The report on corporate IT in today’s Wall Street Journal contains some smart examples of how companies are benefitting from social media and mobile technologies.

But this cautionary tale from The New York Times should remind social media novices and veterans alike that Twitter’s cachet should not make it the default channel for every conversation.

By the Times’ account, one company invited employees to Tweet suggestions for improving their workplace, then criticized an employee who suggested that the workplace would benefit from imporved relations between management and labor. The company told the employee that the response violated corporate policy against public statememts that could damage the company’s reputation.

So, in this case, management invited employees to comment on working conditions in a public forum, but was embarrassed the feedback it elicited. Frankly, this should have been anticipated. It is folly to expect nothing but comments about the quality of cafeteria snacks or jokes about nap rooms. This discussion should never have been hosted on Twitter.

As an interactive broadcast medium, Twitter is not for everything. As the Journal points out today, corporate users of social media platforms must be prepared for freewheeling discussion of their compnaies or products. Management can set guidelines for employees but cannot ultimate control user behavior. There are plenty of reasons why this is sometimes good. The example reported by the Times is not among them.

The lesson: No doubt, people like Twitter, it is cool and current and useful. That doesn’t mean that every corporate discussion will be cooler and more useful when hosted on Twitter. A company needs to think critically about how its uses Twitter and the other ubiquitious social meda platforms, and it should deploy more private forums for conversations that it wouldn’t want to appear in The New York Times.

The corporate social media policy is a good place to address this issue. Most policies that we’ve seen are written to limit employee behavior, or limit the employer’s liability for this behavior. It would be appropriate for a social media policy to also set guidelines for the company’s official communications on social media channels, identifying which are appropriate, and which are clearly not.

4.25.11

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