I just returned from presenting at a Conference Board event in Chicago, which was focused on engaging employees in the brand. The workshop I facilitated with my good friend David Kippen at TMP Worldwide was about how to manage a brand in the face of the Web 2.0 revolution. It’s always an interesting gauge to compare notes with peers at an industry conference or event, and this one was no different. Here are some of my main observations:

  • At this point virtually all companies or organizations in the session were aware of social media – though some only peripherally – and are thinking about if and how they get involved. From my unscientific poll of attendees, most seem intent on doing something, though what exactly they are not sure. A few had already started down the path of setting up wikis or blogs.
  • There appears to be much more focus on how the Web 2.0 tools can be leveraged with (and for) an internal audience. This is great news, given the huge potential to leverage these tools to engage employees in relevant conversation, foster collaboration and leverage internal best practices and ideas.
  • The IT and Legal departments are universally seen as the biggest barriers (perceived or real) to getting involved in social media. On the Legal side, the complaint is understandable – though I made a case at the conference that Legal’s resistance is often overstated and it’s not an onerous task to define clear rules of engagement (either for internal or external tools.) Still, there are numerous nervous discussions about worst case scenarios (what if our employees share secrets or badmouth the CEO?) despite the fact this can already happen over the phone, email, etc. The IT criticism is more problematic, and is certainly in line with my own experience and observations. The department that should be leading the charge in exploring and adopting new tools and technology is too often a laggard, stubbornly resisting change of any sort with little or no valid reasoning (is it really valid to suggest it takes several months for a project to get on the “roadmap”?)
  • Folks from a wide range of departments – Corporate Communications, HR, Marketing, Internal Communications – were represented at the event and actively involved in the discussions. This is an excellent trend, since in most cases it will take a robust cross-functional effort to devise and implement a social media strategy.
  • In some cases, Marketing seems to be leading the corporate charge in social media. On the one hand this is good, since the marketing folks are typically savvy in online trends and technology and certainly know their way around digital content (like videos and websites.) On the other hand, this should raise some red flags, since though smart and well-intentioned, folks in marketing are the most likely to ignore the informal rules of engagement and push the envelope into pushy and ill-advised pitching.

All in all, it was good to see this topic front and center in yet another industry event. Slowly but surely, seems like the PR industry is catching on that this is most definitely not a fad.