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RE: [prbytes] More thoughts on letting employees post on behalf of the company (was: have you ever wondered ...???)

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  • Ned Barnett
    I m not sure why the two Dilbert comics didn t come through - you can find them at Dilbert.com . Ned Barnett, APR Marketing & PR Fellow, American Hospital
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 16, 2013
      I'm not sure why the two Dilbert comics didn't come through - you can find
      them at Dilbert.com .

      Ned Barnett, APR
      Marketing & PR Fellow, American Hospital Association
      Barnett Marketing Communications
      420 N. Nellis Blvd., A3-276 - Las Vegas NV 89110
      702-561-1167 - cell/text
      <http://www.barnettmarcom.com> www.barnettmarcom.com - twitter @nedbarnett

      05-6-16 BMC Logo

      From: prbytes@yahoogroups.com [mailto:prbytes@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of
      Ned Barnett
      Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 10:55 AM
      To: PRMindshare@yahoogroups.com; prbytes@yahoogroups.com;
      Subject: [prbytes] More thoughts on letting employees post on behalf of the
      company (was: have you ever wondered ...???)

      Following up on my earlier Dilbert post about letting employees post to
      Social Networking on behalf of the company, more of Scott Adams' insights on
      why I think this is hugely dangerous . read the two cartoons together and
      you'll see that he shares my own views on why this is a really, really bad

      I've read the posts many of you have made responding to my initial insights,
      and (if you'll scroll down below) I offer my own iconoclastic (and perhaps,
      contrarian and even curmudgeonly) views on why this is the worst idea since
      Bernie Madoff's investment service.

      Basically, I know of too many people who are eager to sabotage their own
      company, and giving them not only permission but encouragement to post
      invites them to use either bold attacks or passive-aggressive sabotage. But
      enjoy the cartoons, then scroll down and see (if you care) my own views on
      this, in counterpoint to the comments of those who think this is the best
      idea since sliced bread.

      The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips,
      animations and more

      The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips,
      animations and more

      First, my overview - then insights to the comments related to some
      list-members' comments.

      For corporations, Social Networking is no different than any other kind of
      external public relations communications. Despite the ability of recipients
      to comment in reply, it is still one-way (outward-directed) communications,
      and in that sense, it is no different from a press release, a press
      conference, an on-the-record speech, a webinar or even an investor call.
      The purposes of all external public relations are:

      * To create and reinforce a positive and intentionally-planed image
      of the company
      * To share specific information about the company to specific target
      audiences for specific purposes
      * To promote specific products or services
      * To boost or reinforce the investor image of the company

      You would no more turn that over to an employee than you would give every
      employee the right to write checks on the company bank account. And, from
      this perspective, Social Networking is no different than any other kind of
      outward-bound information.

      When a company authorizes an individual to post Social Networking comments
      about or on behalf of the company, the first question should be: "Do I
      trust this individual to manage the future of the company?" Obviously,
      unless this person is a senior exec who is clearly (and both personally and
      professionally committed to the company's well-being, as well as fully
      conversant with the company's strategic plans), the answer has to be a
      resounding "No." Even if you rule out those disgruntled employees who would
      gladly sabotage the company, you're still dealing (for those who aren't
      personally and professionally committed to the company AND who are fully
      conversant with the company's strategic plans) with one of those "100
      Monkey" situations. The best-intended (but ill-informed) employee can,
      accidentally and with the best of intentions, sabotage a company.

      Stephen Rafe reinforced this concern of mine, citing a friend who's a
      reformed hacker - a man who understands the risk of unauthorized release of
      information online: "A friend -- a former hacker who turned his peskiness
      into a legitimate business -- cautions against having employees respond to
      social-media messages. He just said, and I quote: "It would take less than
      five minutes for critics, competitors, disgruntled employees, and so on to
      get into the system and start posting away. No matter how they encrypt their

      That raises a different issue than I've had - the risk of hacking into an
      "approved" Social Networking channel, but it also points out one more reason
      why this is a bad idea.

      Getting back to one of the major risks (a very strategic risk), here's an
      example from the pre-Social Networking days, which still has relevance in
      this new environment. While working with a client hospital in mid-Missouri,
      I spent a year leading an effort to create a more-or-less state-of-the-art
      cardiac rehabilitation center to complement our heavy investment in a Chest
      Pain Center and an Open Heart Surgery Product Line. This was a
      multi-million-dollar (revenue) effort that had a major six-figure cost
      factor built in. It was going to be the first (and as noted, state of the
      art) cardiac rehab center in the city and surrounding service area.

      One of our employees who was a true believer in our efforts (she was really
      on-board, and proud as she could be of this effort) couldn't help herself
      from bragging about what we were doing, to a professional colleague/friend.
      This friend worked for a competing hospital, and she shared the information
      with someone at that hospital who was a savvy marketer. That marketer found
      a spare room, bought a half-dozen treadmills and stationary bikes, and three
      weeks before we went public, that competing hospital grand-opened the
      region's first cardiac rehab center. It was a pale shadow of what we were
      about to launch, but they got their first, and right from the get-go, our
      marketing thrust fell flat (as of course it had to). We were no longer
      first, and to most people, "first" and "best" equated.

      That's what even a well-intentioned and loyal employee can do to sabotage a
      company, and Social Networking "word of mouse" has far more reach and power
      than conventional word-of-mouth. Which is one example of the reason why I
      strongly reject the notion of allowing the rank-and-file to post on behalf
      of (or even just about) the company.

      Now, to some other comments, based on what others have posted.

      My academic friend Robert French noted that there were some risks, but
      suggested that an in-depth employee training program, along with some
      guidelines, are essential (or at least highly desirable) if a company does
      allow employees to get involved. To the extent that a company is going to
      set itself on fire and leap off a cliff into shark-infested waters anyway,
      he's right. Training and detailed corporate policy guidelines will, to some
      extent, help to mitigate the damage. However, no amount of training, and no
      amount of guidelines, can help prevent three issues I have:

      1. It can't stop passive-aggressive attacks (which don't look like
      attacks on the surface, but which still cause harm); and,
      2. It can't stop the kinds of accidental release of confidential
      information that will hurt the company from a marketing perspective; and,
      3. For public companies, it can't prevent the release of information
      that is regulated by the SEC (under their draconian RegFD guidelines) and
      which has to be either kept confidential or issued in an "all hands" manner
      that reaches all investors at the same time (such as a press release sent
      via BusinessWire)

      To the extent that a company has a Social Networking death wish, Robert is
      exactly right that solid training and strict corporate guidelines are
      important; but they only mitigate the risk factors - they don't eliminate

      Regarding that issue of investors, I had to pull the plug on a new product
      line to provide social networking services for independent wealth managers
      and investment counselors. Even though they are independent, they still tie
      into one or another investment house (to make trades for them on behalf of
      their clients), and all of them are bound by very strict social networking
      limits (basically, anything and everything has to be approved in advance by
      the brokerage corporation's Social Networking expert). This is all about
      following SEC RegFD guidelines, and the penalties for not following them are
      severe and can go beyond "civil" into the realm of "criminal." These same
      rules apply to all public companies, and I can see nothing but risks if a
      public company allows employees to post Social Networking content without
      prior approval.

      Duncan has a different view of this. He said: "The biggest obstacle often
      seems to be the kind of attitude Ned is showing, which I think can be
      summarized as not being comfortable with losing control, and executives have
      to get over that mental hurdle that if you can't control it, you shouldn't
      do it."

      He also asserted that there are more pro's than con's to allowing employees
      to represent their companies (uncontrolled by the company), but he didn't
      mention what those "pro's" are.

      However, he is right (though he didn't mean to be) - as with any other kind
      of public relations outreach, "if you can't control it, you shouldn't do

      Given that PR is an essential strategic function of the company, no sane
      company would allow rank-and-file employees to issue press releases, give
      speeches or hold press conferences, for reasons that I presume are too
      obvious to mention. Social Networking is, for a company, no different - it
      is a form of external communications designed to reach outside audiences;
      and, when it is permitted by the company, it becomes one more more-or-less
      official means of outreach to targeted audiences. Unless someone can make a
      case for allowing rank-and-file employees to call press conferences or issue
      press releases on behalf of the company, I'm at a loss as to how they can
      make that case for Social Networking.

      Here are a few more concerns I have. First, I once worked for a hospital
      that had 11 unions when I arrived, and 10 unions when I left (I led the
      fight to get one de-certified). One of those unions (representing neo-natal
      intensive care nurses) tried to stage a wildcat strike, and I had to go
      toe-to-toe with them, and I can assure you that they had neither the best
      interests of the hospital nor of the hospital's patients in mind; and even
      though it was a pro-union town, I was able to force them to back off by
      organizing both hospital and community outrage at their planned efforts. I
      also served (while there) on a federally-funded joint union-management
      effort to promote labor harmony, where I got to see "official" sabotage at
      first hand. Bottom line - at that facility, a 750-bed hospital with a
      billion-dollar budget and several thousand employees, I'd rather
      (figuratively) slit my own wrists than let union members post Social
      Networking comments, even in times of relative labor peace. Those people
      did NOT put the hospital (or even the patients) first, and they did
      everything they could to manipulate the environment to put themselves ahead
      of their employer.

      True, unions only represent 9 percent of private-sector employees in the US
      today, but that doesn't mean that the other 91 percent are loyal employees
      who support their employers and who would actively and positively represent
      them, given the chance. My point - management cannot trust the
      rank-and-file to follow guidelines and hew to the party line - there are
      always loyal employees, but there are also (as one of my list-colleagues
      pointed out) bad apples. If I had to let employees represent the company on
      Social Networking, I'd much rather seek out individuals who are loyal and
      give them special dispensation to post (under tight controls, including
      prior review) than give loaded machine guns to the bad apples.

      Oddly (considering how he and I have been at odds on many issues over the
      past 15 years or so), Peter O'Malley and I share the same view on Social
      Networking (though we don't seem to agree on the value of corporate PR,
      which I think - done right - is very effective). Peter wrote: "Strikes me
      that if employee bloggers were to be designated "safe" by most senior
      managers I have ever met, then the chirpy glowing reports of company
      fabulosity subsequently contained in their blogs would be about as
      interesting, accurate, and credible as everything else that comes out of
      their PR department.

      "Personally, I'm not convinced there are big gains to be made from having
      employees engage in social media so as to become just another source of
      approved company PR messages. I think most efforts to use social media for
      corporate messaging will eventually either go off the rails, or end up
      creating just another channel for the usual PR stuff."

      As I said, I don't see corporate PR as lacking credibility - assuming it's
      "done right," - but I absolutely agree with his view that "social media for
      corporate messaging will eventually . go off the rails"

      Duncan had some interesting comments on Peter's concerns: "I can see where
      this could happen but I think it amounts to mgm. expectations. If they
      expect employee blogs to simply be an extension of their PR effort, I would
      agree it is doomed to fail. But if management are enlightened enough, and
      have faith enough that they are good solid employers, to realize that the
      blogs will include criticism as well as praise, that they will realize the
      pros outweigh the cons then it may work."

      Once again, while acknowledging the risks, Duncan suggests that "the pros
      outweigh the cons," but he doesn't mention what those pros, and I've never
      seen a case made as to what those outweighing pros might be. All I can see
      are the cons - overt sabotage, covert passive-aggressive sabotage, unplanned
      release of sensitive corporate strategic information, potential violation of
      SEC RegFD guidelines, etc. Against all of those very real risks, I don't
      see how the pros can offset them.

      Peter also took issue with Duncan's observations, pointing out another
      risk/flaw in the whole concept: "I find this to be highly unlikely. The
      first time an employee actually went off-message, management distress would
      naturally follow, and all those who were anxious about the idea would
      immediately go into a round of I-told-you-so's. Also, competitors would be
      happy to spread the news of any disgruntled employee postings. As Stephen
      notes, they'd probably be happy to post some as well." . "I would expect
      grief and recriminations down the road."

      There are several risks here. Employees hate it when you give them
      something, then take it away. So, when permissive Social Networking blows
      up in a company's face, employees will resent the loss of something they'd
      never had until recently. Bad for morale. Plus, there's the risk that
      competitors would use what caused the system to "blow up" to hurt the
      company still further. Finally, because Social Networking lives forever,
      the damaging posts live forever, like an STD like Herpes that can be managed
      but not cured. It won't kill you, but it's not comfortable, and you'll
      never be free of it.

      Andy pointed out the value of internal Social Networking, and I think he
      made some good points - and, since that's not my "issue" (mine involves
      external Social Networking), I'll once again agree with Andy's "take" on the

      OK, I guess it's time to wrap this up. My bottom-line objection, beyond
      every other objection, is based on PR. Social Networking on a company's
      behalf is just one more kind of one-way externally-oriented PR effort - it's
      another channel, but it is not different in any material way. When a
      company is ready to let employees issue press releases, hold press
      conferences, give speeches and do the other external-communications things
      that PR has been doing for a hundred years, then (and only then) should the
      company allow employees to become Social Networkers for and about the

      Some maintain that Social Networking is "different," but I disagree. It's
      another channel, no different (at the core) than giving a radio or TV
      interview, appearing in a print (or online print) article, writing and
      submitting a "contributed article" (article, feature, op-ed,
      letter-to-the-editor, etc.) for publication, etc. PR has strategic purpose
      and tactical goals, and all if it requires a solid commitment to the
      company, an in-depth understanding of the company's strategy, and corporate
      oversight. Social Networking should only be used under the same
      circumstances, for all the reasons I've mentioned here.

      Now, let the attacks begin (again).


      Ned Barnett, APR
      Marketing & PR Fellow, American Hospital Association
      Barnett Marketing Communications
      420 N. Nellis Blvd., A3-276 - Las Vegas NV 89110
      702-561-1167 - cell/text
      http://www.barnettmarcom.com> www.barnettmarcom.com - twitter @nedbarnett

      05-6-16 BMC Logo

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