We often start our social media sales pitches in terms of conversations. Companies need to be aware that conversations about their products, advertising, and employment brands are taking place, and with the Internet a fixture in our lives, many of those conversations are taking place online.
The difference between a gripefest after work at a bar and one online is a matter of reach - one conversation affects only a handful of people, but the online conversation, if it's juicy enough can reach millions.
With the introduction of Vault and F***ed Company in the 90's, the opportunity to vent proved to tempting, and ex-employees layed into their companies with wild abandon, an amusing but ultimately fruitless endeavor. In this decade, the growth of various company-centric alumni networks (like the one from the Oracle-Peoplesoft merger) gave former employees the chance to network, but only after the fact.
The recent social networking softwares like LinkedIn improve that networking capability, and Jobster's AT allows employees to discuss why they like their companies (though the cheerleading phenomenon is evident in most of those postings), but there isn't much room for employees within a company to share information that would benefit the company itself.
Enter Overhear.us, a Vault like system that allows access to company information outside the firewall, but only with an e-mail address for the company you're discussing. I'm not sure of the monetary value of such a service, but if it catches on for large companies, it could provide a valuable feedback service for employers and most important, serve as a catalyst for change by the employees themselves.
What happens when several employees who truly care about the success of a company get together and share ideas on what's right (and what's wrong)? You get a catalyst for change? The big question, is of course, adoption. Will the kind of company that doesn't already have this dialogue in place internally have enough people who want to turn to a dialogue outside the company?
Is the reward high enough to merit the risk of getting caught? Strong privacy rules abound, but some information is easier tracked than others. Whether or no Overhear.us makes it, the idea of conversations happening between employees not formally introduced on the org chart should prove interesting in years to come. For some companies, it will be vital, as employees complaining are at least signs that they are considering staying. Employees who are silent are usually on their third interview.