Microblogging and bullying in the work-place

The concept of choosing to follow someone is very familiar to those of us active on twitter. As is the concept of not following someone.

In small organisations, my experience has shown that normally everyone would follow everyone. This is largely because small organisations are likely to be cohesive as a team, especially at the smaller end of the scale.

In large organisations (over 250 employees), my experience has shown that it is accepted and understood that you don’t follow everyone. Why would you? Following 20,000 people would ruin your micro-blogging experience (or at the very least force you into needing some kind of Tweetdeck-like application to filter and sort it all!)

In medium sized organisations (50-250 employees), I’d generally expect employees to follow everyone in their team, or department, and then a sprinkling of other colleagues from a range of other teams and functions – plus senior management.

Cultural shift

We all know (or should know) that the move to a social intranet involves a cultural shift in how an organisation works. A social intranet is not achieved by the availability of a particular tool. The cultural changes required will be unique from organisation to organisation, and some will be more ready than others to adopt the way or working that a social intranet enables.


One particular aspect of that cultural shift I hadn’t considered is that of exclusion. Deliberately avoiding certain collegues on your social intranet. Groups of employees deliberately freezing out other employees by not following them.

Now it’s easy to initially react in the classic control manner. Let’s ban Facebook! Let’s ban Yammer! That, I’m afraid to say, is not a solution. The problem isn’t Yammer and it’s ability to let you choose who you follow and unfollow. The problem is that a culture of exclusion and bullying behaviour exists within the organisation.

Address the issue, not ban the tool

Your focus needs to be on how to address that issue internally, not how to “fix” Yammer (or whichever tool your organisation uses). A “solution” such as forcing everyone to follow everyone else is impractical and not really a solution. It will drive down adoption, reduce the business gain from microblogging, and almost certainly force the bullying that exist in your organisation into another forum.

Microblogging needs to be open (a “company wide” feed, available to all) to make people feel included (even if they aren’t active within the microblogging tool). It also needs to be searchable (to allow employees to utilise the digital assets stored in the status updates and shared links). It doesn’t need to be forced (follow everyone) or banned (driving the conversation elsewhere).

What problems have you encountered with rolling out social features on your intranet?