“I think corporations are, by and large, over the delusion that they can permit or disallow their employees from using so-called social media. But we had the debate, you know, we had the debate back when blogging burst on the scene about whether or not we should allow this.”
Those are the words of Jon Iwata, IBM’s senior vice president of Marketing & Communications, as well as friend to everyone’s favorite game show-winning supercomputer, Watson. As the man responsible for framing the “voice” of the IBM brand, Iwata has made his fair share of discoveries with regard to what works and what doesn’t in the many realms of communications. He offers his unique perspective on company-wide social media policies in an exclusive lesson available only on Big Think+ titled “Don’t Worry, Be Social: Why Freedom is the Best Social Media Policy for Employees.” You can check out the preview clip below.
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Iwata makes the astute observation that we’re past the Wild West stage of social media. Companies have surveyed the terrain, deemed it fit for use, and incorporated it as a vital communications tool. And while there are occasional hiccups in which branded Twitter accounts insert foot into mouth, companies are getting better and better at making sure everyone stays on message.
But Iwata isn’t just talking about branded social media accounts; he’s talking about employees. In today’s never-unplugged world, you’re never not a spokesperson for your company. Everything you say on social media is intrinsically linked to your employer’s brand. Remember when Aflac gave Gilbert Gottfried the axe a few years ago when he cracked some tasteless jokes on Twitter in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami? There are plenty of other examples across the web of people losing their jobs for inflammatory or uncouth tweets.
One might view this evidence and suppose that employees on social media are an unnecessary headache for most companies. Iwata sees things differently. To him, social media isn’t any more a risk than all the other forms of potentially hazardous communication. The reasons corporate leaders sometimes fear social media aren’t reasons exclusive to the medium:
“The lawyer worries about disclosure. The head of HR worries about, you know, people being recruited away. We worry about confidential information and so forth. And everybody worries about criticism of management.”
These all fall under the banner of company communications, not just Twitter or Facebook. Social media is just another category through which triumphs and errors can occur. Therefore, the solution is not to ban social media or restrict your employees’ online activities. The solution is to institute thoughtful communications policies as the foundation of your business practices. Each and every employee should be trained to represent the company well in any setting: live, online, in text, etc. An employee saying something dumb on social media isn’t a social media problem; it’s a communications problem.
“If you’re not going to give away secrets in a parking garage at midnight, we’re going to trust you that you’re not going to do it on the internet, for goodness sakes, where everybody can see what you’re doing. So we trust you. Just use good judgment.”
Trust and good judgment are the bases of IBM’s employee social media policy. Employees enjoy their freedom to communicate and take notice of the trust instilled in them. Leadership oversees a happy workforce that may very well surprise them with intuitive utilization of smart social media.