Saturday, December 11, 2010

Yabber Dabber Don't

Social networks there's not yet been a way for the world of social networking and work to coexist peaceably. It seems every few months there's another news story about how someone's job has been affected by something they've said on Twitter or Facebook.

For the workplace the adoption of social networking type capabilities internally offer a powerful way to connect employees and allow them to share information.

However how do you use them correctly? I've seen this in my time using Yabber Dabber within E-Sys. A kind of internal forum solution, it allowed all us employees to share stories and expertise.

Problem was it was massively monitored by management. Their reaction a bit like that famous Monty Python sketch was,

“Stop this it's getting awfully silly”

For my part I found it useful to know it wasn't just me experiencing some difficulties getting things done. However I was unnerved to find my use of it being monitored one year as part of a review.

Soon we were all subject to sign up to a strict “code of conduct” which included a statement that we'd be penalised if any information on there was incorrect. So the inevitable happened – people just stopped using it – the risk of saying something management would deem incorrect, or might deem inappropriate became too much. So it failed.

Instead we all joined external forums which offered anonymity. And allowed us to talk without fear of recrimination from management. But it's a shame we couldn't make it work internally to make use of the knowledge of our peers.

Of course from a company perspective, if as employees we're in there being rude about customers, the competition, or anyone and the site is ever hacked making it public, it looks bad for the company. It's like that disclaimer at the front of any DVD “the opinions in the commentary are those of individuals and do not represent those of Warner Bros” etc.

So can internal company social networking work?

No. I don't think it can. To be successful there needs to be an atmosphere where employees can feel free to talk without recrimination – to speak and not be made to feel stupid. But employers also have a need to monitor to make sure people are being respectful and confidentiality isn't being compromised.

I don't feel these two things are mutually compatible. The only solution is to use anonymous facilities separate from the company which are moderated by third parties. Otherwise one or other interest will always be at play ...

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