Get off the fence but don’t destroy the vegetable patch!

Sitting on the fence 2Are you seeing the same paradox? Social media has created an environment where people are almost expected to state an opinion and the more radical or controversial, the better yet there seems to be a real apathy or possibly a fear to publically comment in the corporate world.

Whilst in our personal lives we are actively encouraged to share our thoughts on the latest story to hit the headlines with many of us perhaps being more outspoken or willing to wholeheartedly back one ‘side’ or line of thought on Twitter or Facebook than we would in a face-to-face discussion, in business we are reluctant to, well, comment.

When writing for business, companies with a vested interest in the subject area queue to provide carefully crafted prose often from their PRs who have never written a ‘story’ in their lives. Unfortunately, for the poor B2B journalist, often such immaculately scripted wording amounts to little more than bland marketing speak extolling the virtues of the particular business’ products or services. It does not engage, interest or excite.

There are a few corporate players who are willing to state an opinion. Those people who are willing to put their money where their mouth is, as it were, rather than hiding behind the PRs and their keypads tend to be MDs or CEOs of successful SMEs and privately-owned companies. Of course, there are no shareholders to potentially upset and they are unlikely to sack themselves.

Trying to encourage B2B people to comment is proving increasingly difficult even on innocuous subjects. So much so, it is easy to come to the conclusion that perhaps the fear factor – saying the wrong thing, upsetting the boss, not toeing the company line, affecting the share prices, etc, is becoming more prevalent.

Compare that to our personal social interaction and it’s often quite a different scenario. We have all read Facebook statuses which elicit a sharp intake of breath and we wonder if the author has actually stopped to think how his or her update could be construed.

Such recklessness has even led to the attorney general Dominic Grieve warning the Twitterati not to comment on current court cases for fear of jeopardising trials, wasting public money and landing themselves with a contempt charge.

More and more employers are turning to Facebook, Twitter and Google to find out about perspective employees and there are plenty of examples of employees being sacked because of comments on Twitter or Facebook. In fact, one of my particularly outspoken friends refuses to have an account on either social network for fear of saying something which could land her in hot water, particularly after a glass of wine or two!

With personal and work lives now colliding at an increasing rate as big and small business seek to harness the power of social media and we create attractive profiles on LinkedIn to encourage our workplace networks to grow in order to create opportunities either for ourselves or our business, perhaps it is time for both these worlds to take a leaf out of each other’s virtual book.

In a truly contradictory manner, we need to reign in our uninformed, bawdy or downright tunnel vision views, which we are apt to post on our personal social media sites whilst loosening the corporate gag to encourage insightful, engaging and thought-provoking opinions in the B2B press and on social media.

Treading that middle ground between freedom of speech and personal and corporate responsibility will always be tricky. It means jumping off the fence and at the same time resisting the urge to destroy the neatly cultivated rows of vegetables whilst allowing a fair few weeds to take root, a number of brightly coloured, out-of-place flowers to bloom but keeping invasive species which annihilates everything in their path in check. I believe it could be viewed as a high functioning democracy.Jumping off the fence

Pictures: Adam Williams

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3 thoughts on “Get off the fence but don’t destroy the vegetable patch!

  1. Really enjoyed reading this blog post Debbie, I share similar views and I personally think that there are too many rules that have to be followed in order to have a good reputation on Twitter (especially for big corporate types). I think its a shame that there is a definate lose lose situation here, as big organisations are scrutinised for sharing standard replies and not engaging with customers enough, but on the flip side, if they agree with a certain statement they are bound to cause a Twitter war with some of their followers and loyal customers. Like the age old saying goes, you can’t please everybody all of the time!

  2. Thanks for reading. This was ‘inspired’ by frustration borne of being a B2B writer for automotive retail and finding it increasingly difficult to obtain good, informed opinion rather than the standard, run-of-the-mill, this can’t possibly offend anyone statement!

  3. I worked for a vegetarian/vegan website and found the same struggle. I found it difficult to come up with engaging content without offending vegans and pleasing vegetarians, so found that I had to come up with content entirely for vegan people in order to keep the reputation of the new company I worked for in the clear! Very frustrating predicament to be in!

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