Stop Blocking Employee Social Media

I’m entertained by all of the corporations that are still blocking employees from using social media.  There are a couple of instances where it does make some sense.  Defense contractors, for instance, probably shouldn’t have a whole bunch of employees running around using twitter and instagram.  I don’t think Uncle Sam would like it much.  But the rest of you?  What’s your excuse?

Not that very long ago, before the invention of social media, it wasn’t an issue.  After all, there wasn’t really an easy way for an employee to share something with hundreds or thousands of people in a few seconds.  They might be able to text or send a picture with their cell phone, but it wasn’t likely to go very much farther than the original recipient.  Yes, there were a few cases, and usually, those companies (and many more) followed up with disallowing cell phone usage on premises.  And it worked.  Mostly.  Unless you count the hordes of unhappy employees it created.  Most of which would have never used their now banned cell phone for anything more than sending a grocery list.

Social Media: Corporate Chaos Maker?

And then, blogs came along.  And social media.  Suddenly, the whole world had a way to communicate, almost instantaneously, with everyone.  It no longer mattered if you were in Texas or Timbuktu.  You could talk to each other.   The conversation could bounce back and forth in seconds.  And the majority of corporate headquarters around the world collectively gasped!  They fell over each other in a rush to develop policies to restrict these new playthings their employees had.  Fear of losing productivity, company secrets, and proverbial “face” meant complete bans on the whole lot.  And it worked.  Mostly.  Except, this time, you haven’t just (I say just, like creating unhappy employees won’t ruin your company eventually anyways.) created unhappy employees.  You’ve lost valuable marketing.  You’ve lost a public voice that could be all about singing your companies praises.  (You do have to be a company who has praises are worth singing, however.)

Social Media is a Toolset

What you should be doing, instead of being afraid of what your employees will do with these new tools, is to treat them like tools.  When you deploy a new tool, whether it be software, machinery, or policy, you provide training to your employees on it’s usage so that you can avoid losses of productivity, injury, and turnover.  Social media is just another tool.  Instead of developing policies that forbid it, develop policies that embrace it.  Provide your employees with the training that they need to employ social media tools for the betterment of the company.

Employees are your voiceEmployees are the Voice of your Company

Whether you like it or not, your employees are the real voice of your company.  Spend as much as you like on your next marketing campaign.  It won’t matter a bit if enough of your employees start talking poorly of your company.  Not only will they drive away potential employees, but they will also start driving away potential customers.  The people that you need to pay you, can be directly affected by the people you pay.

Adding policies that allow social media isn’t going to cure a cancerous company.  But, then, I wouldn’t expect a company that’s cancerous to be considering any sort of favorable social media policy in the first place.

Give your Employees a Voice

Allow your employees to be a public voice for your company.  They’ll hear complaints.  They’ll hear compliments.  And, if you empower them just a little bit, they might fix the complaints, and enhance the compliments.  Humans are social beings.  From the dawn of time, we’ve acted within a social hierarchy.  From tribal relations, to corporate ladders, we respond to social ques.  Set some standards and guidelines, and then let your employees loose.  Correct when necessary, but give them the ability to make a few mistakes.  Instead of corporate time-clock punchers, you might find that you have real people working for you.  And those real people, given a little freedom, might just respond by being a better marketing team than your marketing team.

img credit: quickredfoxandkits on Flickr.

Could a New Facebook App Terminate Traditional Text Messaging?

Facebook at Mozcon - Alex © by Thos003

On August 10th, Facebook introduced it’s new Messenger app for 3G and 4G Android Phone models plus the Apple iPhone. Smartphone users have been able to use Facebook’s messenger function via the popular Facebook app for Android and iPhone for sometime, but now they’ll be able to access the messenger exclusively through an easy flick of the finger. The ease in which it has now become to send a Facebook message is matched to that of the traditional text message. In addition, the Facebook Messenger app lets users send photos with their messages along with location coordinates and other information lacking in traditional SMS service.

This has industry experts wondering if the age of the text message is coming to a close. Facebook certainly hopes so and has the full intention of replacing SMS service, which currently consists of carriers operating their own in-house collection of data. To Facebook, typical text messages inhibit users from being able to fully express themselves to each other through instant text-based communication. They represent an archaic mode of transferring information, a mode with an existence that’s getting harder to justify in light of superior technology.

At the same time, however, the only way Facebook will succeed in taking over the role of text messaging is through the industry that commands text messaging. The only way the social network company can conceivably overcome such an obstacle is to either convince carriers they can make as much profit from losing SMS as they do keeping it around, or starting their own phone service.

Considering that Facebook has recently announced plans to release “products” the idea that they could try and outmaneuver the phone industry completely isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Especially when you consider the mountain of capital and sky of possibility available to Facebook right now.

In the meantime, Facebook is likely very focused on just letting people start to prefer the Facebook Messenger app over texting on their own. It’s been said that one of the biggest things going for it is the ability for text messaging addicts to cut the costs of their monthly phone bill down by using the app. However, since data usage is no longer optioned with a flat-rate fee, the savings might be less than what you would be led to believe.

Text messaging is a means to an end. That end – dispensing information to associates – can be replaced with a multitude of various methods of communication. Judging by how influential Facebook is in the lives of people the world over, there’s probably little point in SMS-profiteers fearing competition from anyone else.

Social Media and the Disconnected Flow of Communication

Social media is a broad term that covers everything from collaborative websites like Wikipedia to massive online universes like Second Life. All of the top 20 websites on Alexa.com, excluding search engines, are social media sites. Perhaps the most popular social media sites at the moment are Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but social media has permeated nearly all websites to some extent, and it has become an expectation of website visitors to be given at least some interactive features.

The growth of social media is so prevalent that, for some, it has become the primary means of communication. On the whole, this is not necessarily a negative thing. Some people who would not have otherwise communicated with each other at all – old high school buddies, for example – can now keep in touch, even if only at a superficial level. But when it comes to business, the distribution of news, and making deeper personal connections, social media presents some obstacles that can leave people with a disconnected flow of communication.

Defining Social Boundaries

According to the managed server company 34SP.com, social media can be divided into five categories:

1. Collaboration: wikis, open content, social bookmarking, and social news

2. Communication: blogs, micro-blogging, and social networking

3. Multimedia: photo, video, and music sharing

4. Reviews and opinions: product and employer/educator reviews

5. Entertainment: virtual worlds and social gaming

In almost every case, social media venues offer two forms of communication: public and private. It is up to the users to decide what information they will make public and what information will be reserved only for certain people. On social networking sites like Facebook, for example, a person who posts a public message on his friend’s wall might be likened to two people meeting at a party and talking openly. In some cases, other people may even join the conversation with comments or the very impersonal “Like” button.

Just like real life, however, some people may not be at the party. This is particularly true of Twitter, where thousands of tweets may come across a person’s sphere of friends and followers, but that user will only view the portion of those tweets sent while she is online. While it is possible to browse through history and even scour archives of conversations anywhere on the web, most people do not have time for it, and as a result, the information that is most widely conveyed at the social “party” comes from the person who figuratively shouts the loudest.

Disconnected Flow

Social Media SignalsAs we stated, there is not necessarily anything wrong with the “party” style of communication. It has worked for real world networking for generations, both in social and business environments. The problem arises from situations that may warrant closer, more direct communication, but which are relegated to disconnected social media experiences.

As an example, let’s suppose that someone named Alicia is having an emotional crisis. She is so accustomed to announcing the events of her life on Twitter and Facebook, that she does not even think to ask a friend directly. In fact, it may even be more comfortable for her to call for help in such a fashion. In many cases, one of her friends might happen to see her latest status and will contact her in private, but there is also the possibility that no one sees it or that the people who do, only make general supportive comments. As a result, Alicia feels ignored when it may not have been anyone’s intent to ignore her.

Ideally, at least one person will pick up an important piece of information and then pass it on to numerous other people, but in many cases, this only happens for controversial issues or high profile amusements.

Forming Communication Circles

In the early days of blogging, one of the most critical tools for bloggers and blog readers was RSS (really simple syndication). With it, users could decide which blogs were important enough to read regularly and have those posts delivered to their RSS program or user account on a feed harvesting service. Many of these programs and services allow users to filter their feeds, organize them according to subject matter, and even share them.

Unfortunately, RSS has never become widely adopted, and most people who use the web tend to wander through it, much like the way people might randomly flip through the channels on television rather than scheduling programs they like with their DVRs.

For social media sites that lack a true RSS feature, it is necessary to form social media circles – smaller spheres of communication within their larger list of friends or followers. Some of the sites have tools that make this easier, allowing users to subscribe to other users, create smaller groups of special friends or colleagues, and track some friends more closely than others.

As social media continues to expand and become an increasingly dominant part of the online experience, keeping the flow of communication connected and relevant will become critical. At this point, it is not something that will happen automatically, and social media users will have to learn to cater their communication channels to meet their needs, or risk missing the information they actually intended to receive. With close family and friends, business partners, and even political figures now often using social media to communicate, the future of communication may very well depend on it.

Tavis J. Hampton is a librarian and writer with a decade of experience in information technology, web hosting, and Linux system administration. He currently works for LanternTorch.Net, which offers writing, editing, tech training, and information architecture services.

Social Media Use by Law Enforcement

As if you needed any further reason to be super careful about what you say and do on any publicly viewable website (sexting is out), the EFF has released some documents that show how law enforcement and other governmental agencies are trained to use social media sites like Facebook and Google Street View to research and investigate people.  And before you get your dander up, it’s all very legal, because all of the information that they are using is publicly available.

The IRS should be commended for its detailed training that clearly prohibits employees from using deception or fake social networking accounts to obtain information. Its policies generally limit employees to using publicly available information. The good example set by the IRS is in stark contrast to the U.S. Marshalls and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Neither organization found any documents on social networking sites in response to EFF’s request suggesting they do not have any written policies or restrictions upon the use of these websites.

So, if you’re going to do something that is possibly illegal, it’s best if you kept your mouth shut about it on social media sites.  Explaining how you exploited a loophole and “found” an extra $10,000 tax return is likely not a very good idea in the first place.  Now, we know Big Brother is watching.