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On your guard

I was reading Jamie Notter's post on his blog about an education session that ASAE & The Center delivered on board-staff communications, when a thought occurred to me.

I don't think it was the case with that meeting, but often we specifically tell participants in a workshop or breakout session that it's a safehaven where they can discuss anything or get advice on anything without fear of their need getting out--which if you're talking about what an SOB your board chair is or how a person on your staff is irritating you, could be embarrassing. I'm a member of the media so I've always been sensitive to what should be reportable and what shouldn't be -- and I think most attendees get that and can be reasonably assured that the staff of the organization holding the event would be sensitive to such things.

Could the advent of social media and "everybody's a journalist" change that comfort level? Could it change the candor with which people are willing to talk about their problems and their experiences at such meetings?

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Comments

Hi Scott. I understand the broader point of your post (and it's a good one to talk about), but I also want to check in on something: do you think my post went too far? I certainly talked about the detailed content of the conversation, but I made no reference to the identity of any of the participants, so I figured I was within acceptable bounds. Do you think I was not sensitive enough?

You raise an important point Scott, and I think the answer is a definite yes.

One of the groups I write leadership curriculum for produces a conference for college students. In one of the very first segments on community, we're introducing a discussion about social media and how the community feels about what aspects of the conference could/should be shared on blogs, YouTube, etc. and when members of the community should seek out others' specific approval of what they are going to post.

If we don't let folks discuss and create norms as a group, everyone will exercise whatever norms are customary for them and that might lead to some uncomfortable results.

Definitely yes. In fact, it started several years ago. I've been in more than a few section council and other meetings where the ASAE staff has said to me, "Don't blog about this." As a matter of principle, I always respect requests to keep things off the record.

But look: The only difference between a conversation using social media and an offline conversation is amplification (and even that is questionable with password-protected social media sites and other dynamics in this context). People still gossip IRL (in real life), so personally, I don't see this as that big a deal.

I would just add to Ben's comment that we have to remember how technology allows the amplification to occur faster and to a much wider audience than the traditional gossip chain, as well as leaves a somewhat permanent (and often searchable) trail.

Jamie -- I'm sorry, I think I had it clearer in an earlier version of my post... I don't think you compromised anybody's sensitive information at all. In fact, I haven't seen that at all in the blogoclump -- but as that clump expands (oh great David Gammel, when do we graduate to a sphere?) it just makes me wonder.

It was the topic of the education session you posted on that made me think, geez, there could be some sensitive stuff coming out in there, and what if someone blogged on it?

Ben & Jeffrey -- thank you for chiming in.

I just want to say I'm not sure how big an issue I think this is. I do think it has the potential to be explosive. As Jeffrey points out, searchability is an important link. I've been turned down by a CEO who may have otherwise participated as guest bloggers because he said he had members who google everything he does, and he didn't want the headache of having to explain his blog posts to his board.

And to Ben's point, I would add that I don't think many people have a strong grasp of journalistic ethics and what terms mean. Off the record means, for example, that you are not allowed to write about it and you may not even use it to develop questions of somebody else. (That's the difference between "off the record" and "on background," which can be used to as background to question others.)

Again, maybe it's just one of those things that deserves close monitoring until it becomes a problem, and then you deal with it.

Thanks Scott. Just wanted to make sure my radar was on the right setting.

As for the broader question, I personally think this is part of an overall trend towards transparency. I've always been an advocate of transparency, but these days it may be forced upon us. I'm not advocating for unethical gossiping, but back to the good old control discussion, it's definitely harder to keep secrets these days.

Scott, Sue Pelletier has a good post in response to yours on the face2face blog.

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