Social networking sites like Orkut and Facebook and blogs are part of your personal life, right? If you are lucky and these sites aren’t blocked at work, you probably manage to steal a few minutes at work to access them, while pretending to be hard at work. But if you work for a select few companies that see such sites as vital office communication tools, then social networking online could all be in a day’s work. The benefits? The emergence of a whole new, democratic work culture.
Take interactive agency Webchutney’s Mustafa Syed, a marketing analyst and project manager. He follows 40-odd colleagues on Twitter, a microblogging service accessible from cellphones and PCs, among other social networking tools like Facebook to stay in touch with people across three locations – some of whom he has never met. “Work flows smoother with such informal tools. Everyone in the company is on G-chat, so there is no initial awkwardness communicating with people you have never met.” Employees can chat online with the CEO as well, taking up problems and discussing ideas. “A lot of bureaucracy doesn’t exist then,” he says.
When Webchutney CEO Sidharth Rao recently went to Bangalore to make a customer pitch, he was microblogging about the presentation live to employees in Mumbai and Delhi. “People who have worked on the presentation but aren’t making it themselves would want to know what’s happening,” he says. New-age communication tools also help track employee dynamics. “These sites give me a first-hand chance to assess where the teams are — what’s playing up their mood or bringing them down.”
Offices such as Webchutney stand in sharp contrast to many – where social networking online is looked upon as ‘cyberslacking’. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), too, is trying to leverage social networking technologies for collaborations and knowledge creation within its 110,000 employee-strong organisation. “Social networking is a hugely popular with a very significant employee base. No company can afford to ignore it,” says K Ananth Krishnan, vice president and Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
TCS employees are part of 1,500 company-oriented communities on social networking sites. Many also blog actively on the public platform. Part of the “highly connected and open culture” at TCS is ‘My Site’ — a website for every employee, embedded with social networking tools. Then, there’s ‘Idea Storm’ — a site on which everybody is invited to comment on a theme. “We got 20,000 ideas out of a dialogue in five days,” says Krishnan. There’s also a CTO blog – accessed by 85 per cent of the company in the last three months and ‘Just Ask’, a community where anyone can put forward a question and have it answered.
At Cognizant, newsletters and other types of internal communication have already migrated to the blogging platform. “Blogs are an excellent mechanism for collecting feedback, expanding networks and knowledge sharing across a global employee base,” says Sukumar Rajagopal, Chief Knowledge Officer, Cognizant.
Employee blogging is central to Sun Microsystems’ marketing communications strategy, with top boss Jonathan Schwartz believing that employee blogs have “authenticated the Sun brand as much as or more than a billion dollar ad campaign could have done.”
Schwartz’s own posts neither overhype Sun products, nor over-slay competitors. Employees write about mundane problems like product delays, and invite readers to submit bug reports and suggestions. Says Ananth Shrinivas, 24, a Sun engineer whose posts are among the most widely read ones on technology, “Blogging is a way for employees who aren’t related to a particular product or policy, to write about their valid concerns.” His postings on a public blog go with the disclaimer, “My writings do not express the views of my employer cat, dog or girlfriend.” Santhosh D’Souza, the Sun chief technologist, uses his blog as an extension of himself -- to write about what’s new in Sun technologies for potential customers.
Some, like Gaurav Mishra, the Indica brand head, use their personal brand – created over years of blogging – to promote the brand they work for. “My blog benefits because my real-life experience gives credibility to my posts, and my offline avatar benefits because my online presence makes it possible to meet and build an impression on people who wouldn’t have known of me otherwise.” Lately, Mishra has promoted a new ad campaign for his brand on his blog and Facebook account.
A serious concern for employers could be what their employees say publicly on such sites. Says Mishra, “I ensure that my entire web presence is squeaky clean so that even if I put it on my resume, it can hold up to close scrutiny.” Says Krishnan of TCS, “If there is criticism of the company online, it’s a person’s opinion, and we take it constructively,” he says. “Blogging or any other new media of communication shouldn’t override an employee’s common sense, ” says Joseph George, engineering manager, Sun India Engineering Centre.
Microsoft doesn’t review, edit, censor or endorse individual posts, says Joji Gill, director HR, Microsoft India. It’s such freedom that inspires employees to blog responsibly and tap into unstructured knowledge networks online, says Abhishek Kant, a Microsoft community programme manager and one of the founders of the Delhi Bloggers Association. “If the company is willing to take such a risk, I will also write responsibly.”
Mahesh Murthy, CEO of Pinstorm, a search engine-driven marketing company, had to introduce a blogging policy in 2006 after he found two employees engaged in an online duel. The company now guides clients on the “power of positive blogging.” Says cyberlaw expert Pavan Duggal, “Companies should have a blogging policy in place, saying that employees shall neither disclose anything confidential nor post any defamatory or libelous content. Violating this policy should have serious consequences for the employee.”