What Do Anonymous Employee Forums Mean for Employers?

What Do Anonymous Employee Forums Mean for Employers?

Mashable’s Kerry Flynn profiles Blind, an exclusive app for Silicon Valley tech employees where “insiders dish dirt, spill beans, and trade advice” about their industry and community:

You can go to any tech journalist or call up any investor on Wall Street to get their take on $SNAP, but if you want to know about how Silicon Valley—the engineers, the product managers, the members of human resources, the sales people, the marketers, etc.—feels about it? Blind is where you should be.

There’s a caveat, though: You can’t get in. Blind is a private community only available to employees at a select number of tech companies. Employees at just over 100 tech giants (including Microsoft, Amazon, Uber, Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn) can join the app. … You can’t simply try making a fake LinkedIn profile, either. All sign-ups are tied to each company’s official email, and must be verified via that email address. But despite the connection, you’re anonymous within the community—and to the app’s creators, too—through patented technology.

Blind is not new, having launched in South Korea in 2014 and in the US in 2015, but it is expanding rapidly, Flynn reports, naming WeWork, Medium, Postmates, and Blue Apron as among the companies recently added to the app. So far, Blind appears to be avoiding the pitfalls that sunk Secret, a bygone anonymous tech forum that “quickly devolved into racism, hatred, and all-around negativity,” and puts a big premium on preserving genuine anonymity for its users:

Blind’s still operated by a larger company. [Head of US operations Alex] Shin cautioned against anything “Big Brother”-related. In fact, Blind designed the app to prevent those who work at the company themselves from knowing who joins. Say, for example, you lose your password? There’s no hope in getting it back. Once you’re verified, you’re in, and there’s little communication with the employees at Blind.

“We’re totally anonymous. We don’t even know,” Shin said. “Our goal is to respect the privacy of users, especially the private company channels. We’re not running any algorithms on there.”

One of the benefits Blind offers on account of its anonymity is that it allows users to criticize their own company’s products and policies without fear of their critiques getting back to them, as one user told Forbes’ Rosa Trieu last year:

According to a Microsoft employee who has been with the company for 10 years, Blind is especially valuable in cases such as product launches and policy changes.

“When we have a product launch, it’s good to hear people’s feedback – the real feedback of what we think internally. There’s definitely some cheering and warm feedback, but there’s also that kind of raw criticism that we sometimes lack in the official channel, so hearing both sides of the story for product launches and also policy changes, I think, is very valuable,” said the Microsoft employee, who wished to remain anonymous.

Blind has followed the Facebook model by starting with a very exclusive user base and gradually expanding, but Shin says the company isn’t interested in maximizing the number of users it attracts; rather, Blind aims to create “siloed, unique communities that are very valued” among employees of individual companies. Because the app can be used to share salary information, solicit career advice, trade leads on jobs, and discuss industry events and trends, it is also aimed at empowering employees at these companies by increasing transparency and democratizing information; in an interview with TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos in 2015, Shin said: “Our goal is really to flatten hierarchies within companies and give employees a chance to discuss what’s going on.”

Much in the same way that pay transparency sites like Glassdoor stand to affect the way employers set, negotiate, justify, and communicate compensation by giving employees an independent (though not necessarily accurate) estimate of what they are worth, anonymous employee forums limit employers’ ability to control the flow of information within their organizations. If the future of professional social media is one in which apps like Blind are common, employers may have to rethink their approaches to internal communications and information security.