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CIPR House of Commons debate points to future of social business

“You don’t need compliance rules when your employees have social media” was the motion for a debate tonight at the House of Commons, Westminster, London.

The event, hosted by the Debating Group and sponsored by the CIPR and Tomorrow’s Company, challenged the role of organisational governance as it relates to new media.

The debate was relayed on Twitter via a lively #CIPRdebate hashtag. That in itself tells a story of the role of new forms of media in modern business and society. It was also an indicator to the ultimate outcome of the debate.

Lord Black, director of the Telegraph Media Group and a Conservative Life Peer member of the House of Lords, chaired the debate.

In his introduction Lord Black stated that there is no longer a divide between internal and external communications, and that organisational governance is broken, citing scandals such as Enron, Lehman Brothers, and more recently, Tesco.

Mark Goyder, director, Tomorrow’s Company, proposing the motion, stated that successful organisations are almost universally based on strong values and purpose, and trust their employees to do the right thing.

“You can’t control what people say. Leaders need to build strong, open cultures. […] Ultimately, you won’t stop idiots because they’re idiots,” he said.

Sally Sykes, executive board director, Parliament & Health Service Ombudsman, opposing the motion, said that organisations are simply not ready for the social web without rules.

“Public and private personas should be congruent. We need to mind the gap, but the gap in many cases is simply too big,” she said.

Amelia Torode, director of strategy, Good Relations Group, seconder to the proposer, made the case that technology is ahead of organisational governance.

“We live in a 24 second news cycle. That’s the time that it takes to post a tweet. […] It’s too late to put your clothes back on,” she said.

Jenni Wheller, head of internal communication UK, SSP, seconder to the opposer, said that rules are needed to align an individual’s actions with those of an organisation.

“We need rules to align to the business. We’d be uncomfortable if there were no rules,” she said.

A lively discussion followed with almost 20 comments from the floor covering a diverse range of topics including compliance, leadership, public interest, risk and transparency.

The motion was passed by 33 votes to 18 demonstrating a clear belief by that organisations need  strong leadership, and to trust their employees to do the right thing as they increasingly become open and social.

Tomorrow’s Company is a think tank that is shaping the future of business success to build lasting value. The CIPR is the professional body for public relations practitioners in the UK.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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