As we make our journey forward, we're getting more recognition, as well as encountering a few new learnings.
As a recent example, yesterday I got an email from someone who attended a recent IDC conference, and EMC's external EMC Community Network (ECN) went up on the big screen as an example of "good" corporate external social media.
All of that is great, but what's more interesting to me are the new learnings along the way. And I'd like to share one today.
Posting Of Sensitive Documents
Much angst and concern exists in corporate social media projects around this issue -- everyone wants to encourage more sharing and collaboration, but not every internal document is meant for every employee's eyes.
And there's no easy answer.
Push the pendulum too far in one direction, you'll end up with hundreds or thousands of gated discussions that just end up being a fancy dumping ground for documents that no one can read, and no one can discuss.
We've lived in this world, we don't want to go back to it.
Push the pendulum too far in the other direction, and there will be a backlash against the corporate social media problem. It's a reality of the corporate world that not everything can be shared with everyone.
We'd like to avoid onerous corporate policies, content review processes, etc. -- all the 1.0 backlashes that can result when people think something has gotten a bit out of control.
Getting Back To Basics
So, if we go all the way back to the core reasons why we're investing all this time and money in social media stuff, you'll probably remember that -- at least for us -- it was all about proficiency.
Sure, we wanted to communicate and collaborate and improve how we work. But to do that on a sustained and meaningful way, we had to invest in learning new skills and behaviors. Call them "enterprise 2.0 workplace skills" for lack of anything better.
And, as a result, many of us are on the lookout for new types and classes of skills and behaviors that we should identify and promote.
And I think I'm going to add another one to the list.
Here's What Happens
Respected individual comes across very interesting and useful document. Said respected individual posts document on internal social media platform.
A very senior individual in the organization expresses significant concern and anxiety for posting of sensitive document -- and isn't quite sure how to handle the situation.
Posting individual makes a strong case for increased information sharing across the organization as a part of better business practices and the general good. In theory, yes, but ...
Very senior individual makes a strong case for more restrictive policies, review, enforcement, policing, etc. of the social platform. Wants to do the right thing, but damage exceeds benefit in their eyes now.
It's not an everyday occurence, but it has happened a few times, and it's likely to happen more in the future -- unless we focus on a few things.
The Core Issue -- Respecting Control
In each case so far, the senior individual had a significant responsibility to the business. They were responsible for product development, or internal policies, or something else that was a pretty significant function on the corporate landscape.
And, as such, they need to be granted a certain level of control to deliver on that responsibility.
Put plainly, if you're in charge of a business unit or function, you should have some say in what sort of things get broadly shared, and what sort of things have a more limited internal audience.
And having an internal social media platform with lots of proficient people who tend to share everything they come across shouldn't take that measure of control from those senior individuals.
Social media is supposed to empower people, and not render them powerless. And that list of empowered people should include very senior managers and executives.
This is not a pedantic debate around "we need more transparency in our company" or "information sharing is good" or the inevitable "power to the people".
No, this is about understanding how real organizations need to work, and the need to respect control.
It's A Judgment Call
I know I've looked at some internal document, and thought to myself "boy, I bet a bunch of other people would find this interesing and useful."
That's the first reaction.
I've learned now to think again "gee, is there anyone in the organization who might have an issue with me broadly sharing this document?".
And if there's the slightest doubt, I make the effort to reach out (via private email) and solicit an opinion or two. Sometimes an initial reaction of "heck no" can be reasoned with a bit of back-and-forth discussion. And sometimes not.
But I've learned to respect that business leaders across the organization need to control access to certain kinds of information.
I may not agree with them, but that's not the point -- I need to respect their control.
Here's the key insight -- if we all make a concerted effort to respect control, this whole social media thing will move along all the more rapidly, won't it?
Mistakes Will Be Made
Many of us who are active on the social platform have made the same mistake -- we've broadly shared something we thought was interesting, but we missed the fact that someone who has responsibility might not agree with us.
The recovery formula is pretty simple:
- immediately apologize and admit the mistake
- offer to take the document immediately down
- acknowledge their concerns and right to control certain kinds of information being widely shared
- express a sincere intent to do better in the future
- and apologize again
My advice? Coach people that this is not an intellectual or emotional debate. It's about respecting people's need to control certain kinds of information.
And we all are going to have to learn to respect that going forward.