Another employee relations issue goes public after blog post

First, Friendster. Then, Delta Airlines. Now, Electronic Arts.

These are three high-profile examples in as many months of matters concerning employee/employer relationships that would likely never have seen the public light of day if it were not for blogs. The latest case, with Electronic Arts, has already expanded into a legal issue with the company being sued for allegedly failing to pay overtime wages.

The wife of an unnamed Electronic Arts employee posted highly-critical commentary on her personal blog about the company’s working practices and the effects they have on the lives of her husband and her family. That post on 10 November quickly attracted nearly 2,000 critical comments on the blog so far, as well as plenty of coverage by other blogs and media.

Communicators, this is the new reality!

Today, news travels faster and wider than you thought possible – especially news about matters that, in the good old days of traditional PR and other communication planning and execution, you could probably control and minimize its spread, or even prevent its travel at all.

Not a chance any longer. With the rise of blogs and the ability of literally anyone, anywhere, to become an instant public news broadcaster – a grassroots citizen journalist, as the Electronic Arts case clearly shows – those traditional times are gone forever.

What do you need to do? From the organizational communication perspective, while a blog is just another communication channel – an increasingly influential one, to be sure – news does travels faster, so you need to be absolutely ready with your communication plan so that you’re ready to roll literally at the drop of a hat when circumstances warrant it, both reactively (eg, you get a call from a journalist before you knew there was a story) and proactively (eg, your meaningful commentary in your planned statements, publicly and within your company).

Actually, that’s not much different from what the readiness state should be of any organization’s competent communication department – be prepared for any and every eventuality. What is mainly different is where much of the control now lies in speed, reach and influence.

So remember this fact, one that you will increasingly hear more: Today, the audience is firmly in charge.

6 thoughts on “Another employee relations issue goes public after blog post

  1. I commented about this on Jessica’s Blog, one of the Auburn student bloggers.
    The fact is that there needs to be a new employee relations handbook that addresses blogging. There are problems with blogging, and PR needs to set the framework for how corporations are going to deal with blogging, and what interaction they are going to have. That’s why I like that Scoble works through WaggEd for press contact. But, I think that’s the exception, rather than the rule.

  2. Good points, Jeremy. I agree with you totally re blogging polices – of which lots of posts on a number of blogs including mine (and in the Forrester Research report a few weeks ago).
    This EA case, though, highlights a bigger issue that blogging polices can’t directly address: if there are underlying fundamental problems in the organziation such as apparently is the case here (re work conditions and practices) which an employee or anyone else talks about publicly, the issue becomes one about those problems rather than whether an employee broke a policy by talking about them. That certainly look like how it’s developing with EA. And a law suit to boot – that’s what the media reporting is more about.
    I think that in any communication, you can plan for all the eventualities. But if the infrastructre on which you base your communication is shaky, don’t expect a positive outcome.

  3. Well, the shaky base applies to probably every start-up in the Bay, and that culture is pervasive in NorCal.
    It’s the work hard, play hard mentality, and you are supposed to put in the early-grave hours.

  4. You’re right, Jeremy, as indicated by some of the 2,000+ comments to ea_spouse’s post. Mentions galore of other companies where people are saying similar things happen.
    Another indicator that if you have a shaky base and someone comments publicly, it will draw out similar issues in other companies. Really scales this up in a big way.

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