When Does The Line Blur Between Business and Personal Social Networking?

    Sam Mutimer

    “These tweets are my own.”
    This may be true, but the company you work for may be judged on what you say.
    My last post touched on the blurring of private vs. public life, but it’s time to add one more to the equation…your working life. Let me put this simply; a business can be judged by what their employees say online. Businesses invest time and money into creating an identity. Everything is carefully crafted, from the mission statement, to the logo…even what font is used. Social media throws a spanner into the works.
    You’re living under a rock if you don’t know that social media is everywhere. 10 million Australians are active users of Facebook. We spend an average of 295 minutes on social networking sites each month. Everyone is connected. Everyone has the opportunity to broadcast his or her views online.
    Where we work forms part of our identity. Meet someone at a party and one of the first questions is ‘what do you for a living.’ Social media lets us answer this question. Facebook allows users to put their job history on their profile and LinkedIn bases profiles around employment. It’s even common to see references to jobs in Twitter bios.
    Why is this a problem? When it comes to work, not all opinions may be good for business. Twitter seems to provide the biggest examples of this. Picture a certain young swimmer who tweeted controversial comments. She lost lucrative sponsorship deals because of her thoughts expressed in 140 characters or less. Ok, this is an extreme version and most employees do not have a huge following, but it shows just how seriously comments on social media can be taken.
    What happens when clients or potential clients stumble upon you on Twitter? One wrong comment and you could jeopardise their opinion of the business you work for. This may not have anything to do with your job, it could be political, religious, it could be anything really. This has been happening in person for years. Attend a meeting with someone you don’t get on with, hear a client say something unsavoury – like it or not, it can affect your opinion of them and vice versa. Now picture this online, where your comments are in writing and stick around longer than some should. Businesses’ reputations are on the line.
    Bosses can’t control what employees say, nor should they. Nobody wants to be babysat. However, we are starting to accept that our boss may keep tabs on us. Only 25.7% of Australians do not think it is acceptable for social media to be used to conduct background checks.
    It’s not all bad news. As employees, we are brand advocates. In theory, we should be the best ambassadors, as we live and breathe the company. We can help build a business’ profile. We are the life and soul of the company. Look at thinktank media’s staff as an example. We all reference thinktank on our profiles, we tweet about news in the industry, but we mainly use our accounts for personal use. Have a look at thinktank’s staff and you will build up an idea about what the company is about. In fact, 93% of thinktank’s staff were recruited via social media. Our profiles showed out personality, values, attitudes and connections. We looked like we would fit right in. When you start a new job, your co-workers play a large part in how you settle in. This can be translated online.
    Employees need to be aware that what they do and say on social media can influence the reputation of the business they work for. This doesn’t mean you have to completely censor yourself (I certainly don’t), however you should be aware of what could happen. My mantra is don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss to see (hi Sam!)
    So what do you think – should bosses have a say in what their employees do online? Maybe implementing a social media policy with some staff training is the way to go? Or is it really none of their business?