I recently spoke at a couple of CIPD branch meetings in Hatfield and Milton Keynes on the subject of Social Engagement and Collaboration. You can access my slides here if you would like to see them.
As the middle of three speakers and in the company of an unexpectedly positive HR audience (!) I was keen to listen to the final speaker, John Keith who heads BT Legal’s employment team, which consists of 7 employment lawyers. That’s no small investment in dealing with your employee legal issues. Tempting though it was, I resisted the temptation to ask if BT were to create a more engaging, open, honest and transparent working environment in the first place, might they not need so many lawyers?! 😉
John spoke eloquently about the challenges facing organisations in dealing with social media issues but he did take the opportunity to challenge my own previous comments around not trying to control the conversation and that policy creation on this issue should be light and based on guidelines. Whilst I do respect John for the wider work he does and he challenges he faces, his approach to social media is similar to most lawyers. They often blow the risks and downsides out of all proportion, which only serves to prevent the organisations and the HR profession in particular from seeing the huge benefits it an offer.
And the law doesn’t help here. John suggested, for example, that in a dispute with an employee over an issue that occurred as a result of social media use, the court will point the finger at the organisation if they haven’t got a policy pointing out, in detail, what can and cant be said, and how, on social media. This doesn’t make any sense at all, particularly when you consider that we don’t do this for the telephone. The law really is an ass when it forces us to go to extreme granular lengths to cover our backs particularly when these issues are already well catered for in other legislation covering health and safety, discrimination or bullying etc.
Seriously, one of the big problems I see is that at the moment, the people stressing over the ‘dangers’ of social media are actually not active users of it – John himself admitted he had no exposure, personally or professionally to the tools that he was building his case for caution around. And I’m sorry, but if you really want to understand the implications of its use, especially in a business context you really have to use it. This isn’t about the tools themselves, it’s about the human behaviour that manifests itself through them. This behaviour is incredibly important to understand because I believe it lies at the root of organisation success.
A comment John made towards the end of the summed up both the over the top, almost sensationalist approach lawyers are taking towards social and his own personal lack of understanding of the social phenomena:
“Social media can kill; if you text while driving.”
He may as well have said “Breathing is dangerous: if you do it underwater.”
*A big thank you to Erika Lucas and Amanda Brickell for inviting me along to the sessions, for making me so welcome and for organising the events.