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The business of Social Network Profiles

Thursday, 6 December 2007 — by

Todays guest post is by security specialist Paul Maloney, who discusses Social Network Profiles from a business perspective — the Christmas party season is in full swing and for businesses in the know there will be plenty of Senior Managers cringing every time they see a flash of a camera at the party…

In less than five years the office Christmas party photos have gone from being printed at the local chemist and shown to everyone through being e-mailed and shared on the office servers all the way to being blogged and Facebooked.

In 2006 stories about companies considering not holding Christmas parties were run in a number of publications, including the Guardian. The decision back then was based on the increased number of industrial tribunals resulting from claims after the party. This year the fear is more likely that the photos will appear on Facebook — and then lead to a tribunal.

The Christmas party is probably the highest profile event during the year that makes companies think about their public image based on how their staff behave, but in the world of Social Networking that image can be destroyed at any time of the year.

Social politics in business: then and now

Imagine its 1985 and the current office gossip is about a young fresh recruit getting a promotion because of their looks or behaviour. If the employee losing out on the promotion wanted to do something malicious they could write a letter, photocopy it and give it to all the staff, they could make banners and hang them outside the building or they could write to the local paper and reveal the juicy gossip.

Imagine the reaction in 1985 seeing an article from a colleague printed in the local paper about office gossip, assuming any paper would print it. An example of how office gossip worked back then in the 80s can be found at the New York Times.
Fast forward to 2007, the same two people, in the same position. This time the losing candidate heads home (or even sits at their desk) and writes about it on their personal blog, adds some incriminating photos (possible faked with Adobe Photoshop) to Facebook and encourages other colleagues to add comments, and the BBC have a story that shows how this impacts individuals in the 21st Century.

Call it bullying, intimidation, discrimination or just plain abuse, these types of personal commentary on office life don’t just affect the individuals involved, they affect the image of the company. Even embarrassing tricks and behaviour can affect the company and peoples jobs. Would you want to be the Health and Safety Manager explaining the videos in this Contract Journal article?

Analysing the Social Network profile of a company should be something done on a regular basis, but it should be combined with policies, training and guidelines. If the employees don’t know how to behave correctly when revealing details about the company then disciplinary action can be hard to take.

Managing a businesses Social Network Profile

  1. Start with the training, show employees what damage thoughtless comments on a Social Network can cause to them, their colleagues and the company.
  2. Detail the things you expect them not to post about and the things they can post about.
  3. Use the example of Kevin Colvin to show personal impact, his photo appeared in major newspapers around the world, potentially damaging future career prospects.
  4. Follow up the training with procedures and guidelines to ensure everyone has the same understanding. The policies should detail the consequences of ignoring them.

Once all these measures are in place the Social Network Forensic Analysis can begin.

  1. On a regular basis, use search engines and Social Networking websites to find information on the company.
  2. Use the company name, address, any abbreviations or nicknames for the company and also the names of employees.
  3. Review any content and see if it breaches any company policies that are currently in place.

Mark Ellis makes a number of good points in his blog, the most important one being to seek legal advice on the whole procedure before relying on it for disciplinary action.

Using the sledgehammer approach to this and forbidding all posting about the company can have two very negative effects. The first that people continue to blog and comment on Social Networking websites, relying on either not being caught or the disciplinary action not being enforceable.

The second negative effect is that it could reduce the positive publicity from Social Networking activity, Josh Ledgard discusses the impact corporate blogging had on Microsoft.

One way to view this whole area is to treat it like the anti-smoking legislation; everyone knows smoking is bad for them, but some people can’t stop. The company can encourage them to stop, promote alternatives and provide information on how smoking is dealt with in the workplace. If they smoke at home and the company has done everything they possibly can then there is some justification to place personal blame and fault. Positive encouragement can go a long way for both smokers and bloggers…

Paul Maloney is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional and a Specialist of the Business Continuity Institute. He is the founder of Technology Management and Consultancy Ltd who specialise in Information Consultancy. Paul also blogs on Ecademy about Security, Continuity and IT in general.

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David Petherick → Tuesday, 11 December 2007 @ 12:10 BDT

I like the idea of treating social network use like smoking – it is very apt.

A thought-provoking article, and touching on a number of ‘hot issues’ for employers – not least of which is, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about, as social networks can affect a company’s reputation and offer significant search marketing effects – for good or bad.

Wayne Smallman → Tuesday, 11 December 2007 @ 12:34 BDT

Hi David, great to have you commenting!

I really didn’t want to interfere with Paul’s fine article, but what we’re talking about here is Personal Branding & Brand Management, whether people are aware of such things or not.

This is a topic I’ve discussed quite a lot recently — at a time before such things as mainstream as they are now — and it’s interesting to see people now approaching this part of their web presence with the caution it so rightly deserves…

katie → Friday, 29 August 2008 @ 3:11 BDT

Pehaps one reason some companies have had bad experiences with company blogs and social network sites is because the adminstrators are too young to understand the consquences of another employees’ actions. Though this is all hearsay from interactive department friends at various ad agencies, many interactive directors pawn off the responsibility of maintaining the company’s blog or department groups on Facebook because they don’t have the time…or interest. It becomes the blame game though when gossip reaches message boards or an employee has inappropriate pictures put up by friends. If companies are going to jump into the blogosphere, they better be darn sure responsibility is given to an experience veteran instead of a lower level employee that can’t do jack about jack once the crap hits the fans.

Wayne Smallman → Sunday, 31 August 2008 @ 9:34 BDT

I imagine all of this web stuff is still relatively new for a lot of business — and then there’s social networking, which is an entirely different dimension to an already bewildering mix of stuff that must seem to be like a lot of time ill spent!

The learning curve can be long and high for a lot of businesses, which is part of the reason I write this stuff.

If someone can read an article like this and then be armed with enough information to make more informed decisions, then I’m a happier man…

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