At Interact Intranet, we meet lots of people who like the idea of  a social intranet and improving two-way communication, but are reticent about ‘allowing’ their staff to talk freely on their intranet. (I put the word allow in inverted commas deliberately; you don’t allow people to talk, they do it anyway, mostly about how no-one listens to their opinions).

One of the most common objections is apprehension about open discussion on social intranet software.  Leaving aside conduct issues (because surely there are policies in place that deal with inappropriate behaviour), what’s left is the worry that if they ask staff for their opinion, they won’t agree with/like the response.  Or they’ve already made up their mind what they are going to do and merely paying lip service to collaboration by asking opinion.

To have a truly social intranet and build trust in two-way communication, if you ask a question and invite an answer, you must be prepared to accept the majority vote.  Not fudge the results to accord with your view.  Not ignore the voice of the many to appease the voice of the few.  If a business truly believes that ‘their people are their best asset’ (which I have heard so many times but seen so rarely) then if they ask them to return an opinion or an answer, believe it and run with it.  It will almost never be as bad as feared and often can help, not hinder an overall message.

I want to share this short video with you in which Alexis Ohanian, one of the founders of Reddit.com (for those of you not familiar, Reddit is a site where anyone can submit something interesting they’ve seen on the internet anywhere – for example a witty, well written blog – to the site and the other Redditers vote it up, or down, depending on whether they find it funny, useful, interesting etc).

In this film, Alexis talks about how a Greenpeace campaign to name a whale was bought to the attention of Redditers.  Greenpeace had an on going campaign targeting Japan to cease whaling, part of which involved tracking a whale.  They asked voters to name that whale.  They were not prepared for what happened next.

In conceding to ‘the truth’, the campaign they were able to build far exceeded what they might have been able to achieve with one of their other highbrow names. People who previously did not care about Greenpeace activities and would never have been reached with their message before suddenly knew what they were doing, took part and shared that information across their networks.  All thanks to Mr Splashy Pants and a loss of social control.  Something beautiful happened because of the truth.

The message here is simple: if you’re going to ask for opinions then you’d better be prepared for the answers.  Don’t ignore the views of the people you have asked to impart them.

Don’t pretend that a discussion is open if it is not.  You will not generate trust.  You have to be genuinely open or simply not bother asking.  Be prepared that the truth may not accord with management desire.  Be prepared to accept that and change what people want changed.  With a true social intranet you generate trust.

So go ahead, lose social control, see what happens (just not in a ”Friday night after one too many Bacardi Breezers” sense).