Engaging with social computing doesn’t mean giving up on the need for rules. To see it as a free-for-all is naive; organisations need limits and people need to understand them.
However, the genie is out of the bottle. Once people have learned not only to connect and communicate, but also what it brings them in terms of individual and group capability, they won’t turn back. Even if they pay lip service to official attempts to stop them they will go native and then you are in real trouble. The only way to cope is to get in there, allow it to happen, get your hands dirty and learn how to influence what goes on. Ironically for those who have the courage to understand this new medium and become adept at using it, their ability to influence the behaviour of their staff increases rather than decreases.
Understand the medium and how to become adept at influencing it before you try to stem the flow of conversations spilling through your firewall. Let people, especially your managers, play in relative safety inside your organisation before they have to try to understand and react to things happening on the wild and woolly web. Embrace the power that social computing has to increase the knowledge in your business and enable your staff rather than shut it down before you understand it.
The law firm Allen and Overy recently banned the use of Facebook. Well, I say Allen and Overy did but it would be more precise to say that their IT department did. Most interesting is that the firm’s eventual decision to lift the ban was made because Facebook has ‘business benefits as well as social uses’.
To go back to the MoD decision, I found it fascinating that the print version of The Times, when covering the military hostage situation in Iran, carried prominent comment from anonymous bulletin boards on the web used by British Military personnel. The comments were insightful and mature enough to be carried by a national broadsheet. But wouldn’t it have been useful to enable such insight and knowledge exchange inside the MoD rather than have it spill out onto the web?
Euan Semple, now a consultant, was formerly head of knowledge management solutions at the BBC