Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Social Media Prohibition versus Education

Lately we have seen news of a few notable and (in my opinion) unfortunate decisions from some major entities banning or strongly discouraging use of Social Networks by their members / employees: The Marines banning access to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter in their network, and the NFL where both Green Bay and Miami Dolphin players were “strongly discouraged” from using Social Media Channels as a couple notable examples.

The thought of these has been brewing in my mind; and I thought I’d go and search from some official source as to how well prohibition works; here a couple quotes of one of the many documents I found (“Teaching With Documents: The Volstead Act and Related Prohibition Documents”, Form the National Archives):

  • “The intensity of the temperance advocates was matched only by the inventiveness of those who wanted to keep drinking”
  • “Prohibition made life in America more violent, with open rebellion against the law and organized crime”
  • “"the great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far reaching in purpose" as Herbert Hoover called it, did not work.”

I believe the Marines and NFL will find themselves facing similar situations in their attempts to stifle Social Media adoption among its ranks; we are social being and it is in our nature to have social interactions; the current online social media phenomena is nothing but an elimination of friction, extension of reach and amplification of impact of something we have been doing forever… and honestly; both institutions would benefit a lot from the proper use of social media.

Let’s look at the education approach on the other side; fortunately we have many encouraging examples here as well:

These are points I made before about Corporate Social Media Guidelines:

  • Corporations/organizations should anchor their social media guidelines/policies in their business conduct guidelines; social media presents new forms of communication and relationship management but the business conduct guidelines should simply be extended and applied to this space.
  • Guidelines should do a good job of encouraging; by helping people understand the benefits this can bring to the organization they work for as well as themselves as individuals.
  • Clear “limits” should be drawn; I like how IBM did it.
  • Clear guidelines regarding Copyright, IP and Confidentiality aspects should be put forward.
  • Mistakes should be expected (we are humans, after all) and proper processes to deal with those. (see HP’s)

So on one side hopeless prohibition; on the other side smart education and empowerment; I think you know what my pick is.

What do you think?

Filiberto Selvas



Warren said...

Filiberto, great insight. It's hard to find an example of prohibition succeeding in anything. ESPN also seems to be focusing on prohibition with their new policy.

@Gyldenege said...

Filiberto - this is an excellent and timely post. As each day passes, I think many companies are finding themselves in the reactive position, rather than in the proactive. We can no longer hide our heads in the sand. And, as Tom Hoehn pointed out in the Kodak link, it's in a companies best interest to flow with the energy of social media rather than try and control it. And, you've made an excellent point with the whiplash effect prohibition had on drinking as an analogy. It's very true! Tell a person they can't and they'll do it more. It must be the rebellious side in all of us.

I am a firm believer in educating people. People fear and dismiss that which they do not understand. Rather than stop and make time to understand, they often keep running on in the same old ways they've done in the past because, even though it's painful, it's at least familiar. Currently, that painful & familiar place is where many companies are at with social media. Some don't have resources to support, others haven't made it a priority, and others are working on it, albeit slowly. Every company must evaluate their position in the social media ocean (thanks Kodak for an excellent visual depiction)

I'm fascinated by the discussions, like yours, that I'm seeing on putting guidelines in place for social media use. It's needed and necessary. Employees are going to be on social media whether their company / industry is or not. Heck, look at what started Comcast in customer service via social media - one guy. Yeah, one. Because he cared about giving customers the best service possible. Most employees need guidelines by which to govern their business interactions. People want to know the rules, limits and what they can do within them. Once they do, then they can be an advocate for their company. They can use social media tools while still being able to meet company guidelines. Without guidelines it's like playing Russian roulette with their livelihood. If they don't know what's off limits, then many will clam up and not say anything. And, how does that help employees build trust & excitement for their company? It doesn't.

I can also see the other side of the coin. While I don't believe prohibition is the answer, I think restrictions of a sort may be a decent band-aid. Some companies may not be ready to tackle social media, but do realize they do need to consider it. For the conservative decision makers, restrictions like: [No access to social media web sites while on company machines, or during working hours on personal handsets] could be a starting point. It's not going to hold water for long, but it could help a company "get by" until they can establish a policy. As for restrictions on personal use, on personal time - there really are none, other than emphasizing the potential of reprimand or loss of job. Which again leads us back to the point - set up some guidelines at a minimum. Let people know where the boundaries are. Social media is here and it's NOT going away.

Filiberto Selvas said...

This is an amazing comment; almost a post on itself. I agree with you that restriction may be a decent place to start, as long as you do it with a real intention to move towards education. I equate that to my situation as a father: first I arbitrarily constrained, then I limited by instructions, then I am educating on implications and guiding him to take the right decisions (but letting those be his own, more and more as time progresses.)