Is There A Place For Anonymous Posting Within Internal Communities?

August 6, 2012 Comments
Is There A Place For Anonymous Posting Within Internal Communities?

In a thousand years if anthropologists stumbled upon an archived version of YouTube and scourged over its contents to decipher what 21st century man was like, it’s quite likely the comments section would not paint us in a particularly positive light.  It’s been a long time coming but Google announced a few weeks ago plans to improve matters.  Their plan was to coerce people into using their Google+ accounts when making comments on YouTube, and therefore displaying their real name, with the logic being that people were less likely to post the rubbish they so often do if those comments could be directly attributed to them (by a future employer for instance).  I’m not entirely convinced that this is a good enough strategy to defeat the trolls, but commend them for at least trying.

The whole issue got me thinking about real name vs usernames on a social business community though.  Now suffice to say, in the internal communities many of us here are familiar with, using ones real name is by far the most common way of operating.

Are there times when providing employees with anonymity is a good thing though?

For most social business applications naming contributors is very much a good thing.  If you’re facilitating knowledge exchange for instance or assisting cross-department collaboration you want to know who you’re dealing with, and individual contributors will almost certainly want to improve their personal brand by showing off their smarts.

It all works well when everyone is broadly speaking going in the same direction, but what about when you want to encourage free and frank discussion about something pretty important to the company such as future strategy or the quality of a new product?

For instance many comments left on the GlassDoor website are done under the protection of anonymity.  People gladly give honest appraisal of what it’s really like to work for a company because they can do so without revealing their identity and face future career repercussions.  That kind of information and insight would be very useful to an organization before employees get so frustrated that they take to a public forum to vent their frustrations.

Likewise, services such as Rypple allow a degree of anonymity into the performance appraisal process.  The rhetoric might suggest bosses can take frank feedback, but many employees will balk at pointing out flaws in the way their boss behaves.  Anonymous ratings via software such as Rypple allows a more honest opinion to be given.

The reality is that receiving dissenting points of view is often as important as receiving supportive commentary from employees.  Allowing them to do so under the protection afforded by anonymity is likely to deliver much more honest feedback than you might otherwise get.

I’m interested to hear your take on this.  Does your internal social network force staff to be identifiable at all times?  If so how do you ensure you are getting candid feedback rather than a sanitized version?

  • Kate Scott

    This is exactly the challenge I’m facing at the moment in setting up an internal online forum/suggestion box.  Working in Asia means I’m looking for opinions from colleagues who, by nature of their culture, are even less likely than the average westerner to give their true opinion if it diverges in any way from what may be perceived as the boss’ point of view.  And if that POV isn’t known, then nothing will be said, just in case.

    I’ve had wonderfully frank and inspirational discussions one-on-one or with small groups, in closed meeting rooms about things that could be done better etc (I’m not one of the bosses) so I know the creativity and interest is there, it’s a case of me finding the forum application that provides the same assurance of identity protection as those meetings.

    If anyone knows of any applications that can help with this (preferably free – I have NO budget), I’d love to know!

    • http://www.adigaskell.org/blog Adi

       Hi Kate,

      Most forum applications allow users to select a username that provides them with anonymity, although even then you will need to decide whether users have to register with a work email address (and can therefore be traced) or can register with a personal email address.  phpBB is one of the better free applications.  Depending on CMS used for your intranet though you might be able to find plugins for things like Drupal and Joomla.

      Good luck with your project and keep us informed of how you get on.

      Adi

  • Marty

    It is important to understand what the actual history of communications technology looks like, in contrast to how people would prefer to communicate. Social collaboration, and the underlying technologies, are really just beginning to develop. In the old days, we also had the suggestion box, and many factories saw significant improvements in productivity thanks in part to anonymous suggestions, and management took all the credit.

    • http://www.adigaskell.org/blog Adi

      Thanks Marty.  I suspect if people are putting forward good ideas then they’d be all too happy to have their name attached to the idea. As you say, it sucks when you do great things and someone else gets the credit for it.

      The problem comes when you’re dissenting against senior management.  Most organisations need that check to ensure management doesn’t go down the wrong road, but it’s difficult unless a culture exists where challenging your ‘seniors’ is encouraged.

  • Ann

    Good question to pose Adi. I am inclined to agree with yourself. There is a need to gain not just depth of feeling and contribution, but spread across an organisation. Organisations are not renowned yet for their humanised approach where openness is widespread so I think, in the interim, anonymity is good as it starts the process of true engagement that will lead to participation. If there is a significant amount of anonymity, I think that says a lot to the HR and senior executives in the organisation and that’s what they need to address first. Sort that and then anonymity rates will go down!

    • http://www.adigaskell.org/blog Adi

       Hi Ann, yes I quite agree.  Excessive anonymity is a damning indictment of the lack of candour possible in any organisation.  That in itself is worthwhile.

  • http://www.enterprisestrategies.com/ Andy Jankowski

    Great post Adi. I think the answer is in the details. Internal social platforms are continually evolving – adding more and more functionality and communication options daily. When I was asked this same question a year ago it was in context of commenting on internal news articles and blog posts – to which I answered that anonymity was not appropriate. If I was asked that same question today in context of management feedback or strategy evaluation, I would answer differently. In short, I think we are to a point of internal social platform evolution where the question of anonymity needs to be answered by function as opposed to in aggregate.

    • http://www.adigaskell.org/blog Adi

      Hi Andy.  That’s the challenge isn’t it?  In the wider world trolling is probably the main reason against anonymity, but you’d like to think you can trust your own employees not to do that.

      As Richard says above though, the ideal would be for organisations to promote candour.  The difficulty for us social business folks though is that we often need quick and early wins to validate what we’re doing, and so our endeavours could easily be scuppered whilst we work towards having a more open work environment.

      I’m inclined to think that at least showing management that there are a number of dissenting voices, if indeed there are, can help to break down any hubris they may suffer from and therefore help to open up dialogue.

  • http://twitter.com/RichardRashty Richard Rashty

    I disagree with anonymous postings. your dealing with symptoms and not the root issue. The idea is to build robust organizations that encourage open conversions, where employees are free to dissent without fear of retaliation. That is the whole premise of a social business. Strip command and control, brutish mgmt styles. Ive dealt

  • http://twitter.com/RichardRashty Richard Rashty

    I disagree with anonymous postings. your dealing with symptoms and not the root issue. The idea is to build robust organizations that encourage open conversions, where employees are free to dissent without fear of retaliation. That is the whole premise of a social business. Strip command and control, brutish mgmt styles. Ive dealt

    • http://www.adigaskell.org/blog Adi

      Agree completely Richard. It’s an ongoing challenge though isn’t it. I look at sites like Glassdoor and wonder if they’d even need to exist if better communication was had within organisations. Sadly I know far more managers that don’t like candid feedback than those that do.

  • http://twitter.com/RichardRashty Richard Rashty

    I’ve led communities in Asian countries, and it is challenging as their culture is full of fear of open expression..but some told me privately they want to post using their name but are afraid….this is what we need to battle, so if you want anonymous posting as a temporary state, i can agree, but we must fight for open discussions and recognizing everyone as an individual

  • http://twitter.com/RichardRashty Richard Rashty

    I’ve led communities in Asian countries, and it is challenging as their culture is full of fear of open expression..but some told me privately they want to post using their name but are afraid….this is what we need to battle, so if you want anonymous posting as a temporary state, i can agree, but we must fight for open discussions and recognizing everyone as an individual

  • http://www.bloomthink.com/category/blog Billy Cripe

    Might idea markets / anon voting combined with named commenting be one way to spur open and honest participation in contexts or cultures where folks are reluctant?

    The idea would be that it only takes one brave person to post an idea that “diverges” from the accepted/expected POV.  Others can then vote the idea up or down anonymously.  As good ideas rise, more people will be empowered to share their own, attributed and complementary views.  In this way you have safe anonymous “social proof” combined with named, competitive ideas.

    just a brainstorm but tools like Spigit come to mind. 

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