Telstra’s Three Aahhs

ColossusIt has been over ten years since the Cluetrain Manifesto was published – and in that time, social media has transformed the way in which people communicate with each other online. Sometimes these online conversations are about life or work or politics – and sometimes they are about brands, the things we buy and how we feel about them. But no matter whether this “social” media is used for business or pleasure, rant or rave, it is clear that we increasingly live our lives in public:

You see, in the same way that social media demonstrates that businesses no longer have control over their BRANDS – it also shows that WE no longer have control over our own representations.

So while WE struggle with what we loosely call “privacy” or “reputation”, corporations face similar challenges – having their identities prodded and poked and played with. The big difference, however, is that publishing tools and a raft of technologies have become easier to use allowing individuals to begin using them en masse. And in using them, we (individuals, consumers, employees) have colonised digital spaces well in advance of most corporations, creating whole languages, new jargon and rules of etiquette that would see the Emily Posts of the corporate world feeling rather faint. To thrive and survive in this social space requires corporations to speak like we do – to converse in tones that remind us of the coffee shop, the pub, the town market. The Cluetrain reminds us:

But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about "listening to customers." They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.

It is against this context that corporations begin their process of rehumanising when it comes to social media. It is why they need not just guidelines, but training, re-education and advice. Today, Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company, released its social media guidelines. It is a first step. And judging by the formalistic language used, there is a long and bumpy road ahead.

In my view, such policies should:

  • Be written with a non-legal reader in mind
  • Reflect the culture to which the social media team aspire to
  • Proactively suggests areas in which employees could use social media (eg write about your area of interest and expertise)
  • Remind readers of the basics – spell checkers and re-reading articles are a must
  • Reinforce the common sense approach in a common sense way – “try not to publish anything you wouldn’t want your mum or your kids to read”

On the plus side, Telstra have made the guidelines publicly available. Now, if only they had released them under a Creative Commons license.

5 thoughts on “Telstra’s Three Aahhs

  1. Absolutely, the guidelines were full of corporate speak. I also doubt whether making a dividing line between people who talk for the company formally and informally is going to work.
    Sadly – even by publishing guidelines and not seeing soc media at work as a waste of time, Telstra is actually fairly ahead of the game.

  2. Gavin, I agree with your thoughts with respect to what a social media policy should try to do culturally. But in large bureaucratic organisations (especially those that are a part of government or have significant relationships with it).
    I think that for the time being, Telstra have done the best they could do. I wouldn’t expect to see anything too dissimilar to this from any large corporate or public sector organisation subject to significant regulation – banks, telcos, insurance, etc.
    What we, who work with or in organisations who “get it” need to understand is big, bureaucratic corporate structure which moves slowly.

  3. Hi Gavin,
    The purpose of the 3Rs is to provide a series of guardrails that Telstra people can use to participate in online conversations relating to Telstra.
    Referring to the Cluetrain quote from above, (“they will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf”), the 3Rs provides the foundation for the quote to become possible in the future.
    With the use of social media being formally adopted within Telstra, we can begin our efforts to help increase the level of social media literacy within the corporation.
    That’s why we used our media relations accreditation model to provide social media training to people that want to use social media to support their business objectives.
    I agree with the intent of your post.
    Although humanising the corporation the size of Telstra does not occur overnight, it requires a long term commitment.
    (I work at Telstra as the Social Media Senior Advisor)

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