Every year, IBM has all its employees read through its Business Conduct Guidelines, certify that they have read them and will live by them, and take a quick quiz. It sometimes feels like an unnecessary chore, but there are usually a couple of sections that I find cheer me up when I read them.
The first is this one, which seems to get longer every year:
IBM strives to maintain a healthy, safe and productive work environment which is free from discrimination and harassment, whether based on race, color, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, genetics, disability, age, or any other factors that are unrelated to IBM’s legitimate business interests.
The second is this one:
IBM will not make contributions, payments or otherwise give
any endorsement or support which would be considered a contribution, directly or indirectly, to political parties or candidates, including through intermediary organizations, such as political action committees, campaign funds, or trade or industry associations. [...] In many countries, political contributions by corporations are illegal, though IBM will not make such contributions even where they are legal.
You must not make any political contribution as a representative of IBM. You may not request reimbursement from IBM, nor will IBM reimburse you, for any personal contributions you make.
Even before the Supreme Court blocked limits on corporate political donations, it seemed to be taken as a law of the universe that corporations would naturally want to funnel cash towards politicians in order to get favors. In a world where some employers even go as far as telling employees who to vote for, it’s refreshing to work for a company that stays out of the political murk.
WIRED has an article titled Facebook: Too Creepy, Childish for the Workplace, apparently taken from Conde Nast Portfolio.com (whatever that is).
The article says that Bill Gates has given up using Facebook, allegedly because he hated the ‘weird’ fan groups like Bill Gates is my Suga Daddy, Bill Gates for President! and Would you have sex with Bill Gates for half his money? The conclusion:
Bill Gates obviously doesn’t need to schmooze on Facebook. And neither do you, despite the pressure you’ve doubtless felt to join it (because, y’know, everyone is on Facebook).
A parade of other businesspeople are then quoted on how pointless and creepy Facebook is. Unsurprisingly, the most damning comments come from Michael Fertik, CEO of the utterly counterproductive “ReputationDefender”.
Fertik has developed an interesting business model: find people who dislike information or opinion about them that has been published on the Internet, and tell them you can get that information un-published, for a fee. If they bite, spend some time sending pleading and/or threatening letters to the owners of web sites.
The problem, of course, is that trying to harass people into un-publishing information on the Internet instead usually results in more people talking about it, as Cheri Yecke discovered. It has become known as The Streisand Effect.
So to digress a little, what should you do if you see something you believe to be untrue posted on the Internet? SF author David Brin has written a book which I consider essential reading these days: The Transparent Society. He puts it this way:
Humans have found one fairly reliable antidote to error: criticism
That is, the appropriate response to inaccurate information on the Internet is to criticize it, to explain why it is inaccurate. And in the criticism game, the more open you are, the more credible you are.
Suppose that somebody writes a web page about how you are incompetent in business and can’t write code. (Yes, it does happen.) Suppose you have done everything you can to keep your name and work off of the Internet. What can you do to counter the lies? Very little, I suspect. The rogue web page is going to be one of the first things people find when they search for your name, and the searchers won’t find any evidence of your coding abilities or business prowess, precisely because of the way you’ve worked to keep yourself off of the social web.
Now, suppose instead you had engaged in social networking, published what you were doing at work, and maybe even released some source code. Well, in that scenario, chances are that one crank’s web page wouldn’t make too much of an impact in the search results of anyone looking for you on the web. Even if it was somehow the first site in the search results, anyone searching would see alongside it the evidence of your actual business acumen and professionalism. Naturally, if you’d actually published source code as open source, you’d have the best defense of all–you could point people at real examples of your work.
As Brin says in his book, the transparent society is coming, whether you like it or not. The technology cannot be un-invented, so it’s best to think ahead for how you are going to live in a transparent world. He claims–and I agree–that the only approach which will work is voluntary transparency. People who attempt to remain secretive will be the ones who are hurt the most.
In other words, you should start writing about what you’re doing now, before someone else starts doing it for you. Which brings us right back to social networking.
The same principle of transparency applies to business, and I think IBM understands this, which is why IBM employees are actively encouraged to write blogs and participate in social networking. Not just the internal IBM social networks and blogs either–the real, public ones that everyone uses.
I was talking to someone from the IBM Linux Technology Center about the perception of IBM within the Open Source community. There are still some people who are very hostile to IBM, largely because of suspicion around IBM’s continuing practice of getting the largest number of technology patents awarded, year after year–including software patents. However, IBM hasn’t used those patents to go after any open source projects. In fact, IBM has contributed big chunks of patentable technology to Linux, such as EVMS and JFS.
So rather than just leeching, IBM has paid hundreds of developers to make Linux better. The best way to get that message out there isn’t press releases; it’s to have those developers be visible, writing about what they are doing every day on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Slashdot and blogger.com. That’s why social networks are important to business, as well as to individuals.
You don’t have to use Facebook, of course. For business social networking, you’re probably better off starting with Linked in.
Social networking can make the biggest difference for employees who, like me, work in OTTO (Other Than Traditional Office) environments. Without the face-to-face networking of the water cooler or coffee shop, it is important to keep up virtual contacts. Perhaps CEOs and other high level execs quoted in articles don’t understand that.
Of course, CEOs have their own social networking, pre-dating the Internet. It’s called the golf course. Perhaps if social networking sites had a virtual golf game, CEOs would understand them better?