This audio interview is cross-posted from “For Immediate Release,” my regular podcast.
Media Relations Manager Ashley Howland speaks with FIR co-host Shel Holtz about successful efforts to unblock employee access to social media properties, notably Facebook, at Baylor Health Care System in Texas.
Howland is the media relations manager with Baylor Health Care System in Dallas, TX, specializing in emerging and social media. In 2009, she helped launch Baylor into the world of social media by collaboratively creating an online strategy, vision and voice for the organization. She currently manages Baylor’s presence on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; creates content and serves as an online spokesperson for the health care system.
Ashley joined the Baylor Health Care System Media Relations team in 2004. In 2009, she was awarded a Silver Spur from the Texas Public Relations Association. Ashley received a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from the University of Louisiana at Monroe in 2003.
In re-listening to an interview I conducted a few months ago with U.S. Department of Defense Senior Strategist Jack Holt, I waas struck by a sound bite that encapsulates brilliantly the reason organizations should stop blocking employee access to social channels and provide them with the training and guidelines they need to operate safely and productively in these spaces. Holt, who focuses on new and emerging media for the DoD, said (and I’m paraphrasing here):
Will we treat social media as a fortress to be defended or as a field of maneuver?
You can hear a brief segment of the interview (less than four minutes) in which Holt makes this case here:
The DoD regularly sends soldiers into harm’s way in pursuit of military objectives. To ensure success, soldiers are well-trained to operate in various environments, from tropics to the desert to urban centers. If they can be trained to be safe and effective in these environments, why (Holt asks) can’t they be trained to operate safely and effectively online?
The DoD’s answer — encapsulated in its policy opening its networks to staff access to social media — is yes, they can.
That philosophy has led the government of British Columbia to open its networks to employees, as well. The guidelines issued by the province to its public servants not only opens access, but encourages employees to use these channels. Stories about BC’s policy quote Allan Seckel, Deputy Minister to the BC Premier and head of Public Service, making the case for open access. Social media, he said, is playing a more and more important role in the everyday work of public employees. Blocking access can impede the ability of employees to do their work, leading them to circumvent blocks and use their own equipment.
British Columbia’s decision runs counter to many government agencies — particularly provinces, states, cities, and towns — which assume that any employee spending time on social sites is using taxpayer dollars to screw around. According to Seckel, staff using social media were able to deliver updates during emergencies and engage in public consultations.
“We don’t block access any more to social media,” he said. “We want to say to our employees that we trust them — and we do trust them — to be responsible,” Seckel told the Vancouver Sun.
Nevertheless, organizations worldwide continue to treat social media as a fortress to be defended, keeping their staff behind the moat rather than teaching them to maneuver on the field to the organization’s advantage.
For example, luxury car maker Porsche has banned employees from social media sites based on fears of industrial espionage. Corporate security honcho raier Benne told the business publication Wirtschaftswoche that the company was afraid of employees leaking information via Facebook, noting that foreign intelligence agencies systematically use facebook to connect with employees and extract information.
Blocking access, of course, does not keep employees off Facebook, whether they use a mobile device or connect when they’re at home. Again, training and education is the better solution, which then allows employees to evangelize the brand among their social graphs. Clearly, Porsche hasn’t paid much attention to GM, which encourages employee engagement in social media and has linked car sales to employees’ online brand ambassadorship.
Employee use of social media should no longer be viewed as a source of risk. Treating social media as a field of maneuver can help focus organizations on strategic approaches to mitigating risk while reaping the benefits of engaged employees interacting with their online communities.
Companies everywhere are blocking employee access to the Net, fueled by questionable research and irresponsible pronouncements of self-serving individuals and organizations. This site is designed to serve as a hub information resource for those who believe the benefits of providing access far outweigh the risks.