Social Risk Management and Mobile Patent Watch – Just Another Tuesday

Are you talking about me?  How can I make you stop?

Are you talking about me? How can I make you stop?

What if you had a system that could eliminate all risk of social media engagement?  Would you install it?  MacWorld, and others are reporting on a new patent granted to Apple.  The patent would allow a theater to totally disable all your phone’s functionality during a movie.  I applaud innovation, but do we really need technology like this.  Why would Apple seek protection for this?

The best part of the article was a quote from Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at George Mason:

If you try to plan for every harm and every worst case, then you don’t get the benefits from the best case.

That is absolutely one of the most brilliant things I have heard someone say.  While it is in the context of mobile device management, everyone who does social media management and compliance should remember this.  If you spend so much time looking for monsters under the bed, you never look out the window to enjoy the sunset.

Why Would Apple Patent This?

Some in the press may report this as Apple’s way to take control from their users.  Let me tell you it is not.  If innovation is a key part of your growth strategy you look at lots of things.  Some may pan out, some may not.  You may implement some things, or not.  Do you think that IBM implemented each of their 6,478 patents granted to them in 2012?

I have been on the front lines of patent management.  When you are building out a patent portfolio, you patent not only the things you do, but the things your competitors do.  You also patent things that you don’t want others to have.  You also speculatively patent things that you think the market will want.  Patents are a volume game when it comes to return on investment.  You don’t know what will succeed over a course of years.  How you manage that risk is with volume.  You reduce variance with volume.  So we get patents like this one.  I don’t think the folks at Apple are anti-liberties.  I just think they saw something that someone might want some day and thought it was a good investment bet.

What You Should Learn

I would like you to read the article again and right down your reaction to it.  Or, remember what your reaction to it was initially.  Did you go, that is too much?  That is stepping over the line?  I would hate that?  Remember this feeling.  Total control is not possible, you may have also said.

The funny thing is if you are in any type of compliance or risk management role, you try to do this every day.  You build systems and policies to eliminate the worst case scenarios, don’t you?  An employee might share your confidential information over a social network, so you need a policy telling them not to do it.  You are worried about people seeing how big your cubicle farm is, so you prohibit employees from taking pictures.  Of note, the article points out that companies could use this patented technology to block the use of cameras.

But here is why Adam’s statement is so darn brilliant.  Every time you try to manage to the absolute edge case, you lose the possibilities of the other cases.  The really good cases, right.  Employee social media engagement for instance can be a really good thing.  We all believe it.  Every attempt to keep one of those employees doing something you don’t like reduces the overall engagement.  Why?  Your rule will scare off others.  Some employees who would have engaged may see that rule and think it isn’t worth the effort.  “If I break that rule, I might get fired.”

Control is Illusory and Temporary

Take your hand and fill it with sand.  Now try to squeeze really hard and keep the sand there.  See what happens?  All the sand escapes.  Now do the same thing and open your palm and see how much sand you can hold.  By not controlling the sand (squeezing it) you have lots more of the sand to work with.

Don’t get me wrong, there are risks in social engagement.  There are risks everywhere.  Do you cross the street by calling the local transportation department to get a forecast on traffic volumes on the street?  Call the local weather bureau to see if it might rain?  Or do you look both ways and then cross.  If you do that, you are taking the risk that someone might come barreling through at 100 miles per hour that you had no warning of.  It is possible.

Trying to control social is totally orthogonal to social.  Social is about authenticity.  Control destroys it.  If your company tweet had to go through 3 levels of edits and approvals, how authentic would it be.

You may think that you can control it, and it may work for a while, but it is temporary.  The company that blocks Facebook access from its desktops soon finds that their employees are now posting through their personal devices.

Find Serenity in Managing the Risk, Not Controlling It

Social engagement can bring huge benefits to your company and brand.  You do need to manage the things you can, and we have talked at length about it.  Don’t forget the our social media serenity prayer:

In Social Media, grant me the courage to just manage the things I can, the wisdom to marvel at the things I can not, and the serenity to know the difference.

Now that I have told you that you shouldn’t control it, there are cases where control may be needed.  Those cases are where someone outside your organization tells you that you have to.  If you are in the investment space, you are being told to have control over your people.  That is an external force.  You have no choice.  If the force is internal, challenge the control.  Why do you really need it?  Then really do a cost/benefit analysis on the control.  How much will it reduce engagement?  What are the system/personnel costs to implement that control?

At the end of the day, managing your risk involves some acceptance that you don’t have control.  Say the prayer and it will all be ok.

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