Monday, July 27, 2009

be nice or suffer the consequences

why it's more vital than ever for corporations to value and empower their employees

Rumor has it that
Borders employees are being pressured into signing non-blogging contracts. It's an interesting move since, as everybody knows, book stores are like the shangri-la of potential bloggers: overeducated, underemployed, and underpaid, they're just dying for a pastime that challenges them without costing them any money or putting their health at risk, since a good portion of bookstore workers are also uninsured.

I know this because I worked for a Barnes & Noble for two years during and just after college. My coworkers included a classically trained musician, a budding writer who had just finished a master's degree in Joyce studies, and a 30-something brilliant college dropout who called himself Sloth. This was the late 90s, so blogging was not yet a widespread activity, so instead we spent a lot of time...well, mainly we hung out and argued about books.

As A.J. Kohn, the author of the Used Books Blog, argues, this type of crew is well poised to offer Borders virtual reams of free advertising:
Imagine if Borders employees were encouraged to write about the great books just arriving. The hidden gems, the stuff they’ve just read. Tweets about upcoming readings. There are so many ways you could make this work.

There is, Kohn writes, "only one prerequisite, investing and empowering your employees." And it appears, he writes, that this is the one thing that Borders has failed to do.

You can bet that policies restricting the use of social media indicate a deep sense of unrest among employees, many of whom are paid just over a living wage and hanging on so tenuously that they neither dare nor have the energy to vocalize their discontent. I know this well, from my previous experience in the employ of a corporation that restricted, as a matter of policy, social media use among employees.

The corporation was a veterinary hospital chain called VCA, and my branch was VCA South Shore Animal Hospital. (Will they come after me? Will they come after me? Bring it on.) When I worked there a handful of years ago, MySpace and Facebook use was on the rise among employees, and management cracked down on any employee who mentioned the company in entries there. Why? Because there was just so much negative energy that almost no employee who logged on to MySpace with the intention of writing about VCA had the intention of communicating something positive. It was a shitty place to work, with terrible management policies that served to disempower and disenfranchise employees. Wages were criminally low, and support for professional development was nonexistent. While the veterinary care was and still is excellent, customers pay through the teeth for it because of local administrators who value the bottom line over the service they provide to owners who would pay anything to help their pets.

When I worked there, many employees weren't simply dissatisfied; they loathed coming to work. Several explained why on their social networks, and at least one coworker, a receptionist who was kind, caring, and hard-working, was released from employment because of a scathing critique she posted about hospital administrators. (Will they come after me? Will they come after me? I'm ready.)

People wonder how managers catch people posting negative material online. In this case, there was a snitch--someone who trolled MySpace and Facebook looking for fire-able offenses. When he found one, he brought it to the attention of management. Presumably, he was rewarded for this, though certainly not by currying goodwill among his coworkers.

Recently, social marketing guru Faris Yakob posted on his blog a presentation he delivered called "Be Nice or Leave." The crux of his argument is that marketers who want to leverage social media platforms to sell their products don't get to control whether or even how people discuss their goods; if they try, he explained, they will fail. We might apply the "be nice or leave" principle to corporate relationships with employees. It's easier, though less cost-effective, to just oppress your employees and scare or coerce them into silence; but this becomes less possible (and more expensive) nearly by the day, as social platforms make it easier and more interesting to disclose bad policies and bad management.

The other, trickier and more time-intensive approach is to simply create a positive working environment, one that makes employees want to leverage their social platforms of choice to spread the word about their fabulous employer and the wonderful services it provides. Trouble is, lots of employers don't know how to make this kind of environment happen or simply don't care to try.


faris said...

hi! true.

i had a think about this

also see best buy's video


Jeff said...

Jenna -- This is a very interesting and well crafted report on the topic, and one which I also blogged on, as part of an interview with a cybercrime expert on risks and responsibilites people should consider when social networking.


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