Some perspectives on ESPN’s new "social" media guidelines

This will be brief, but I did want to offer some of my own, personal perspectives on the issue of ESPN’s new guidelines for employee use of social media. I’m basing this on my own experiences here at IBM in helping maintain the IBM Social Computing Guidelines, which we’ve had now for over four years. The IBM guidelines were created, literally, by the IBM employees who were participating in these social spaces. I won’t go into too much detail here about it – but I’ve written up our experiences in a prior post for your reading pleasure.

Now, to ESPN’s guidelines. Overall, they seem fairly reasonable. ESPN has a business to run and they need to protect their reputation and revenue streams. I understand and appreciate that. Guidelines are absolutely essential for corporations to protect both the company and the employee. But, I did have two main reactions:

  1. They come across too heavy handed.
  2. They seem to have been created and communicated in a completely old-school, top-down manner without input from employees.

If my experiences at IBM have taught me anything, it’s the following:

  • Don’t create social media guidelines for employees without including employees in the process.

Why? As far as I see it, there are a few reasons:

  1. Corporate-only mandates instill a sense of distrust between employee and employer. Nothing says we don’t trust you like management saying out of the blue that you aren’t allowed to do “X” or “Y.” If employees are part of the process, then this becomes a moot point. But by mandating behavior on employees you turn off those who are most likely your most valuable assets in the social media space. After all, nothing is more powerful for a brand than to have its employees out there talking to clients, customers, partners and – in this case – fans.
  2. Missed value. The suits in CHQ (yes, I’m one) can never know all the ways that employees are finding value through social media. And much of that is bringing value to the corporation. So to dictate rules without the perspective of the employees means a lot of potential value can get lost.
  3. Employee “ownership” of the guidelines results in a wonderful phenomenon: better behavior and a self-regulating community. We do no policing of employees in social spaces at IBM. One of the reasons for this is because the other IBMers – the ones who helped write the guidelines – keep everyone else in line. Positive peer-pressure if you like. And if you were trusted to help create guidelines, naturally, you are more predisposed to understand them and to follow them.

Social media in sports is still in its nascent stages. Heck, I even have my own little story about it. I’m very interested in seeing how professional sports leagues, organizations and media outlets ultimately find the balance for all of this. But one thing is for sure, they should all listen to employees and fans as their starting point.

Update: looks like someone else picked up on the IBM example too.


PRSA Digital Impact presentation

Below is my presentation at the PRSA Digital Impact conference in New York City last week.

As you will notice, the front half is similar to what I presented in Berlin last month. However, the context is quite different. While Berlin was focused on a very technorati crowd, this was specifically amongst communications colleagues from mostly private enterprises. A much more familiar crowd of sorts.

This presentation really is a culmination of my public speaking for the past six months – all in the context of IBM’s continued six-year transformation down the path of social media. I’ll spare the details as you can read much of it in my other presentations on Slideshare, but I do want to focus on one slide in particular here, slide #10, “IBM’s Underlying Foundations.” Basically, what has enabled success for us in social media thus far? These three things:

  1. IBM’s values. This really has two parts to it. One of our core values is trust in the employee. This is imperative as we try and encourage every employee to engage in social media. But the experiences in how we created our values is every bit as important as the outcome themselves. Back in 2003, IBM set out to define what we stand for as a company. Rather than having it be created by a few folks at CHQ, we decided to put the task to every IBMer. So we launched ValuesJam in 2003, a massive three-day online brainstorm for all employees. Fine right?

    Well, not at first. As soon as the Jam it went live, many employees found a place where they could vent their frustrations. And for the next eight hours, it was overwhelmingly negative. To the point where we were getting calls to pull the plug. We decided to see what happened if we let it run it’s course. And what happened? The conversation organically shifted from being overwhelmingly negative to being overwhelmingly positive. All without any moderation or prodding from the top. It was an eye opener that if we let employees do their thing, in the end, we’ll all gain from it. That experience gave us as a company more confidence that we could give open, free access to employees both internally and externally, which has informed everything we do in the social media context. And perhaps the most important benefit is that employees view the company’s progressive stance on social media as a public example of the values in action. A reinforcing circle, of sorts.

  2. IBM Social Computing Guidelines. I’ve talked a lot about these in the past. But basically, the guidelines provide the framework in which IBMers feel comfortable participating in social media. It gives protection to both the employee and the employer. And it gives formal endorsement from the corporation that employees are not only allowed but also explicitly encouraged to participate in these spaces to advance their day jobs. What’s the one thing that has contributed to the success of these guidelines? That they were written by the community themselves, not Communications, Legal or HR. That’s allowed for an accurate sense of community ownership which results in a wonderfully self regulating community.
  3. The Authentic Enterprise. This is a brilliant document (full disclosure, my boss’ boss, Jon Iwata, helped write it on behalf of the Arthur Page Society) and one that should be a mandatory read for any communications or marketing professional. It summarizes the role of communications in the current business environment. The gist is simply that we are moving from a period of mass communications one of masses of communicators. That has profound implications for us in communications. The whole traditional model of communications (slide #9 in my presentation above) is being turned on it’s side.

And, of course, the rest of my presentation focused on the simple fact that we simply don’t have the luxury any longer to experiment for experimentations’ sake. Instead, we need to extract tangible value from social media. If not, why are we doing it in the first place?

But I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you are seeing this play out in your organization or enterprise. Everyone company’s story is slightly different. I’m all ears.


Some more musings on corporate culture and social media

My prior post here has spurred some interesting conversations. Following Jeremiah Owyang’s post, I got a very practical comment from Beth Kanter asking the following:

I’m curious about your points about how to balance top-down mandates and completely grassroots adoption strategies? What works do you think? And, do you have a case study or step-by-step or some tips?

I was about to respond in the comments thread, but figured this warranted a new (albeit quick) post. Balancing top-down mandates and grassroots adoption can be tricky, but it’s not impossible.  Finding the intersection of corporate mandates and employee value can be summed up in one sentence:

Will it (social media project “X”) help employees do the job you are paying them to do more easily?

Companies employ people so they can help them accomplish certain objectives. Employees are paid to help the company reach those stated objective. So there’s inherent alignment of objectives and incentives. Social media should reflect that. If it can help employees do what their companies are paying them to do more easily, you’ve got a home run. Companies should focus on finding the tools that accomplish that.

But there’s a big catch. The employees have to be the ones to determine what makes them more efficient. A few folks in the CIOs office, HR or corporate communications, really aren’t the best arbiters of which tools employees feel will help them do their jobs.

Likewise, if a company’s motivation to adopt social media tools revolves solely around saving money, it’s likely to be met with a dull thud of non-participation. Employees aren’t interested in saving the company money. They are interested in doing their jobs so they can be paid, go home and enjoy their lives.

So, when a company follows that model – listening to employees on what they think will make them more effective at what they are being paid to do, and then enabling them accordingly – it’s a win-win.

All resulting in more time for employees to waste time on Facebook. (did I just say that?)


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