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What corporate communicators can learn from Shaq and the NBA


Recently, we’ve seen two NBA players tweet during halftime: Charlie Villaneuva and Shaquille O’Neal. My friend Warren Sukernek blogged about Villaneuva’s halftime tweet last week and the comparison between the NBA’s “command and control” approach by making players available to mainstream media right before halftime and a player expressing his own, personal views via an online medium.

This is an interesting story for a number of reasons, but the parallel I find most intriguing is the comparison with corporate America and its use of social media in the workplace.

In essence, Villaneuva and Shaq were tweeting during the game. From a coaches and owner’s perspective, that’s not a good idea. Even thought it’s halftime, players should be 100 percent focused on the game. After all, they’re paid millions of dollars to play basketball–and produce results. How can they do that effectively if they face an endless stream of distractions (like hopping on Twitter to update their status) during the game? But, to Warren’s point, aren’t NBA players obligated to participate in media interviews before and during the game? Isn’t that the same kind of distraction? What’s so different about tweeting or blogging or posting on Facebook?

Here’s the interesting parallel with corporate America: As social media tools become more ingrained in the way we, as employees, communicate with our coworkers, our friends, our family and our customers, is it OK to engage on company time? Isn’t that essentially what Villaneuva and Shaq did?

Many organizations right now are struggling with this issue. Surely, there are many companies (like Zappos) that completely encourage–and, in fact, outright promote–social media use during the workday. These organizations clearly see the value in encouraging their employees to serve as brand ambassadors who can actively shape conversations about their brand online.

On the flip side, other organizations see social media tools like Facebook and Twitter as a complete waste of time and a distraction to employees who should be focusing 100 percent on their work activites (hmm…sound familiar Mr. Villanueva?). These organizations often block social media sites and actively discourage employees from participating in conversations online during the workday.

Where does your organization, or the clients you counsel, stand?

* Do they condone the “command and control” communication model? Or, do they look at it in a different way and attempt to influence, persuade and engage customers?

* Do they see social media tools as distractions from work activities? Or, do they see leveraging these tools as an opportunity to engage one of your biggest assets–your employees–and open up a two-way conversation with customers that can help you further your brand and improve the brand experience?

* Do they believe they control the brand through ads, marketing collateral and Web portals they create and push out? Or, do they think their brand is what their customers say it is and attempt to influence the perception of that brand in the marketplace?



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