I was quoted in a piece by Dean Beeby of the Canadian Press this past weekend. Dean and I had a lengthy conversation last week about an Industry Canada policy document he had secured through an access to information request. The policy is mesmerizing, really. It documents a lengthy and complicated process for creating, reviewing and approving tweets for the official Industry Canada Twitter account, @IndustryCanada. Twitter. That real-time social communication service.
As is often the case when speaking with a journalist on a particular issue, word count (and sensitivity to audience attention span) doesn’t do justice to the breadth and depth of the conversation. Dean and I had a great chat which was reduced to a single quote. Since there has been radio interest in my opinions about the policy, I thought I’d expand on them here for anyone who sumbles on this post.
LEGITIMATE NEED FOR CARE, BUT AT A COST
First of all, I think it’s fair to say Industry Canada faces pressures that companies, associations, organizations and average citizens don’t face. That is, comments by Industry Canada can influence markets. So, there is clearly a need to practice caution on how loose their online voice can be. Further, most companies have some form of communications policy and/or guidelines which dictate who within the organization can speak on its behalf, what themes are off-limits (due to either institutional values or regulatory restrictions) and what language is off-side.
Having said that, private sector policies would generally be enabling rather than crippling. A business leader, from a small business to a Fortune 100 would look at Industry Canada’s 12-step-plus Twitter policy and shake his or her head. Forget about the process. How about the cost? How much should a tweet cost? How can you measure the outcome and justify any associating cost in such a strict environment?
LACKING SPONTANEITY AND RESPONSIVENESS
The upshot of Industry Canada’s planned-tweeting-by-committee process is their tweets are unremarkable, asocial and not responsive to current events. For example, it would have been more than appropriate for the department to issue a congratulatory “score another one for Canadian innovation” tweet to Blackberry when news broke a few weeks ago that the Pentagon was sticking with the struggling smartphone company. Opportunity lost.
SMALL CIRCLE OF TRUST
Perhaps even more interesting than the tweets they struggle to release, is their retweets. Clearly Industry Canada retweets require some form of approval as well. Which means they release very few. Most of them are with safe and obvious players… the Business Development Bank of Canada, the Canadian Space Agency and the National Research Council. However, there’s one tweet that stands out, one which critics of the Conservative government will “enjoy.” Industry Canada retweeted a December 11 tweet by Prime Minister Harper announcing a scholarship fund in the name of Nelson Mandela. A positive message, for sure. And perhaps a bit political.
Knowing Industry Minister James Moore is, and has been for a long time, a capable and engaged Twitter user leads me to believe this policy is more likely a relic of Christian Paradis’ term as head of the department. However, I’ll admit that’s pure speculation.
POLICIES AND GUIDELINES
The substance of this policy further reinforces my beliefs with respect to social media policies. I recommend to all organizations and digital public affairs practicitioners that social media are tools of communication and therefore should be covered by the organizational communications policy (and likely by codes of business conduct and disclosure policies where applicable).
I’m not aware of any organization having a newspaper policy, a magazine policy, a radio policy, a television policy, a coffee shop policy, a dinner at friends policy, etc… Organizations have communications policies which cover what is and isn’t acceptable either due to organizational values or regulatory requirements. Social media should be subject to the same rules. In support of those policies and emerging technologies, the organizations should maintain guidelines which help/enable their teams to be successful using the tools rather than striping away all the utility the tools offer.