When employees blog and comment off the farm

Here’s a conundrum for which there is no answer: what do you do when an employee decides, on their own, to go off and comment on a customer’s blog and a) disagree with them, b) divulge incorrect information, or c) opens an “anonymous” blog of their own and begins to talk     about life inside the organization?

From editing Wikipedia to commenting on customer blogs to launching their own blog, I predict the next great issue, in corporate blog policies will be how to stem the tide and reputational risk factor of employees who decide to engage with the world at large on their own terms. I have no issue with a disgruntled employee or ex-employee grinding an axe in public – that sort of thing is inevitable. But how do you let the body politic know there is a mechanism and a policy for getting the word out there and connecting to customers?

PR people never had to worry about someone in manufacturing issuing their own press release. Social Media Marketing teams, in effect, do.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “When employees blog and comment off the farm”

  1. You’re absolutely right, there’s no one answer to that situation. It would be easy to suggest that you simply create a corporate blogging policy, but that’s akin to telling kids that fire is hot–they need a process to learn just how hot.

    How about setting up an internal blog, forum or wiki? It could be a place where employees get to share their thoughts about external blog posts, practice interaction, and get feedback from the top–all valuable experience before they hit “post” on that next blog comment. 🙂

  2. These people set blogs up precisely because they want to vent and comment but because the corporate culture discourages it. Reasons include “that’s not your job” or fear of retribution for doing so. Though many organizations say the words “open door” or “straight talk,” few orgs really mean that.

    It’s also very much a generational thing. By definition, most senior executives are exactly that — senior in age. An older generation is ALWAYS seen as less progressive and closed minded.

  3. Good points Matt. I’m specifically predicting companies will push some sort of “sensitivity” training for people unaccustomed to working in the open. The biggest concern is convincing people that anonymity is a fiction and that operating under the cover of a handle can explode in their faces. I’d hate to see anyone get into hot water for hot headed comments made under the supposed cover of an alias.

  4. Two words: Common sense. People are royally naive if they somehow think their rants in cyberspace are granted immunity somehow from corporate conduct guidelines.

    To me, the medium used is irrelevant. People have played “You Bet Your Job” in various forms forever – selling corporate secrets, stealing millions in equipment and parts and fencing them, etc. If you divulge company secrets or violate an NDA, you get fired. Where you do it is kind of secondary after that to me. Companies are made up of adults and adults are responsible for their actions (well they’re supposed to be anyway). Many young people are learning the hard way that pictures of you at the kegger throwing up on Facebook might cost you a job or grad school interview.

    Companies will probably ammend their guidelines to include statments made in electronic media as grounds for termination. Beyond that, people are on their own.

    That said, how do companies live up to the ‘straight talk/open door’ mantra that Matt mentions above? Should they offer an “amnesty” forum where you can vent rationally without fear of retribution? What do you think?

  5. On one end of the spectrum would be social media chaos if every employee in a company jumped into discussion on customer blogs, in forums and in comments on industry sites, and even the company’s own blog. Chaos would likely ensue since the company would appear schizophrenic with some people apologizing and offering to help while others went toe to toe with angry customers, with escalated rhetoric and name calling.

    On the other end, is the very locked down, uber controlled communications trap that social media strives to spring us from.

    The concept of brand personality comes from the customer view of a corporation as an entity and do not see it as the collection of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of unique individuals, all with diverse opinions and ideas about what should be done and how. The company processes are in place to keep that behind the curtain, to preserve the perception of a collective brand entity.

  6. At the point of being “aired out” it seems like we’re dealing mostly with a symptom. The public will then judge credibility, error, and form whatever view of the company they will.

    So, if there were a way to create a context in which those comments could reside, then that would be the best response: a preemptive one. Hard to flame someone of solid reputation.

    But, I think we should also account for the human instinct. Easy on the company side to look at it and say, “these people are crazy” and in that assume that we understand the full intent of the post.

    I’m now imagining some sort of “spot quarantine” that employees could perceive before posting anywhere. It should be part of the culture to say, “Before I talk about my people in public …do I really want to do that.”

    Even literally, for the protection of the poster and the company, I could imagine optional use of a “think” button appearing just after hitting “Submit” The normal prompts don’t really catch the human vibe …”proceed?” “post now?” “edit post?” “next?” NO.

    “Think. You really wanna say that?”
    ok. that would be a huge button.

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