Gini Dietrich

Why NOT Allowing Staff to Speak Publicly Is Idiotic

By: Gini Dietrich | September 2, 2009 | 

I’m pretty sure it’s career suicide to take on one of the PR industry’s top media outlets, but you’ve never known me to back down from a fight, have you?

Jeremy Probert, a guest columnist with Ragan , yesterday wrote an article titled, “Why letting staff remark publicly is an idiotic idea.” When I read that title, two thoughts flashed through my brain: 1) Surely this title is sensationalism and I’m going to buy into it by reading the story and 2) The wise words of my friend Amber Naslund, “Why would you let your staff answer your phone, but not let them use social media?”

And then I read the story.

You simply do not allow employees free rein. You don’t; that’s accepted.

Then along come the social media strategists. “It’s all about content, it’s all about dialogue, it’s all about the quality of the      conversation”—free spirits in the digital age. Not for them the rules of the old guard—no, the rise of the Internet and Facebook and Twitter has changed the world, and we must move on or wither and die.

It appears that their lobbying—and the continuing spread of Shiny Object Syndrome—has convinced even the most conservative of organizations (Coke, anyone?) that they should be allowed to let employees post directly to the social media sites, without passing the sense/health check that is the PR department.

On first blush, it’s quite intriguing that a “20 year communication veteran” is so adamant against anyone not messaged or well briefed working with the media. That Coke and Ford would actually ALLOW someone not in the internal communication department to be brand ambassadors is insane.

And then I realized the poor man is old school.

He thinks people aren’t already talking about their company, their bosses, their peers, the products or services they provide and that those that do, publicly, have been messaged and briefed. And he thinks the social media strategists (some of whom ARE communication professionals) are advocating staff talking publicly because social media is the next new thing.

Here are the facts: Employees complain about their managers. Managers thinks executives line their pockets with what should be their bonuses. Customer service listens to customer complaints all day, every day. Some staff drink the kool-aid and believe strongly in the vision and the culture. Some don’t. But what all of these people have in common is they are brand ambassadors, the good and the bad, no matter if you give them “free rein” or let only those who are messaged and briefed speak.

They are telling their friends. They are telling their family. They are telling potential customers. They are telling potential colleagues. They are talking about the good and the bad. But now you have the ability to SEE and HEAR what they are saying.

Probert points to the Domino’s video incident from a few months ago as an example of what goes wrong when you let staff talk publicly. Those employees were not given free rein to speak publicly to the media. Their manager was not in the store. They created the video. It went viral. They got fired. Without social media and an easy way to upload video from a phone, this would have happened, but the only people who would have known about it were their friends. They would still have jobs and they would still be sneezing and spitting on your food.

I’m sorry Mr. Probert, we do not read your column and think you are “miffed that you’ve been edged out of the frame and that stuff is going on without you.”

Coke and Ford are two great, big corporations who know these kinds of things are already going on. Now they have the opportunity to decide what to do with the detractors (fire them?) and how to reward the brand ambassadors.  I think NOT allowing staff to speak publicly is idiotic.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Social Media is all about transparency, and not canned comments and posts only from well-drilled communications specialists. They have their place for sure, but when it comes to social media, I believe any individual in the organization, that has full understanding of company values and philosophy, should always be allowed to participate in company social media.

    No one person in the organization is above the other when it comes to honestly participating in social media circles. Unless, of course, we take George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” to heart and truly believe that “All men are equal, except that some men are more equal than others.”

  • Wow, you are getting controversial. I love it, but yes, this is so true. The fight the control the next wave is underway and the people who think it’s all about control are cooked. Excellent post.

  • And one again, I can’t type, the fight to control, the fight TO control….

  • Kevin

    Gini, this is spot on excellent! I am not a PR nor communications expert by profession, but I’ve worked in the corporate world for over 25 years and have certainly been a brand ambassador in all of the ways you mention. Unfortunately, I have dealt with Mr. Probert’s way of thinking much more often than the more effective alternative about which you write. Your Domimo’s pizza example was perfect and too many people don’t think deeply enough to understand. A George Orwell novel is an appropriate anaolgy here, too, but I am referring to “1984” because that is the kind of world the Mr. Proberts and many like
    him must would need to live in to fully realize their goals.

    Oh yeah, one more thing, remind me never to make you angry.

  • Kevin

    Oops, like Julio, I am typing challenged. Difficult writing this on my iPhone. I hope you caught my drift.

  • So here’s my question for Mr.Probert, why is being able to hear what both the detractors and proponents of your brand have to say a bad thing? Social media, on both an internal and external scale, gives employees and customers an opportunity to express themselves. So you hear something negative about your brand or company…so what? Now you know where the problem lies (or if it’s internal, who your negative employee is) and you have the opportunity to correct it! Before, these conversations were held behind closed doors, and now we have the unique perspective of viewing them daily in a public forum. Seems more like an opportunity than a risk, to me.

  • Oh, Mr. Probert. They are talking, whether you want them to or not. There are only two questions. 1. Are you listening? 2. Are they doing it in the open where you can respond, or are they doing it under cover of a false identity? (Which makes you look like Big Brother for not letting them talk.)

    We can’t unring the bell, it’s ringing loud and clear.

  • As I have said a kabillion times, these social media tools have evolved out of a desire to be heard. They really aren’t that mysterious. They are merely a digital way to do what folks have been doing for thousands of years, spreading their opinions around for better or worse. What’s unique about them is that they have a somewhat more public and more permanent face.

    In my last blog post I discussed the concept of convening vs. controlling your audience. Confident entities convene, worried entities control. Coke and Ford sound confident. Mr. Probert sounds worried.

  • How true! Social media makes a company’s true colors show. That’s the problem some people have with not “allowing” their employees to speak their minds – and it is totally counterproductive. As you point out, they will still talk. The question is what are these managers doing about changing THAT conversation?

  • Good post Gini.

    Too often, we are getting caught up in the delivery method rather than worrying about getting employees engaged to say and do the right things about their employer regardless of the delivery method. This isn’t about “drinking the Kool-Aid,” it’s about empowering employees to take responsibility for the brand and its future (which is THEIR future). It’s a good thing that should be embraced, not feared or ridiculed.

  • I love it when you get riled up Gini!

    Brad has it right too. They are talking whether the company gives them “permission” or not. As leaders of a business our time is better spent in engaging our employees as advocates for our company rather than silencing them as critics. At some point we have to stop trying to control the effects and work on the cause.

    Thanks for laying it out there,


  • Such a great article Gini.

    Stories like these are being written by the old guard that are terrified of losing control. They aren’t afraid of losing control of the message, they are afraid of losing control of the company. They don’t understand this new technology, and they think by simply scowling at it they can keep their high positions in the companies.

    The time of the old guard is running out, and a new generation will take their place more swiftly than they can imagine. Writers needs to stop pandering to those uninformed executives who are unwilling to evolve.

  • Gini,
    Transparency will all to the truth about their companies. That should turn out ok.

    I always say, “Life’s too short to hold back- so what the heck?”

    The Franchise King
    Joel Libava

  • Gini,
    Make that “Will lead all to the truth about their companies”

    I was so excited about your post, I meesed up.

    Tyhe Franchise King
    Joel Libava