- We take for granted that people can make personal phone calls and send personal emails at work, so why is social media any different?
- If we try to block certain sites we're basically saying to our employees, "I don't trust you." A very disheartening and disengaging message - bad for morale.
- If employees are engaged in their work they won't abuse Facebook. If they're abusing Facebook then there is a problem outside of social media that needs to be addressed.
- Many people have devices they can use to access social media without needing to be on the company computer. So it just turns them off that they can't work more conveniently.
- For many people, social networking combines elements of personal and professional - their friends are also their colleagues. I had a conversation on Facebook among a professional network this week about the best way to boil an egg. And in truth, at work, people work better with people that they can shoot the breeze with - we're not robots. So it's probably not a good idea to paint everything that's called "social" as unproductive. (Isn't that sort of what GovLoop is, a place to share best practices in a collegial environment?)
- It's been said a zillion times but worth repeating, the next generation will not stand for being cut off from what they see as necessary tools. They have Facebook on all the time, behind their other applications. It will unnerve them and make them disloyal to take that away.
- And finally, there is no doubt that some people will abuse every privilege they are given. Isn't that why teachers in elementary school have to give kids "bathroom passes"? Unfortunately the workplace hasn't evolved all that much from elementary. But to my mind most people are mature enough to appreciate the privileges they're given and use them appropriately. (If they're not, they don't belong in the workplace.)
The truth is quite the opposite of the headlines. The order was intended to promote the appropriate use of social media at work by institutionalizing a process to request a waiver for those who need access: “The point of the directive is to establish a formal waiver process for those who require access to social networking sites.”
The level of the reporting was so out of tune with what the Marines was actually doing that they actually had to issue a statement endorsing social media use: “Marines are encouraged to tell their stories on social networking sites, using personal accounts, remembering the importance of operational security and that they are Marines at all times. “
What’s Really Going On?
It seems to me that there was a certain desire to characterize the Marines as being against social media because there was a wish to pander to the fear and ignorance of many who would just as soon bury it, and also to provoke those who take just the opposite point of view and are enraged that anyone would deny them access to the tools they use all the time.
If you read the news, that controversy is very real, and raging every day. Organizations in both the private and the public sector are up in arms about social media. They can’t deal with the fact that they no longer control the message, but rather they are subject at all times to commentary, both positive and negative, by people ranging from the credible to the ridiculous, both inside the workplace and out. More than that, there is a lot of consternation around the fact that you have to monitor even the tiniest blogs and the most remote YouTube videos to find out what people are saying about you, because you never know where the next reputation crisis might come from. It’s not just a few newspapers or trade magazines that make or break you.
Branding and Social Media
As a brand specialist for many years, I have to say that I saw this whole storm coming. It seemed to me pretty obvious that the wish organizations had to control the message and the brand was going to clash fairly strongly with the reality that transparency could undermine everything they were saying. This article from FederalTimes.com says it all: “More transparency could kill IT projects.” It’s more than just IT – these days with everybody watching you, and with everybody empowered to talk about what they see, your entire brand is subject to their perceptions.
And then one day I realized that with just a little strategic thinking, smart organizations could leverage the new world of social media to make their brands even stronger. As Coca Cola head of social media Adam Brown told The Wall Street Journal August 3, “We’re getting to a point if you’re not responding, you’re not being seen as an authentic type of brand.”
The savviest organizations don’t try to control the conversation, but rather simply to participate in it as a trusted and real friend.
Unfortunately, many organizations are not there yet. We see this in the Associated Press’ new rule that employees must remove from their Facebook accounts comments that are deemed offensive by the AP:
“It's a good idea to monitor your profile page to make sure material posted by others doesn't violate AP standards; any such material should be deleted.”
We also see it in the controversy over ESPN’s new social media rules regulating employees’ personal Tweets. Extremely interesting is the following directive, since presumably people who work for ESPN are sports fanatics:
“Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted.”
Fear-Mongering as a Tactic
Here is my perspective.
Trying to stop the honest conversations that take place in social media, inside and outside the workplace, is like trying to stop an oncoming train - life-threatening and impossible. Yet there are people who, for whatever reason, stand in front of this train waving a “STOP” sign. They are used to horses and buggies, they don’t like how trains look, and they don’t want people who understand trains to take over the world and push them aside. So they issue anti-train directives like,
“TRAINS CARRY AN INHERENT RISK OF ACCIDENTS, MISUSE BY RIDERS, AND TECHNOLOGY FAILURE.”
Isn’t that what the Marines’ order sounds like?
“THESE INTERNET SITES IN GENERAL ARE A PROVEN HAVEN FOR MALICIOUS ACTORS AND CONTENT AND ARE PARTICULARLY HIGH RISK DUE TO INFORMATION EXPOSURE, USER GENERATED CONTENT AND TARGETING BY ADVERSARIES.”
Actually, this kind of negative language might be why the Marines order was misinterpreted.
A Typical Pseudo-Argument
One of the things I read recently was that social media is distinguished by its “active content.” I’m not a technical expert and would like to hear if I’m wrong, but I don’t see how the “active content” on a social media website is any different than that on a standard website you might visit that is actually poisoned. Do numerous sites not have
Bottom line is, you don’t need a tracking report to tell you that employees will at times, whether innocently or deliberately, visit bad sites and end up on pages full of trouble. And they did so before social media ever came on the scene.
Moreover, I don’t see any great move afoot to deny people access to email at work, and people receive phony spam emails all the time with bad links. You have to train people not to fall for the typical scams, and also be ready in case they do.
If we tried to block every online danger, we’d have to disable the Internet entirely.
The Risks are Human, Not Technological
In my mind, the reasons given by the Marines for banning social media at work are not necessarily incorrect. It is true that people who use Facebook at work could reveal operational information that they shouldn’t on Facebook (“information exposure”); click on a bad link in a hijacked Tweet (“user generated content”); or befriend an enemy agent on LinkedIn, thus exposing a host of professional contacts who should be kept confidential (“targeting by adversaries.”)
However, unless I am understanding the Marines’ language incorrectly and the risks are other than these things, all of these risks are **human** and not inherently technological.
So here are the real reasons I think organizations ban social media:
1. Fear: They don’t want to understand the new technology in the first place (“What the heck is a train?”)
2. Ignorance: They don’t see the business need (“Horses get you around just fine”) nor do they understand the technology or its risks sufficiently to train people in how to use it appropriately
3. Mistrust: They don’t trust people to use it the right way (“They will just sit around playing cards on the train, but they’ll really have to work to get somewhere if they’re riding a horse!”)
4. They just don’t think much of their people (no other way to say this): They think people will just click on any link, say anything to anyone on any topic, or befriend people online indiscriminately (“You know how people are…they’ll stand too close to the train tracks and get hit.”)
5. Economics: Money is tight and they don’t want to waste it on building safeguards for social media, or on training people to use it
Clearing the Cobwebs
Even if the above reasons are semi-legitimate, they also mask deeper psycho-organizational blockages that disappear once you get them into the light and discuss them openly.
The fear and ignorance issues simply have to do with organizational culture and leadership. There needs to be someone in charge who understands the value that social media brings and who insists that it be used in productive ways.
Either that, or frontline employees themselves must initiate grassroots demand to the point where leaders can’t ignore the pressing need.
One has to get over the mistrust about productivity. While it is true that employees will probably spend time playing around on Facebook, they are already chatting in the hallways or on the phone, spending too much time at lunch and on breaks, and on and on. You have to monitor your people and also keep them engaged enough so that they don’t want or need to goof off.
Also, it is important to recognize the obvious fact that people are not machines and need some downtime. Anyway, there is sufficient technology out there to track employees’ online behavior to see if they’re being excessive.
One also has to get over the condescension about how easily people will misuse the technology and take an appropriate level of responsibility for helping them. The people who work for you are not stupid, or else you wouldn’t have hired them, right? People also have a certain level of protective mechanisms so that they are cautious about who they “friend” online, what they say, etc.
And if the company has a good understanding of the typical risks associated with social media, it can train employees to be even more sophisticated about what they do online.
The fact of the matter is, these same people are going home and using social media on their home computers, and probably talking about where they work as well. You may as well train them to do so responsibly than finding out later that they really did say something stupid.
A Word About Money
Honestly, I don’t have patience for the argument that there is no money for things associated with social media when it has so permeated our lives as a productivity tool – and is no longer a fringe thing or a kids’ toy. In fact, the most recent numbers on Twitter usage suggest that the greatest growth is not among teens at all but rather that it is exploding in use among adults age 25-64.
In the year 2009, just like it is taken for granted that we pay for antivirus and firewall software to protect our work computers, so too it should be taken for granted that we take appropriate steps to prepare and defend against misuse of social media, intentional or not.
In The End, It’s About Leadership, Culture – and Self-Empowerment
The bottom line is, organizations’ approach to social media says a lot more about their culture and leadership than it does about technology risk. Great organizations understand that change is a constant reality and that technology both enables this and is a driver of it. So they embrace innovation when it suits their business needs, and they have a logical approach toward evaluating and implementing it so as to reap maximum benefit. On the other hand, those companies who stand in front of the train, waving their arms, screaming “no, no, no” are the ones who will be flattened.
In the end, though, the power is in our hands, not anybody else’s. We as members of organizations can either be the change that we seek, or we can wait and wait for somebody to magically tell us that the future is here – a day that may never come.
Particularly in government, which we must never forget is a sacred stewardship of the public’s trust, it is nothing less than an obligation on our part to embrace every possible means to serve the public better, faster, and cheaper than anyone has ever thought possible.
I say, let’s all get on board, and take the public somewhere great.
U.S. Marines social media ban will be used as an excuse by social media naysayers, but it shouldn't be
Image by luc legay via FlickrMashable.com posts this morning that the Marines have banned Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace for security reasons. However, the ominous-sounding "Immediate Ban" is not as alarming as it seems because:
1. The ban is limited to the Marines' computer network. It's not a ban on ALL social media.
2. There is an exception for "mission-critical need". ("A. ACCESS MAY BE ALLOWED BY MCEN DESIGNATED ACCREDITATION AUTHORITY (DAA) THROUGH A WAIVER PROCESS.") One wonders why they feel the need to put EVERYTHING IN CAPS.
3. The Marines are knee deep in the use of social media for public affairs, as Mashable notes, maintaining a Facebook page with 75,105 fans.
It was reported yesterday that The Department of Defense is reviewing social media access on its computer networks too: "The announcement comes after the Pentagon had overcome initial reluctance and begun to embrace Facebook, Twitter and other social media, with even the country's top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, issuing his own 'tweets.'"
DoD is looking into the option of keeping a separate computer outside the firewall for social media purposes, an option that makes a lot of sense to me. You keep the "Koobface" and other hacks out, while still retaining access for public affairs personnel who need social media to do their jobs effectively.
Point is, there are reasons why organizations may want to prevent employees from accessing social media sites - but that shouldn't be interpreted as an argument against their validity as a communications strategy. (And it would be easy for someone to use this case as ammo.)
1. It talks about branding. This is a connection that is only beginning to be made.
2. It is online and viewable by the public - fully transparent.
3. It integrates Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.
4. They don't pretend to have done it all - clearly we are looking at a work in progress
5. They created the strategy collaboratively using a wiki no less
And, last but not least
6. They actually have a strategy!
Below is a cut and paste of their strategic goals, which are really worthwhile for any organization:
- Mission: Prioritize Web and New Media programs in proportion to their impact on the mission
- Brand: Strengthen brand relationships throughout the Smithsonian
- Learning: Facilitate dialogue in a global community of learners
- Audience: Attract larger audiences and engage them more deeply in long-term relationships
- Interpretation: Support the work of Smithsonian staff
- Technology: Develop a platform for participation and innovation
- Business Model: Increase revenue from e-commerce fundamentals and Web 2.0 perspectives
- Governance: Design and implement a pan-Institutional governance model>>