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Is there a place for anonymous posting within internal online communities?

In a thousand years if anthropologists stumbled upon an archived version of YouTube and scourged over its contents to decipher what 21st century man was like, it’s quite likely the comments section would not paint us in a particularly positive light. It’s been a long time coming but Google announced a few weeks ago plans to improve matters.

Their plan was to coerce people into using their Google+ accounts when making comments on YouTube, and therefore displaying their real name, with the logic being that people were less likely to post the rubbish they so often do if those comments could be directly attributed to them (by a future employer for instance). I’m not entirely convinced that this is a good enough strategy to defeat the trolls, but commend them for at least trying.

The whole issue got me thinking about real name vs usernames on a social business community though. Now suffice to say, in the internal communities many of us here are familiar with, using ones real name is by far the most common way of operating.

Are there times when providing employees with anonymity is a good thing though?

For most social business applications naming contributors is very much a good thing. If you’re facilitating knowledge exchange for instance or assisting cross-department collaboration you want to know who you’re dealing with, and individual contributors will almost certainly want to improve their personal brand by showing off their smarts.

It all works well when everyone is broadly speaking going in the same direction, but what about when you want to encourage free and frank discussion about something pretty important to the company such as future strategy or the quality of a new product?

For instance many comments left on the GlassDoor website are done under the protection of anonymity. People gladly give honest appraisal of what it’s really like to work for a company because they can do so without revealing their identity and face future career repercussions. That kind of information and insight would be very useful to an organization before employees get so frustrated that they take to a public forum to vent their frustrations.

Likewise, services such as Rypple allow a degree of anonymity into the performance appraisal process. The rhetoric might suggest bosses can take frank feedback, but many employees will balk at pointing out flaws in the way their boss behaves. Anonymous ratings via software such as Rypple allows a more honest opinion to be given.

The reality is that receiving dissenting points of view is often as important as receiving supportive commentary from employees. Allowing them to do so under the protection afforded by anonymity is likely to deliver much more honest feedback than you might otherwise get.

I’m interested to hear your take on this. Does your internal social network force staff to be identifiable at all times? If so how do you ensure you are getting candid feedback rather than a sanitized version?

This post was first written for Social Business News in 2013 so some of the information and vendors may not be around anymore.


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