It used to be that employee communication was a function of PR in which we organized the communication TO employees. In the modern, social media era, employee communication also means monitoring and perhaps responding to communication FROM employees that is available for the world to see.
Jennifer MacLean, a former student and now communications and public relations manager of the AirZoo in Portage, shared this interesting article on the topic from the Indianapolis Star. She relates that she regularly visits Technorati to monitor blog comments about the AirZoo posted by visitors (smart idea) and has come across some negative employee commentary.
This reminds me, I neglected to blog about the excellent WMPRSA presentation last month on social media by Robin Luymes of Quixtar. His primary advice: don't ignore the conversation out there in the blogosphere. In his case, that meant monitoring and engaging disgruntled IBOs (Independent Business Owners) and others who had negative things to say about Quixtar. He said they had actually been able to correct false accusations or at least present their side. You can see how Robin is active in the conversation on his own blog.
I agree. PR has always been about transparent communication and seeking mutual relationships with all publics. On a case by case basis, it might not be practical to respond directly to every blogger or rogue web site out there. But you should know what's being said and join the conversation when necessary and appropriate.
It's good strategy. It's also consistent with the PRSA Code of Ethics provisions of "free flow of information" and "full disclosure." If we're afraid to join the conversation in the blogosphere, there are probably bigger problems than an employee sounding off. It would have been better to engage in old-fashioned employee communications first--communicating openly TO them--so you don't have to see them communication about you to all the world.
The days are gone when we can control the communication about our organizations. But, since PR is a management function, we can counsel management to be more genuine in their communications to hopefully limit the negative commentary in the blogosphere.
In the end, the old fashioned notion of John Stuart Mill applies. Let all have a say, and the "truth will out." We have to expect that many will be talking about our organzations and ensure that we are presenting our honest point of view. If your company or nonprofit has a good reputation, chances are people will believe us and see the mouthy bloggers as whiny malcontents.