The Law
The second day of the conference began with Brodies IT head Damien Behan talking about why he has resisted many attempts to adopt social media technology. My ears pricked up at one point he made about how “most viruses come through websites, not e-mail”. Maybe the webmail blockers have it all wrong.

The mood of the room was light-heartedly against his insistence on blocking Facebook and reasoning that “we go to work to work”. I wonder if the employees feel it’s a great place to work, or that they’re being policed unnecessarily? I always say it’s the same as blocking the telephone 100 years ago. Is it just a case of learning to use the tool appropriately?

Despite being a Facebook refusenik, Damien did mention the Workbook Facebook overlay which provides a secure Facebook for the enterprise.

The Media
Kevin Anderson, Guardian Blogs editor, gave us an insight into how news media has changed over the past ten years, why The Guardian has pursued social media and how their principle of “connection, not crowd-sourcing” enables them to “involve the audience in meaningful ways”.

(He even managed to slip in the “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?” gag I’d been thinking about using in its “consultant” variation.)

The Big Smoke
Proving a talented chairperson can make anyone feel at home, Pfizer’s Chris Shilling introduced me as working in “the only industry more hated than pharmaceuticals”. Spread the love.

I told two stories. One about how we’d applied design thinking to community facilitation to create our CommunityBuilder framework. The other told how we’d introduced blogging into British American Tobacco with BlogCentral.

I may not have been clear enough when I made my point about the assumptions many people have about the “media savvy generation”, because one member of the audience attempted to disagree with me by agreeing with what I’d said! As I recounted, an external research agency came in last year to conduct some research on this demographic, expecting to find younger people more connected, always texting, using social media sites and so on. What they found – both inside British American Tobacco and other companies – was they don’t exist! People from all generations use these tools. (I will have to find the report and start showing it to people..!)

More Law
Although we were quick to get into blogging, we’re not the only people to have done so. Ruth Ward talked about how Allen and Overy had adopted blogging as a team communication tool.

I was impressed by how well she seemed to know the users – easier in a smaller company, but it must help your confidence when gaining support – but surprised to learn they had no blogging guidelines… until she pointed out it was all covered by the company’s communication policy.

On reflection, lawyers probably do tend to think these things through rather well.

Government 2.0
Jillian Cameron then presented an overview of how the Government is looking at new media trends and attempting to embrace them with varying degrees of success. The sheer scope of this endeavour meant some of it was a little abstract and while old media tends to knock the slightest stumble, I was impressed by the range of experimentation. Enabling this in the near future will be a fascinating pursuit, particularly with a 500,000 strong Civil Service.

Government 2.0 2
Alexis Castillo-Soto then showed off the newly-launched MOSS 2007-based intranet of the Learning and Skills Council. Not being familiar with Sharepoint, I was impressed to with the potential of the tools which are included. I could almost imagine using it myself, though the migration from Lotus Domino could be a challenge.

Let’s hope Alexis can invite the Intranetters for a visit very soon.


Damien Behan · April 4, 2008 at 10:36 am

Hi Richard,

I was disappointed to read your post, which misrepresented my presentation and the reaction to it.

I was trying to make the point that social media is a fantastic development that can work really well inside the organisation (why else would I attend the Enterprise 2.0 seminar!), but that social networking sites are just that – social. Following the presentation there were just as many people who told me they agreed with me as didn’t – though you were obviously in the latter camp.

Let me address your points one by one. I said that most viruses don’t come in by email attachment, they come as links to websites, or as downloads from websites. If you’ve been reading the press, they’re coming more and more from poisoned search results that feature pages with 1 pixel iFrames that contain a web page with a virus in it. Virus blocking software is now so good at stopping the attachment and email borne viruses, this is why the viruses have moved to the web. You still need anti-virus software – of course you do – but virus writers have just found another channel to deliver them instead.

I have not “resisted many attempts to adopt social media technology” -we are using Wikis in-house at Brodies, and I was just last week discussing with a group of our lawyers how they might use group blogs and wikis in their work, and am about to launch my own internal blog. What I have resisted is external social networking – which was in the title of my presentation and I made clear throughout.

All I was saying was that I could not see any clear business benefit to people working in a law firm using Facebook that would outweigh the risks. I’m bemused by the fact that there is an unwillingness to accept that Facebook is excellent at what it does – social networking with your friends and associates – but maybe that’s all it’s good for.

I made the point at the conference that I am pro these tools and technologies – but only where they are appropriate. It’s very disappointing that you didn’t pick up the difference between social software and social networking tools, as that was the key point I made at the outset.

In response to your comment about blocking the telephone, my question for you would be – do you block premium rate chat lines on your phone system? I’m sure you do – they waste time and company resources, and they’re really not appropriate for work. That’s probably a better analogy than saying it’s like banning the telephone.

As I said on the day, we don’t block Linkedin or other more business-focussed services, just Facebook, Bebo and the like. In fact I found your blog post this morning at work through Naymz, which as I showed yesterday is a networking service that also shows where your reputation might be being damaged on the web.

It’s frustrating that there seems to be no flexibility allowed in this area – you’re either all for it or you’re against it. There really is a grey area in my opinion, and it’s the external social networking sites.

You mentioned that you may not have been clear enough in your presentation, as someone took you up wrong, and that’s obviously what’s happened here too. I hope the above makes sense, and re-iterates that I am really a cheerleader for new technologies and how they can revolutionise the workplace – I just don’t think that all new technology is inherently good for businesses, and tried to say why in this example that was the case.

I enjoyed your presentation though 😉

Richard Hare · April 4, 2008 at 10:17 pm

Hi Damien,

I apologise – in my haste to summarise the event and themes discussed, I’ve succeeded in reducing you to a stereotype, which is a pity because what you had to say was very interesting.

I picked up on the virus comment because we were recently told categorically that webmail sites could not be unblocked because they are the main source of viruses. Whether this is merely ignorance or something more wilful, there could be a potential risk, so that was useful.

I make an analogy with the telephone because I suspect it must have had a similar effect. Without a precedent on its introduction, people had to create a set of behavioural standards to use it properly. We seem to adapt more quickly now. Five years ago I had to apply to use external company e-mail – now it’s a formality, because there are agreed standards of behaviour which I understand the reason for. With social networks we are in the transitory phase as we learn to adjust again. As many others said, Facebook is unlikely to be the leading technology for very long. New systems like which split a person’s profile into different sections – business, personal, interests – and allow users to choose which profile to use to connect with someone with will create new problems.

I can understand the desire to limit access to inappropriate content, but I don’t equate social media sites with premium rate chat lines. Facebook began as a tool for students to organise their social lives, so I see it more as phoning several friends to arrange to go for a drink after work. (I admit I may be a little optimistic here since I block all zombie-type application requests as soon as I receive them..! If that’s what you see when you look at Facebook, I am sympathetic.)

Looking from an HR perspective, the challenge is to attract enough staff of sufficient quality. If you produce a great employer brand, tell people you’re “a great place to work” and have a stated principle of giving your employees “Freedom Through Responsibility”, there is a risk of undoing all this when someone asks “Why is Facebook blocked?”. If there is no freedom or responsibility, the stated values sound rather hollow.

Ruth Ward said in her presentation that lawyers have to bill for a minimum number of hours annually and you made the point that “you go to work to work”. Drawing a crude parallel between the “production lines”, I agree that I can’t see an advantage to workers who operate machines in a factory having access to external social networking sites next to their machines. I can therefore appreciate why a professional who generates revenue at their desk could suffer from too many distractions. I’m not (yet) convinced there is an advantage to denying people access during their breaks, if we aspire to be a great place to work. Perhaps our much-maligned IT people had it right all along: because queues were forming at the lone unblocked kiosk in the coffee lounge, in December they installed a kiosk near the coffee machines on each floor.

This is a huge grey area at the moment. In companies where work time continues to bleed into personal time, there will inevitably be some pull in the opposite direction. Though common sense tells us that four hours a day on a social networking site is blatantly unacceptable, a set of standard acceptable behaviours has not yet emerged. This will change as stories circulate about people being disciplined for spending too long on social networking sites and companies whose regimes are too draconian. Eventually we will find an appropriate middle ground. How companies deal with this in the meantime will depend on – and provide and excellent indicator to – their culture.

So the final question for me is whose responsibility is it, employer or employee? It is immensely liberating to feel trusted, that there isn’t someone constantly watching what you are doing and you are free to work as you like, as long as you deliver on your commitments. Companies who choose to block risk sending a message to their employees which says: “We don’t trust you”.

But perhaps I’ve just been in HR too long..!

Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment.

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