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Sep 28, 2009

The Dark Side of Social Media

Social media has given rise to a new networked world, giving us more accessibility to organisations and the people within them.

Social media is as much about keeping in touch and making new connections as it is about knowledge sharing.

While there has been much discussion regarding appropriate use of social media by employees, it has largely centered around operations, resources, technology and appropriate use of such mediums on company time. But what about the other (much more concerning) issues? There is a definite lack of awareness about what I like to call the dark side of social media; the confidentiality, loyalty and privacy issues which are bred from such outlets.

Some of these include:

  • Employees using social media to promote their work (which may or may not be approved by the client and may or may not be entirely their own to promote)
  • Employees promoting themselves (to other companies for job opportunities)
  • Employees raising issues such as internal or client related problems in online forums seeking contributions from other staff members and people external to the organisation for resolution (forums which may (unknowingly) be visible to both competitors and the media)
  • Employees "connecting" with competitors (which could be cause for suspicion)
  • Employers accessing personal information about staff members (which could provide grounds for dismissal)

There are some obvious problems which could arise from any number of the actions taken above, but the most glaringly obvious problem is that company policies regarding social media are nowhere near where they should be.

As company property, employees should seek both management and client and approval before promoting work.

And, I might be old fashioned, but openly telling the world that you are "interested in job opportunities" while you have an existing role seems a bit inappropriate to me. Where's the loyalty?

Forums (which may very well take place within company "groups") should be set up correctly and secured against providing competitors and the media with access to inside knowledge and potential ammunition for the press. I'm not saying that knowledge sharing shouldn't occur (I'm an advocate of sharing and learning through others online), just that sensitive information shouldn't be discussed in the open. I can't tell you how many times I've come across company and client related discussions which could do some serious damage in the wrong person's hands.

As for employees engaging with competitors in similar roles, it's more than likely they are keen to discuss the latest issues and events - but if these relationships aren't made known to management it's expected to cause some level of suspicion.

Finally, employers are well aware they can use social media to learn more about current and potential employees- and they do! Why so many choose to remain oblivious to this fact is beyond me- particularly after the numerous blunders made public by the press.

Social media has created a more open and honest corporate atmosphere, changing dialogue between businesses and their customers and enhancing communications by allowing for a much higher level of interactivity. Having said that, it has also incited user revolts, created multi-million dollar lawsuits and produced a number of confidentiality, loyalty and privacy issues. I think both organisations and employees should make themselves more aware of this "dark side" to social media, and at the very least put guidelines and preventative measures in place.

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