Censorship feeds the dirty mind more than the ‘f’ word ever will

Believe it or not there are still companies out there that lack the confidence to allow staff to participate in open conversation through internal forums, blogs or just simple comment functionality on the intranet.

The majority – those that have embraced the joys of Web 2.0 internally (or Intranet 2.0 if you want to be really picky) are reporting plenty of beneficial returns; cross functional collaboration, increased knowledge flow, faster communication, better decision making, more innovation, less duplication of effort, improved allocation of resources – I could go on…

Obviously this has also been my own experience, otherwise I wouldn’t be banging on about it. I have also noticed how user generated comments attached to internal news stories drives more traffic than a catchy headline, a funky picture or a high profile author. And as an intranet manager, footfall and engagement with your content is what it’s all about.

At the same time even some of the most enlightened senior executives harbour fears about the risk of a rogue (or stupid) employee posting commercially sensitive, abusive, disloyal, defamatory or otherwise inappropriate content if left to their own devices. Accompanying this is the perception that moderation and even censorship is the best way to mitigate such risk.

Well I don’t think so.

Nothing puts the brakes on a vibrant online community more than heavy moderation and censorship. Believe me, the comments will just dry up. Not just that, but censorship feeds the dirty mind more than the ‘f’ word ever will. Similarly, if you try and suppress a story which is freely available externally you just fan the flames of gossip, conjecture, fear and discontent.

For me it’s all about trusting staff to act responsibly and professionally. I have managed internal communities with hundreds of contributors discussing thousands of topics, which are not always business related either. Most of them are, but if the occasional bit of frippery and banter creeps in, great. It shows we are all human.

And occasionally when someone pops their head above the parapet and dangerously exposes themselves – good! There’s no hiding from the public display of their idiocy and they deserve what they get when the rest of the community deals with their transgression. As well of course the HR team if it’s that bad.

I have seen time and time again that when you trust staff and empower them to take full responsibility for their words and actions they respond by moderating their own behaviour. Those that don’t and choose to abuse the privilege are arses. They are loose cannons and you don’t really want them around anyway.

It is naive in the extreme to expect you can suppress negative sentiment by banning it. Just because you prevent someone from infecting the rest of the workforce with their cynicism or vitriol by not giving them the tools and channels to use does not mean they are not doing exactly that behind your back. Of course they are – only you never get see or hear about it. There are plenty of other outlets and opportunities for detractors to detract that are wholly outside of the organisation’s control.

Heavy moderation and censorship just shows that you prefer to bury your head in the sand rather than listen to your staff and act on their feedback, and this situation just gives your detractors more to complain about.

Of course there needs to be rules around individual conduct on internal (and external!) message boards and forums. You need a strong policy that actively encourages participation, but within reasonable boundaries. Everyone needs to know that their use of such channels is valued and encouraged, but that where they cross the line and expose the company to legal, reputational or commercial risk, they must know that they face the full force of a robust disciplinary process.

So here is my shopping list for your basic needs:

  • A decent application which is easy to use, looks good and is secure
  • A well written social media policy
  • Integration with Active Directory to enable single sign-on and prevent anonymity
  • Some digitally active early adopters
  • A few senior executives prepared to lead by example
  • Thick skin, coz it won’t all be plain sailing

Have I missed anything?

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