Monday, October 05, 2009

New Media: Transparency vs TMI

A couple of interesting web sites hit my radar today:

This one is an article about some thrashing at the New York Times and the Washington Post about what staffers can appropriately blog and tweet about:

This site links to 100 organizational policies on social media:

As a blogger and tweeter, I worry a bit about if I ever cross the line of "what happens at work stays at work" (or my other life--STC--where we have a strong code of "the board speaks with one voice").

I often blog about projects at work or insights I have gained from my interactions with fellow workers. And recently, I blogged about the internal debate I have had with myself over some STC issues.

The issue is when does transparency become TMI (too much information)?

On one side, I am a trained and committed Action Scientist who holds that ideas and assertions get better and more accurate when subjected to public scrutiny. In short, thinking stupid thoughts in private won't make you any smarter, but sharing those stupid thoughts lets you benefit from feedback--and you thereby get smarter. (Apologies to Chris Argyris for that over-simplification)

On the other side, companies need to keep proprietary discussions private, and colleagues need to be able to express themselves frankly without fear of having their personal positions show up in someone's blog.

Lacking a well thought out philosophy, I have jotted down the following principles for myself.

  • Never put anything in a tweet/blog that could strengthen your company's competitors.
  • Never put anything in a tweet/blog that would embarrass a colleague.
I also stay mindful of the following hierarchy of risk (from lowest to highest):
  1. Reporting facts--The main risk in reporting facts is that you must make sure the facts have been released for public consumption. For example, it is low risk for me to say in a blog that STC has a task force looking at certification. However, it would be risky to talk about a decision we have made but have not communicated.
  2. Illuminating the issues (identifying pros and cons)--I think this is the safest and most responsible space for thought leaders. Using the certification example again, it would be useful to articulate what are the issues around certification, helping readers make more informed decisions on their own.
  3. Advocating a position--Advocating a position has higher risks in so far as you might be in public disagreement with a standing policy or with another colleague. That's not necessarily bad. Action Science holds that we worry too much about avoiding conflict rather that opening up the deliberation for public scrutiny and feedback. Still, it needs to be handled with tact and respect for others' positions.
  4. Attacking a position --Same caveats as above, and this one carries higher political risk if you are attacking an official position of your company or association. For example, if I started a series of blogs and articles attacking DITA, I would soon run afoul of IBM's goal to promote DITA. (I'm a big fan of DITA, by the way, but it provides a good example.)
  5. Attacking a person--Always a bad idea. I've learned as a blogger and public speaker that if I need a butt for a joke, it needs to be me.
So in short, I think it is OK to openly discuss current topics that are still in the formative stage and it is OK to attack legacy positions whose founders are long forgotten. It's not so good to attack positions that have recently been made (if you have any association with the organization or person who has taken that position).

And when advocating a position, maintain enough public humility so that you can gracefully support the opposition should you lose the debate. By the way, a useful pattern is "Yes, I had concerns over certain issues, but I think so and so has addressed those concerns and will be sensitive to them should they arise."

No comments: