There Are Two Kinds of People on Facebook: My Employees and Those My Employees are Talking To

by Marianne Richmond on March 15, 2010

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye, Facebook, Twitter Updates Spell Trouble in the Small Workplace. More examples of the potential dark side of the blurring lines between our personal lives and our professional lives as lived (and broadcast) online. Several examples were cited of employees making less than flattering comments about their employers or revealing proprietary company information on their Facebook pages or on Twitter.

The topic of  blurring lines is not a new topic….we have been discussing the blurring of our online life with our offline life (the life formerly known as our real life) for some time….as we began receiving birthday wishes from our online, social network friends, and the social networks themselves started wishing us Happy Birthday; or when Anne Handley wrote, “since when is a friend a verb?”.  Joshua Porter used a Seinfeld episode involving the “collision” of the character George’s relationship worlds as an analogy for digital life and “real” life in 2006.

The overarching topic, the blurring of our private self and our public self is not new either, nor did it begin with the internet.  The online blur is a kind of web2.0 “real time”  version of  our so called youthful indiscretions that prove embarrassing later in life as someone from our past emerges to tell a story that we would rather not have known in our present.

The difference now of course are three of the key features of our digital identity or digital footprint, its immediacy, its reach, and its longevity. Today, at SXSW, as reported by TechCrunch, Danah Boyd‘s keynote topic was how technology has made a mess of what is private and what is public; technology has in essence removed our various selves from the safety of context.

And as the sheer numbers of online users continue to increase, active social network participation is the real story in looking at the  the implications of the blur as it relates to businesses and corporations. Facebook claims 400 million active users half of whom log on once a day. The average user has 130 friends, spends more than 55 minutes per day on Facebook and writes 25 comments per month. Facebook access banned by your corporate firewall? 100 million users access Facebook by mobile device (This was a 112% increase since 2009.) and are twice as active as non-mobile users.

So, what if anything can businesses do to minimize both the impact of negative comments by employees or former employees as well as the risk of internal/proprietary  information being inadvertently released to the world wide web via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or an employee’s blog? And, conversely, can the presence and participation of a company’s employees on social networks be an asset to a company’s brand, reputation or even marketing?

In both cases, the risk of harm and taking advantage of the positives of social networks, a company or business without a social media/social network strategy is doing themselves a disservice and potentially putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage. And to note, I am not talking about the corporate community manager or corporate blogger. I am talking about those millions of social network users who are also employees of small businesses and large corporations.

eMarketer recently reported that fewer than 1/5 of the companies surveyed worldwide by Manpower had a formal policy for employees use of social networks. And then one can assume that many of the policies only address use of social networks in the workplace. So, what about a strategy?

A strategy to “protect” a business from employees’ less than circumspect social networking I believe has to begin with a recognition that this cannot be controlled by policy alone. For one thing, a policy will be irrelevant to the disgruntled employee or former employee who is intent on online/social network disparagement.

However, having a social media/social network strategy that includes, (a) Recognition: recognizing that employees are likely personally using one or more social networks (b) Scope: defining the scope of  your businesses “official” involvement in social media and also the scope of the “linkage” between the official social media vehicles and individual employees vehicles that you desire (c) Guidelines and stating (d) Outcomes will facilitate the achievement of the desired outcomes and reduce the risk of problems and misfires.

For instance, if you are committed to using social media as a business/corporate communication channel, a written strategy stating that you are active participants in social media and have a corporate blog, Facebook page, Linkedin page and Twitter account or whatever but in addition would like to encourage your employees to identify themselves as employees of your company on their own blogs, Facebook pages etc with the following guidelines, e.g. that you use standardized logo, fonts etc, use company email addresses, post a disclaimer that the views contained are your own or whatever requirements make sense for your business, include links to corporate website and/or blogs,  use approved keyword rich company descriptions, etc. Outcomes could include drive traffic to corporate site, facilitate customer problem solving, support corporate SEO efforts.

Conversely, if you are not participating in social media as a business or corporation but would like to take advantage of your employees participation,  you would define the scope as such and then provide the appropriate guidelines and outcomes. The point is that the reality of the sheer magnitude of social media/social network participation necessitates that every business be proactive in determining their course of action and providing their employees with policy, guidelines and importantly training.

The ever growing data points of imprudent social networking that includes not only employees but also “busted”  unfaithful spouses, evidence in legal cases and so on,  seems to indicate that people simply forget/don’t “get” that they are on an “open mic”. Posting  a Facebook comment or a Twitter update can be analogous to that experience that many of us have had of an assumed private conversation in a public restroom (think high school) when the stall opens and either the person that you have been talking about walks out or someone who you really didn’t intent to include in your conversation walks out…only in the case of the social network, the stall opens and potentially thousands of  unintended listeners walk out.

So, whatever the level of your official business or corporate social media/social networking participation providing employee social media education should be a best practice. Mashable quotes Christopher Barger the Director of Global Social Media at General Motors as saying that General Motors developed Social Media 101 and 201 employee training videos and posted them on their intranet as well as publishing a blog on their intranet for employees to discuss social media participation among themselves.

Certainly there is a risk to businesses as social media/social network participation becomes ubiquitous and the lines continue to blur between our various “selves” but proactively setting a strategy and implementing it will make employee social media/social networking the asset to your business that it should be.

Similar Posts:

    None Found

Be Sociable, Share!