and that’s virtual worlds, existing on t’internet. Almost all of them have something recognisably hacker-like and most have the odd villain or two, making use of closed sections of the information superhighway upon which to perform the digital handbrake turns of mayhem. So far, so made up.

(If, at this point in time, you find your interest piqued by this sort of – can I? Should I? Call it literature? Well, you might like to have a jolly good dip into this which is, joking aside, genuinely brilliant and has that bit of virtual-worlds-(in this case virtual hells – plural, yes)-hidden-away schtick goin’ on. It’s not really cyberpunk, though. For that, you’ll need this.)

Anyway, now we come to the bit where I’m frozen to the spot with my mouth hanging open. Dearest Blog Trotters – check this out.

I’ll let the headline speak for itself – ‘users build bridge to Dark Net’. If you want to know more about it, then you’ll have to read the story – it involves something called TOR, which is apparently a ‘secret net’. Yes, people, a secret net, existing somewhere in, or behind, or in parallel with, the one we all know about. It’s a Dark Net – it’s hidden and it exists so that internetters can hide their existence and what they are doing. It is the stuff that cyberpunk is made of and – here’s the thing – it is not made up. It exists. People are using it and – more to the point – others are signing up to it, providing it with more bandwidth and, yes, protecting it.

You’ll probably notice that I got a bit hysterical during that last sentence, and this will give you a clue to where I’m coming from on this issue. Which is from the State of No Way, No How. I make no secret of my disdain for social media – mostly the empty, ego-fuelled meanderings of millions of people who can’t bear the silence in their own heads – and I’ve also made it clear that I do not think it to be harmless (that it’s harmful and has caused harm is, actually, beyond doubt). From a corporate and business perspective, it is not a sales or marketing tool, it has limited use as an active communications tool and its best function is as a reactive message delivery channel when something has gone wrong. Ironically, these days, when something corporate goes wrong, it’s most likely caused by, or spread by, social media in any case.

But a big issue is anonymity. I believe in the right to be anonymous and the right to privacy – but if you’re foolish enough to post your life on Facebook, then that’s your anonymity gone and don’t come crying to me. Sadly, privacy and anonymity on the net doesn’t just protect fine upstanding citizens like you and me – it also protects the evil bastard trolls who pick on people, who post inappropriate content, who revel in their internet Tourette’s and who  contribute to the well-publicised suicides.

Previously, on this blog, I posted about regulating the internet and how it was far too late. I suggested a way of doing it – the GAP (Global Authentication Portal) – and suggested that the nerds of the world would upheave at the mere suggestion of such a thing.

This was before I became aware of the Dark Net. Surely I am not the only person who thinks that this is just a step too far – yes, I understand that an untraceable net protects freedom of speech in oppressive regimes and allows citizen journalism to raise its voice against institutional wrongs – but I’m afraid I’d sacrifice these liberties to ensure that criminals, thieves and global scumbags can be brought to justice.

This is one type of anonymity that I do not believe to be a human right. As I’ve said – if you’re putting your stuff on the net – you’re not anonymous. Don’t complain – there’s only (relatively speaking) a few bad apples, but the barrel is rotten.

Reinventing Online Shopping With ‘Social Commerce’

Thanks to The Globe and Mail (Toronto) for this article published yesterday, entitled ‘Retail Giant’s @Walmartlabs plans to reinvent shopping with ‘social commerce’.  You can read it by doing the light clicktastic on this word here.

Working in retail in 2000, as I did, one of the questions that ‘brick-and-mortar’ retailers were often asked was ‘do you feel threatened by the rise of e-commerce?’ To which the answer was ‘no – people will always want to experience real goods, in real time, in real surroundings, sold by real people.’ At the time they were right, the tech bubble imploded and things (briefly) went back to how they were.

But, d’you see, we got it wrong – both the question and the answer. We got the question wrong because we didn’t know what to ask – social media had not been invented – and we got the answer wrong because we could never have imagined how reliant people would become on the opinions, statuses, needs, wants and ill-informed dogmatism of others.

The question now is – as a ‘brick-and-mortar’, offline retailer, do you feel threatened by social media?’ And the answer really should be ‘yes’. When Walmart are bringing social media to the in-store shopping experience (want a review of the microwave you’re looking at? Post a message – a member of staff or another customer will respond to you. Want to know where the peanut butter is? Post a message – someone will respond) then you can be certain that this – or something like it – is the future.

And as for the boy turd Zuckerberg – yes, of course he’s in on it. To quote the article – ‘this is where Shopycat comes in. The Facebook application uses social media profiles and comments to generate gift ideas’. Back to Walmart’s breathless tech spokesperson, Venky Harinarayan. (No disprespect to Venky, he (or she, I suppose) has already made a sizeable fortune selling Walmart a thing called Junglee, a shopping comparison site. Well done, that capitalist.)

“It is becoming clear to us that one of the shopping behaviors that people have that is inherently social is gifting. We are building a product that we believe makes peoples’ gifting much more efficient, because all of your friends and family, within reason, are on Facebook. We are leveraging that information to help you buy better gifts and make it easier for you. We believe gifting and social networks are fundamentally made for each other, so getting that right over the next year will be important to us.”

D’you know, snorkellers mine, I’m going to leave it there. I’ll let you work out the number of different levels on which this is just so wrong.  I’ll start you off.

‘Efficient gifting.’

Social Media – Just Say ‘No’

OK, OK – keep your hair on. It’s only a headline, dear. For effect, dear. Yes, dear.

Obviously, I don’t mean ‘no’ – what I mean is ‘oh alright, but only if you really, really have to.’ (Engage in a bit of social, that is.) Reading my newspaper (my copy of the newspaper, obviously – I’m not some Murdoch-alike here) yesterday and drifted over a wee piece about some company’s social media policy (what do you mean ‘policy?’ Yes, you do need one, yes, it should be draconian and yes, it does apply to everyone) and the vaguely humorous conclusion the journalist had drawn was that the overall message was, simply, ‘don’t’.

(This drawn from what was, in effect, a long list of rules – don’t criticise the company or its competitors, don’t insult management or colleagues, don’t post on behalf of the company, don’t hide your identity if you ARE posting about your work – the list went on and on and on.)

Thing is, of course, while it was supposed to be humorous, it is, of course, true. If you are a company with a hard-won reputation, you do not want it pissed up the wall by some employee who’s very good at attaching spangle brackets to flange clips but who, when it comes to understanding boundaries and the nuances of self-expression, well……..not so much. (This is a sort of meta-metaphor as I fully understand that hardly any of you, blog trotters mine, are involved in the spangle-bracket-and-flange-clip industry. Despite it being, I am sure, a dynamic growth sector.)

Thus, arguably, spending days and weeks formulating a corporate social media policy, with all the guidelines, rules and strictures that it necessarily must have, then going through the approval and enrolment process and then attempting to instil it in your staff from president to postboy – well, it’s probably a waste of time, isn’t it. Like it or not, you’re not going to catch everyone and, of those you do, not all are going to understand what you’re telling them.

I meant – do you actually know what you’re dealing with? You want to have a rummage around the back of Facebook and see the sort of thing you dig up. This is why Vodafone had to clean up its Twitter feed after it fell victim to a twat, and why Dixons/PC World had to take down a Facebook group entitled (something along the lines of) ‘Our Customers – What A Bunch of Culture Secretaries’.

You see on recent evidence, even the professional communicators cannot get it right. Cue PR advisor to some manufacturer of electronic games (if, indeed, Duke Nukem can be included in the sunlit and carefree category that is ‘game’) who used his 140 to threaten bloggers who gave his client’s product a bad review. I take it that this guy wasn’t a numpty and had had some success on the field of PR – but he got it wrong. Going back to our metaphorical spangle-bracket attacher, what chance does he (or she – but I tend to associate spangle brackets with he) actually have.

Nope, my convictions are firm and remain unchanged – by all means noodle with social if you feel you must, but do it sensibly. And in a corporate context, for the bulk of your employees, the answer has to be no. No way, no how, no never. And the punishment for breaking the rules needs to be frightening. More frightening than, say, Rebekah Brooks.

Social Media In The Workplace – Medieval Thinking

Morning snorkellers.

Yesterday, you may recall, I stuck up a much-viewed and widely-discussed (I am almost certain that it probably was) post – Social Media In The Workplace – The Debate Rageth On – in which I set out my (by now pretty ragged from overuse) stall of arguments as to why allowing employees access to social media during working hours is not, on the whole, a Good Thing.

This was in response to a post on stopblocking.org (do the clickety-doo here) which – unfortunately – I found (and still find) a little too glib and easy for my taste. Anyway, long story short – as I guess was to be expected – the author of the post (one Shel Holtz) has reacted in kind (see, here!) in which he has, quite kindly, actually, put me straight on a number of my points. Again, right-thinking blog snorkellers mine, you may wish to don the mental equivalent of a welding mask before viewing his (lengthy) sounding off, but it does highlight at least one thing. You’re social, or you’re not. The whole debate over its usefulness has become so widespread and heated that there is no choice but to choose sides. Choose wisely, young padawan.

Anyway, Shel also had a bit of a twat about my post. He described it as thinking from the medieval era. Which, in turn, got me thinking. Would it not be fair to say that today’s many-too-many of social media strategists and specialists and gurus and advisers are, in reality, little different from the mendicant monks that would trudge the filthy by-ways and low roads of the 16th century, looking for the gullible and lazy, to whom to sell their fake and worthless relics? ‘Look here, lumpen peasant with your interesting diseases, shiny thing make it all better.’ ‘Be certain of your passage to heaven with this splinter from the one, true media – sorry – cross!’

Wasn’t that time one of mountebanks and charlatans, dissimulation and deceit? Rather than being medieval myself, I rather think I’m trying to prevent those who wish to get all medieval on our asses.

Social Media In The Workplace – The Debate Rageth On

It’s been a long time, gentle readers, since I came across something that deserves an award for its icky, sticky, company hippy nature, its inherent stupidity and intellectual laziness and its truly horrible smug and self-satisfied tone. But today is the day – it chills my very soul to introduce this, the Stop Blocking website and it disheartens me even further to link to this, a piece entitled ‘Demolishing Barclays Communications’ Blocking Argument Point-by-Point’.

Now, for this post to make sense to you, you’re going to have to do the clickety-dickety and read the article. You may wish to have a bucket and a towel handy while you do so and also to warn anyone in the immediate vicinity that your anguished howling is nothing to be alarmed about. Unless it goes on for longer than – say – thirty minutes, in which case it may be the onset of PTSD.

In brief, this is a continuation of the battle between two diametrically opposed viewpoints – that employees in the workplace should have no access to social networks during work hours whatsoever (which I do not believe to be a workable solution to the insidious eville of social) and that employees should be free to do what they want, when they want, simply girdled with a loose set of suggestions and guidelines. Which, as a solution to the problem of social media in a corporate context (and it is a problem, mark my words) is also a nasty pile of cattle droppings. In a nutshell, it’s the Corporate Nazi vs Company Hippy debate, which I have posted about before.

Thing is, the Company Hippy arguments for social media, used here, are the same ones that have been trotted out since social media began. And they didn’t make sense then, and they don’t make sense now. On top of that, here they are dusted with the icing of  ‘research’ and ‘example’ – and we all know how easy it is to find support for an argument. Any argument. (Don’t make me give you specifics.)

Here’s just a few idiocies:

  • Apparently, all workers, regardless of status or paygrade, put in extra hours and therefore compensate for any time that they may waste using social networks. Of course they do. In the same way that they all love the company that they work for, its senior management and its brands
  • Productivity suffers if employees can’t connect to social networks at work (thanks, University of Melbourne!). Apparently use of social media ‘resets an employee’s concentration’. How DID we manage to concentrate before?
  • Because the US Department of Defense has opened its networks to social media, does not mean that LargeCorp Industries LLC (in the business of profit, not homeland security) should – it’s not a question of risk from cyber-attack, it’s a question of perceived need and value. (In any case, I would ask whether the ‘private in the field in Afghanistan’ is free to change his status willy-nilly (‘Safe behind a wall’ to ‘In a ditch with blast concussion’) or to share any sort of geographic or temporal information)
  • Company ‘confidentiality can be violated anywhere, even an elevator’. True – but your average elevator holds 12 people and Facebook holds a potentially eavesdropping audience of 450 million. Go figure
  • ‘Many employees carry smartphones – or they can (access social media) from home after work’ – again, true. But what they do on their own time is their own business – unless it contravenes company policy on how they may represent themselves as employees, or the laws of the land – in which case they get fired. In the workplace – well, the clue is in the name – ‘work’place. Not ‘fun’place or ‘do-your-own-thing’place
  • ‘If normal use of bandwidth (this refers to employee use of social media) is slowing (your) network to a crawl, get more bandwidth.’ Just go to your finance guys and ask them to approve an increase in your budget, to purchase bandwidth to allow your employees to update their Facebook statii. That’s bound to work. Job done

All of this is hopelessly Utopian – the ideals of an imaginary world where everyone is nice, contented, loyal and trustworthy. Well, here’s the wake-up call. They’re not, and you need to bear that in mind when thinking about social media use in the workplace.

The solution, however (and it’s the one point on which I vaguely coincide with Stop Blocking) is not to shut down employee access to the internet. You see, it’s the internet that is (or can be) a useful corporate tool, it’s the internet which – as much as I still think this is a sucky argument – ‘resets concentration’ – not social media. Social media is wasteful and vainglorious. The internet is (partly) full of useful information, commentary and viewpoint.  Social media is full of weak-minded individuals who honestly believe that what they do and think is of interest to others (see Twitter).

How can you do it? Some companies have a couple of open-access machines in their public areas, for employees to use when they’re on breaks and time spent on these machines is (obviously) monitored by other employees – much like smokers on smoking breaks, internet users will be kept honest by their peers. Other companies make internet access a privilege, granted to those who’ve achieved – promotion, sales targets, whatever – although this is obviously a little elitist. Others allow internet access, but block social media sites – possibly the best of the options.

What is essential, however, is a good, solid, draconian Use of Social Media Policy and an internal communication plan to make sure that no-one can claim ignorance of it. Needless to say, this Policy should outline clearly how an employee may represent the company or brand online and in social media – what is acceptable and what is not – and, most importantly, make it clear that it applies 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Enforce it rigorously, because there’s nothing like a public hanging to make people understand that you are – and it is – serious.

Snakes and Ladders

Hey, blog snorkellers – whassup?

Just a quick one – yesterday’s rant about a certain global PR concern and its lack of control over its own blog (social media + no control = the chocolate cupcake of cock-up) – well, two things.

First – they’ve not taken the offending post down. They must have seen me linking to it, they probably read my comments – a bit of action here, people, please. Actually – bugger off – don’t take it down, it wasn’t a bad post. Just edit bits of it. And you know which bits I mean. Go on – do it now.

Second – a further post on the same blog. Now this is genuine genius. Brilliant. Honestly.

Tell me – would it be too difficult to hook up Author 1 with Author 2? My feeling is that everyone would benefit.