In reply to a question by Robin Crumby my open answer (or rather ramble) to:

“So, if  ‘social media for internal communication’ doesn’t work for you, what is the alternative?”

Not sure this is an alternative, the confusion lies in what people think the term means.. (hold your breath – ok don’t)

image by adewale oshineye
I’m not sure a function or corporation should or perhaps can engage it’s employees through social media (or technology that enables social interaction) only other people can do that. For a start, the business and the Internal Comms function is made of people, it’s not an entity it is own right that has an office on the 4th floor. The person running it might think that. Doesn’t mean he/she is right though.

So what is the role of Internal Comms when it comes to social media? One thing it’s not is to send out messages about the business as if it was just another channel like email, that stuff will carry on regardless, emails from the CEO, intranet articles with news, wins and strategy.

I see our role as enabling our employees (that is everyone from the CEO to the Tea Lady should they want to) to be able to take advantage of ways of exchanging information, ideas, experiences, thoughts and challenges with the people that need it and letting everyone else go about their business. At one level you can include a comment feature to allow and encourage conversations to develop within an intranet article – but that is as much about people talking with each other than the company.

Not so long ago intranet owners were looking at how many hits they were getting on every story, in some odd way thinking that everything on the site was of equal value to everyone. More important (and you don’t need me to tell you) is that the right people get the right information at the right time.

Also Internal Comms has a habit of taking out the very soul of the story (ok a bit strong perhaps) it is trying to sell, turning it into a series of corporate phrases and platitudes, with a rather badly taken photo of the team that “did a great job” people I don’t know and don’t really care about because I have no contact with them . A couple of potted quotes are just that.

Rather that team had been documenting and talking about its challenges and pressures on an internal blog so that others could either help or learn from the experience. Perhaps building one or two strong relationships along the way that leads to greater collaboration and/or innovation in the future. To the business, this I think is more valuable.

That’s one scenario.

Putting communication in the hands of the people, giving them the responsibility for what they want to read and write and contribute to, creating value for the organisation.

Internal Comms can make a huge impact for the business in understanding what the feeling is in the community by listening to what people are talking about, what is making them happy and sad, where the challenges and successes are. This though requires a culture that respects the individuals right to fair speech – not abuse – but the right to criticise processes, put forward alternatives and challenge the status quo, for the better of the business.

I’m not advocating every business set up Lotus Connections tomorrow and tell employees to speak their minds – that would be a disaster for most. As I said before, tools do not make a company social. What I’m saying is they need to get on that path of evolution, especially those companies in the knowledge economy that are locking down the IT desktop. That may mean looking at the current culture, providing education and clear guidelines.

I really think that one of IBM’s biggest strengths is it’s Business Conduct Guidelines. Not every company has them, but they should. We talk a lot about the social computing guidelines but the BCGs have for a long time set clear requirements on what is expected of each person in IBM. The SCG just re-word those for a new type of technology and interaction that so many people find confusing and others find liberating.

I’ll let everyone else sense check this.. gotta run