Twitter, Knowledge, and the New Ethical Corporation

22 Nov

There are many reasons to bring social networking tools into your business. Proponents will list dozens of reasons from productivity gains to cost savings to justify spending money for tools like Socialcast Inc.’s Reach software. One thing they don’t brag about is that social networking products open up an organization’s ethics for all to see.

Reach is embedded into as many network applications as possible within an enterprise. According to CEO Tim Young like-minded workers in different departments can use Twitter-like services inside their existing apps to recommend, comment upon, share,  and track information with interested parties. Anything that is known to an individual can be shared, securely inside controlled groups or widely to all stakeholders.

This got me thinking about business ethics. Corporate crime costs the United States more than what we call street crime by far. Cutting down corporate crime would be a boon to the US economy.

Services like Reach create a level of transparency inside companies that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Remember Enron, Tyco, Worldcom, and the other poster corps. for criminal and unethical behavior in the past decade? Well, if they had used social networking tools like Reach, I’m guessing their illegal scams would have been more difficult to pull off. With more people knowing more details inside of a business, there is an overpowering instinct among people to do what’s right not what’s necessarily expedient and certainly not what’s downright wrong. By letting more people know what’s happening inside an enterprise, the social pressure is enormous for the business to act ethically.

Reach and other social network products don’t lead to a lack of security, just a wider awareness of issues inside the organization. It’s not the fear that your company’s lack of ethics will be on page one of the local newspaper, but that it will be discussed in the company lunch room.

For example, let’s say a company is using Reach during a product development cycle within the R&D group responsible for the new product. If everyone involved is using Reach and product flaws are discussed, the odds of releasing the product with the most serious flaws will be reduced because of the number of those who know about the problems. If there were only a smaller, more tightly-integrated team aware of the flaws, there’s a greater likelihood that they would hide or play down the problems and the product would more likely ship with ultimately more image-damaging flaws. While using Reach might have forced the product development team to either ship their product late or scale down their ambitions to get it done right, in the long run the product would be less of a costly headache for the company.

I’m not saying social networking products will force a company to act ethically. But they will make it much more difficult to hide their ethics, good or bad.


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