The Buzz Bin’s Mike Mulvihill kicks off the new year with an excellent observation about social media: the way companies obsess over “controlling the message” is strangling the industry.  In Mulvihill’s own words (emphasis mine):

I’d love to see a survey of how many of the 91 percent of companies using social media are failing miserably because they still just don’t get the fact that every employee is an ambassador, whether at the supermarket, a cocktail party, the kids soccer match or when active on a social media site. They trust their salesmen to represent the company unsupervised, but can’t trust their employees to use social media responsibly. Seems like there’s still a lot of growing up to be done in 2010.

Social media agencies have lamented clients’ unrealistic focus on “controlling the message” for years now.  (We’ve even chimed in on the topic ourselves, including a quote from Scott Monty that puts it all in appropriately absurd perspective.)  But no matter how many times companies are told that a free-flowing discussion about their business is the best thing that could happen to them, they still seem more comfortable spending money on ad campaigns designed to plant specific messages in the audience’s mind, rather than allowing their customers (and employees) to speak freely.

But what are companies so afraid of?

What could possibly be divulged by your employees that could give the public a worse impression of your business than the knowledge that you refuse to grant your employees the freedom to discuss your company?

On the other hand, when the public sees that you, the employer, value your team’s insights and trust them to behave responsibly, you set a standard that consumers (and other companies) appreciate.  The world is comprised of people, not facades.  And people like doing business with people, not images.

This year, why not grant your customers — and your employees — the freedom to speak openly about your brand?  At worst, you’ll discover some flaws worth correcting.  At best, you’ll learn what you really are doing right — and where to build for the future.