The revelation that Wal-Mart has created a terms-of-service for its involvement with Twitter illustrates just how much large, entrenched companies will struggle with the openness and free-flow of information that social networking technologies allow.
What on earth would make Wal-Mart think that it could expect the average Joe, say someone who Tweets about a Wal-Mart customer experience, to play by rules that the company itself lays out? We’re not sure.
Such a desire to control information flow is understandable, but ultimately futile. Social technologies like Twitter will force Wal-Mart, and bellwether companies like it, to lighten up. With information control, they can have some influence over employee tweets, but customers are another story.
Information has become more horizontal, and less hierarchical.
The only way you can guide the conversation that happens about your company is to participate — and that’s not by writing press releases and referring people to legal documents. Instead, it’s by tweeting, blogging and sharing. If something slips out that you hoped to keep secret, that will be the cost of business. Most of the time, it probably wasn’t even advantageous to keep it secret anyway.
In the end, things aren’t as different as you think. Before the Web even entered the workplace, employees knew what they could and couldn’t tell the public. People talked about products all the time, be it on the phone, in a coffee shop or a bar. Now a lot of that conversation happens over Twitter, and, like it or not, we all need to get used to it.