Spheres of Influence

The Wall Street Journal recently laid down the law regarding its employees’ engagement with the social media graph.

In fact, most enterprises, especially news organizations, have refreshed their rules of employee conduct to include sections on what’s acceptable and what’s not in the indelibly incestuous worlds of blogging, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

But rather than spelling out the no-no’s of personal brand-building on the company’s time and dime, I haven’t seen much in the way of a codified corporate approach that actually mandates all rank and file employees to embrace social media to help bolster the company’s brand.

Today this happens in a relatively controlled and centralized manner at places like Comcast and Ford. But what if companies expanded the model to include ALL employees? Wouldn’t the employer’s brand get a boost through te sheer scale of it. Or is there a point of diminishing return when too many voices act as evangelists? After all Tony Hsieh almost single-handedly drives the Zappo’s brand.

So does it make sense to cultivate all employees’ (already existing) involvement with social media to the betterment of brand and business? And do companies really want employees tweeting about material news, litigation or their belligerent bosses?

Paid Content’s David Kaplan reports this week on an EconAffinity panel titled “How do We Manage Twitter”:

“As for the issue of whether to restrict staffers from using blogs freely, Jack Rotolo, EVP, North American Sales, Glam Media, said it’s simply unnecessary: ‘We’re a Silicon Valley-based company. Everybody has to have that DNA. We have professional editors on staffs and they understand what’s acceptable on Twitter as well as how to entertain and keep an audience there. The WSJ doesn’t seem to be handling it in the best way. A lot of editors on staff are already brands. You need to encourage them to continue the conversation.'”

And last week, my friend Max Kalehoff and I memed on a related topic resulting in his post “The Company is the Marketing” that touches on mass employee empowerment to drive brand:

What higher calling? On a pragmatic level, why not strategically view your entire company as your internal marketing team? Why limit imagination and opportunity through silos and top-down power structures. Sure, department structures help drive accountability. But if marketing is not fully embraced as part of every employee’s job, then the firm is strategically disadvantaged. Importantly, this idea doesn’t end with employees; it applies to external stakeholders like customers and partners, who should be counted as members of the team as well. As I’ve said before, marketing leadership is shifting from command-and-control to cultivate-and-coach.”

In an age of media atomization, the ability to scale a ten-person communications department to efficiently engage detractors, nurture supporters and accommodate journalists may be coming to an end — out of necessity. In its place: a decentralized, ubiquitous and more organic communications culture (versus function) that knows enough to steer clear of legal, competitive or regulatory matters.

As for who owns the personal sphere of influence/followers built on the back of an employer, and is it portable should the influencer move on? Hey, I always take my Rolodex with me from employer to employer. Don’t you?