Enterprise Social Media – The Final Frontier

Recent events have seen the spotlight thrown onto the use of social media in ‘ungoverned’ environments, with sometimes tragic consequences. Now when we consider our own digital, connected work environments we have to ask, “Whose responsibility is it to govern the internal communications landscape for the benefit of the business?

The use of social media within the organisation (enterprise social media) can undoubtedly become a force for good, linking colleagues from disparate locations and allowing them to communicate and collaborate in a way that, while not impossible, would have been both inordinately complex and costly only a decade ago.

But in that pre-internet era, would we have given equal voice and credence to the janitor as to the Chief Executive in setting the company’s agenda? And if we wouldn’t then, what’s changed now?

Our view on this is quite straightforward. We believe in ‘managed engagement’, with the leadership team taking responsibility for the creation of the landscape and communities within it, which are allowed to develop and flourish in pursuit of the common goal. Because, even in the most devolved and empowered workforce, the role of the leadership team is to create and foster the internal and external alliances that will deliver the corporate goal. It isn’t to deliver a free-for-all where the flow of communication is directed by the employee for the sole perceived benefit of said employee.

Would you allow an employee to choose their own mentor without any say in the selection? Would you feel comfortable allowing a self-elected group of employees to determine for themselves the most effective processes for, say, delivering client satisfaction? And would you allow them to enact this without any reference to the finance team or the leadership? The answer to both is, probably not. And yet this is the risk that ungoverned use of ‘enterprise social media’ runs. Communities can evolve based on personal need, even where that runs wholly contrary to the common goal.

So the message for the communicator is clear. Yes, you can use ‘enterprise social media’ alongside all the other tools in your armoury. But don’t abandon the principles that define the most successful organisations: engaging the employees not just with one another, but in pursuit of a shared vision. And before you knock down apparent boundaries to communication, ensure that they do not exist to improve the performance and operation of the enterprise, rather than to stifle them.

When John F. Kennedy stopped that janitor in the hallway at NASA, he reminded him that he was working to put a man on the moon. But he sure didn’t hand him the keys to the cockpit of Apollo 11…