Openness inspires trust

It’s fascinating to watch traditional media struggling with the concept of social media every bit as much as businesses. The Washington Post has just issued new guidelines which some journalists see as a pointless attempt to impose control.

Stephen Baker, a journalist at BusinessWeek which is owned by the Post, complains that to forbid writers from tweeting or posting anything biased it is going too far.  It would mean they couldn’t express opinions about global warming, or the Middle East, or political sex scandals, or the controversy over health care.  He says:

‘It seems that the Post wants all the good stuff from blogs and social networks – extension of their brand, traffic to their site – but without any of the problems that come from losing control. Yet the power of these social tools grows from the very freedom of expression that the Post editors are trying to rein in.’

Baker has a particular interest in describing the editorial process of BusinessWeek, which under the new guidelines is verboten. He argues that actually some openness about newspaper’s decision-making would inspire greater public trust.

Trust, in effect, is what it’s all about, learning to give employees the latitude to express themselves, relying on their good judgement and their identification with the organisation to ensure that they don’t go too far. Businesses need to create guidelines that are helpful rather than restrictive, and put appropriate monitoring processes in place.

All this takes effort and imagination. Simply issuing edicts isn’t going to do it.

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