On Wednesday, the social media forum Reddit provided a very real-life example of business transparency. In the middle of the day, suddenly the IAmA forum on the social media network had an unexpected guest -- U.S. President Barack Obama. He started a thread called "I am Barack Obama, President of the United States -- AMA" (in Redditor parlance, "AMA" means "ask me anything").
Regardless of where you fall on the U.S. election, you have to admit this is kind of a milestone for social media. Reddit is known for cat photos and NSFW (not safe for work) images, but this large community also has a tremendous history of business transparency, philosophical debate and altruistic actions -- for instance, this summer, users spontaneously raised more than $30,000 for a terminally ill cancer patient. And no matter your feelings about social media, one has to admit that in one fell swoop, the president of the United States (POTUS) reached a population segment known for being somewhat jaded and difficult to motivate to any action that doesn't involve a laptop keyboard (and I write that with love, as a devoted Redditor).
Not surprisingly, once news spread that this was indeed the POTUS (verified by his official Twitter account), Reddit's servers were overloaded. Reddit's users have the ability to vote a thread up or down based upon how much they feel it adds to the conversation. The thread's karma was an interesting slice of the voting process. As of press time, Obama's AMA was sitting at about 15,000 positive net karma (97,000 users having up-voted and 82,000 users having down-voted the thread).
Business transparency through social media
This week, we brought you my interview with von Briesen & Roper CIO William Caraher. We discussed social media and the CIO -- both what it can do for a career, as well as what it can offer a company as an internal communication medium. Caraher stressed that social media is not a tool for necessarily inane chatter and cat memes, but rather a tool for understanding the knowledge that exists within a company -- both from a workforce and a leadership perspective. Not only can executives get a look at what the employees feel is valuable to the company, but the employees can also use the medium to voice their concerns. This week's Reddit AMA with the POTUS brought that message home.
This is an example of how technology and the Internet can empower the sorts of conversations that strengthen our democracy over the long run.
president, United States
It comes back to transparency. Last week, Thomas Walter, CEO of Chicago's Tasty Catering, discussed the idea of business transparency as a necessary component of building a culture. Every CIO wants a corporate culture where employees are fully engaged in their tasks as well as focused on driving the business forward. And here's what Walter and the POTUS really understand -- the Internet generation "needs to know why." The collective consciousness that exists in environments such as Reddit, Digg, Drupal and Yammer -- a kind of hive mind -- wants and needs to be able to discuss ideas and action strategies. The participants want to feel as though they could potentially effect change.
We've all been in those meetings where a leader addresses an audience and says, "Come on, ask me anything." No one ever asks the thing everyone is thinking, of course. They ask questions they think will make them look smart, or safe questions that won't get them fired. With Reddit's AMA today, the hive mind had an opportunity to truly ask Obama anything. We learned his favorite basketball player is Michael Jordan. We also learned the White House makes a delicious beer and its homebrew recipe will be released soon. We also found out that he feels the main factor in his ability to balance work and life is physically being in the White House: "I live above the store -- so I have no commute!" Whether able to participate in the discussion or just read it later, each and every Redditor felt valued and important. And really, isn't that what every leader wants?
And, as Obama said in one of his answers, "This is an example of how technology and the Internet can empower the sorts of conversations that strengthen our democracy over the long run." I would offer that CIOs can also have those kinds of conversations to make strides in building a culture of business transparency.