Telstra lays down rules for engagement!

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One of Australia’s national pastimes is Telstra bashing – and heaven knows even I’ve indulged a time or two. But still credit where credit is due. They have been engaging in social media and social networking  for a while now and I’ve come to respect their overall approach.

While I do not agree with everything Telstra does in this space, it is encouraging how (a) they have persisted with their engagement in this new fangled social media stuff; (b) they have continued to tweak their approach based on experience; and (c) management has resisted the internal forces to shut the entire venture down in the face of challenges and negative publicity.

It was amusing to watch the unfolding Fake Stephen Conroy saga – who could fail to enjoy that soap opera? However, Telstra has dusted themselves off and issued their new rules for staff online activity: How the 3Rs empower Telstra staff online. As they put it the “3Rs are good commonsense guardrails”.

As a long time advocate of plain English rules that explain to staff what is and is not allowed in respect of online participation, it is good to see Telstra taking this step.  Hopefully it will inspire other organisations to adopt some similar rules.  I suspect this new policy will require some tweaking in practice, as with all social computing perhaps it will be in perpetual beta?

For example, I’m still not sure how staff are going to manage their personal online activity when they are not permitted to “include Telstra’s logos or trademarks in your [sic] postings” – especially where Telstra is a trademark.

Does this mean that if staff are posting personally they can’t say the word “Telstra”? But all of this will work itself out in due course I suspect. Policies can really only be tested by use and this is no different to any other corporate policy (that’s what version control is for).

This continued social media activity is an admirable thing when one knows the kind of pressures faced by individuals in large and conservative organisations to deliver certainty and minimise risk.

Even though Telstra’s customer service or arcane billing systems can make me incandescent with rage it is nevertheless good to see them persist with engagement efforts rather than pulling up the drawbridge and putting crocodiles back into the corporate moat.

Here’s the pdf version of Telstra’s shiny new social media rules.

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Power of the personal

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We are rapidly moving away from the old impersonal world of broadcast media. This has important implications for getting our messages out to people. It means that we need to discover the power of the personal.

One person who really got this – or at least whose advisers got it – was Barack Obama.  He used the power of the personal to drive his election campaign through email, social media and MyBarackObama. Even now the election is a distant memory emails are still coming out to his supporters.  And each of these emails is personally addressed, includes some information update and a call to action.  Each email is signed by a person – Barack or Michelle Obama, David Plouffe, etc.  The calls to action are personal and local.

It’s all about the power of the personal – that means engagement, connection & participation on a person to person level. These are the keys for digital.

Let’s just consider what the power of the personal does when combined with the reach of social media and social networking. Suddenly we have interlinked networks capable of mobilisation by people who know the peculiarities of each group, who already have established links, and who are already known and trusted by the members of the network.

Now we can be approached, not by a faceless company, nor by its celebrity talking head, but by someone we already know. We can be approached by someone to whom we might already turn for an opinion on product selection or advice in daily life. And, even more imporantly, that person probably  already knows our stance on life, politics and the universe.

We are already seeing the power of this kind of personal connection in such things as the Facebook group for The 12for12k Challenge where:

The concept is simple:

* 12 months of the year
* 12 charities, 1 chosen every month
* $12,000 per charity
* $144,000 raised overall by December 31 2009

Using the power and outreach of social media tools from Twitter to Facebook to blogging and more, we can show that social media can make a difference.

The 12for12k Challenge – changing the world through social media.

Website: http://12for12k.org/

Or another great example of this is JobCamp Australia where a bunch of people have got together and decided to do something, saying:

“We want to “get Australia Working”, and we want you to help us! JobCAMP ONE09 is the first in a series of 2 day events to help arm you with the right tools, information and connections to get working! Whether you be looking for work, looking to make more connections or simply want to help out to get Australia WORKING, then we would love to see you at JobCAMP.”

How did I find out about these things? A friend told me. How are these campaigns being activated? Friends are telling friends. In the past individuals could only activate campaigns like this on a small scale unless they had the support of commercial broadcast media like radio or television. Now, with the power of social media and social networking, individuals have the ability to gather and activate participation and engagement on a much grander scale than ever before.

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Social networking in the office

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We had interesting discussions about many things last night at the ACS meeting in Wollongong. But one discussion in particular – about the use of social networking platforms in the office – really helped to clarify my position.

I am getting heartily sick of the debate about whether ‘young’ folks should be allowed to access and use social networks (like Facebook or Twitter) at work during business hours. The argument usually goes thus:

At work they are supposed to be doing work, not talking to their friends. They will just abuse the privilege and chat to their mates all day long. What will happen to productivity? We’ll all be ruined! And besides I don’t use social networks therefore nobody else in the world needs to either.

Fact: Because I am older I have heard all this before. When I was an office junior my boss and another manager stood next to my desk debating if they should put a telephone my desk. As they stood there they used the precise argument outlined above. I got the phone, did not abuse it, no business was ruined & now there is no debate if a staff member gets a phone on their desk.

Roll on a few years, the same debate was had about email & by that time I was a manager. Again, the debate went precisely as outlined above. In the end everyone got email & business could hardly manage without it today.

I’m seeing a pattern here. The debate over use of social network usage is simply the latest incarnation of this old debate. There were probably similar debates about the introduction of papyrus in ancient Egypt. The issue of misuse of technology is a management issue. If people are not doing their job removing a technology will not alter that fact. If they don’t want to do their work they will find other ways of not doing when we remove Facebook access.

Over the years, as a manager, I’ve had a few staff members abuse technology to which they’ve had access. I dealt with it on a case by case basis & generally there was some rational cause of the behaviour. Never did I respond by blocking access to the technology for all staff.

In one case a contractor was phoning home every night (to India) from his desk phone. Turned out he was desperately homesick while working unpaid overtime late at night. When I raised the issue he was horrified to see the costs associated with his calls – he immediately agreed to reimburse the firm & to use a phone card in future. Problem solved.

Another case where a person was using Facebook way too much. After discussion it became clear that she hated her job & we had never realised because all earlier avoidance activity was offline. Facebook actually gave us visibility of the problem. The supervisor of this person had never realised how unhappy she was in her job because she was highly productive, doing the work in a very short time & then using the internet to amuse herself. Again, a failure of management. We had been totally under-utilizing the abilities of the ‘evil’ Facebook abuser. Solution: promote the person to a job better suited to their abilities & see their Facebook usage drop back to completely acceptable levels.

And then there was the guy who was abusing his internet access (which was being monitored across the company with full prior staff knowledge). Upon investigation it turned out that he was also abusing his corporate credit card, not performing well in his role and he was eventually terminated.

These kind of experiences are why I am totally opposed to blocking access to new communications technology for staff. Businesses need to manage staff on the quality and timeliness of their output, not upon time served in the office. And, just like email has become an essential business tool, we need to discover how to use social networks for business advantage. Again, this is why I am in favour of defining rules of engagement in social media and social computing for staff to help them to use this new technology in ways that support the business.

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How do I choose who to follow back on Twitter?

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A long time ago I confessed to @SilkCharm that I did not get Twitter and was about to abandon it. But at her urging I persisted with the darn thing. Then quite quickly there were a whole bunch of people following me, and it became necessary to develop a set of rules for who to follow back.

My rules are pretty simple and I like reciprocity, real people and conversations.

THE ‘NO’ QUESTIONS – if the answer to these questions is ‘no’ then I’ll probably follow back:

  1. Does this Twitter account seem to be a bot or a spammer?
  2. Do they just talk self-marketing crap?
  3. Do they just post marketing links?
  4. Do they just have the default avatar?
  5. Do they have only 1 or 2 posts that are old?
  6. Do they have hardly any followers but follow a zillion people?

THE ‘YES’ QUESTIONS – if the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ then I’ll probably follow back:

  1. Do they have a link to another ‘real’ website?
  2. Is it a real person or a company that I might want to have a conversation with?
  3. Have they got some recent posts that indicate a person who’s into communication?
  4. Does their website look interesting?
  5. Would I want to chat with this person at a cocktail party based on their tweets?

Now this bunch of rules gets applied whimsically depending on how I feel. Mostly I try to be reciprocal but don’t always follow people back for various reasons that usually relate to some combination of answers to the questions above.

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