This was a new story, but then I didn’t get it put up for over a week.
The NY Times coverage of MIT’s student blogging section is an interesting look at how organizations (private schools) have to cope with realities of social media. Most importantly, that organizations need trust to allow social media to work. The article summarizes how terrifying that might be from an academic standpoint.
Clients – prospective students – like to hear from current students. But current students may not always be thrilled with the institution. So the natural tendency would be to limit the accessibility of social media, lessening the threat of scaring away prospective students by letting the ‘truth’ (through the eyes of current students) out.
The interesting application of this article, I think, is not regarding the La Follette School. La Follette has been very helpful and supportive to La Flog and building a social media presence (thank you!!). The more important application (again, I think) is in how any organization would deal with decentralized public affairs/relations. The creation of transparency is a terrifying – the organization is more clearly held to standards of speed, efficiency, effective communication, and whatever goals it may have. Commentary immediately appears if there is a mistake. This can be a good thing, but it can also force more efforts on ‘putting out fires’ instead of building strategic growth. Overall, though, the transparency can demonstrate that the organization is willing to fix little errors,willing to address the hard questions, and willing to make public commitments and stick to them.
The next difficult question, however, is the truthiness of the transparency. Social media thrives on individual perspective, not careful analysis of the whole picture. The student blogs show a great willingness of the institution to trust (to some degree) the students to tell the truth. In an academic environment, this forces – or at least gives the opportunity to – students to learn how to be trustworthy. Cool. In a business (or government agency), can that level of trust exist? I think it can – but it would take management and attention.
My conclusion is the benefits of open dialogue for an organization – of letting each individual speak and share – would be large. The public (or potential clients) would have a much greater understanding of how the organization works and the internal culture. The downsides: there may be fires, there may be breaches of trust, there may be risks. But, I am impressed when people are willing to address those risks!