Should we let employers access our private social media?

No. Period. There is no discussion.

However, the ever rising “threat” of social media (and an open Internet) still scares the manure out of many businesses and governments.

DarkCloudsBut, we do not hand over our paper mail, we do not let ‘agents’ follow us around at a party or let them listen in at the diner table. So, why is “social media privacy” so different?

Because it’s all digital and not to difficult to access (all you need is a password). Our privacy can be violated so much easier. Now, when (some) employers are vetting their current and new employees, they ask for the account name and password.

This is, of course, ludicrous.

Dark clouds are gathering

A question posted on Reddit mentioned a company demanding access to the Facebook and LinkedIn accounts of their employees. Not handing over this information could lead to termination. Yes, read that again.

Give up your passwords (and your privacy) or get fired.

Naturally, they have excellent reasons, such as; preventing insider trading or sharing information which investors aren’t allowed to see, you know, protect the innocent.

And now US congress shot down a “Facebook privacy protection” law, this just makes me wonder; Why?
Facebook’s terms of service clearly states you are not allowed to give your password to anyone, so an employer can’t ask you to violate that agreement (why should there be a law at all?).

Keeping taps

Monitoring public expressions of employees on social media outlets is perfectly legal, and it makes sense too. It can (potentially) give a company some insights into an employee’s behaviour. Besides, the company should monitor the various social platforms anyway.., to protect its on-line reputation.

But, private is private for a reason.

Besides, as an employer, you don’t ask for private information of your CEO, do you? There is plenty of information kept secret which could be of high value to a job seeker. No full disclosure there.

In the old days

How did they ‘prevent’ the disclosing of sensitive information before social media?

Well, they had you sign a non-disclosure agreement. And a mandatory training explained any communication guidelines and the risks involved.

And, depending on the severity of the violation, you could be reprimanded, fired or be charged criminally. And, apparently this worked just fine. So, now, with new technology, why demand access to it? Just because they can?

I understand that when dealing with sensitive information employees need to be careful, but that’s always been the case. Granted, the speed at which information can spread has increased dramatically, and I do understand the need to address this. But, not at the cost of ones privacy.

Create awareness

As with all things, if your not aware of it, you can’t act on it.

The problem with social media, and blogs, is that common sense seems to take an early retirement. Leaving people to do incredibly stupid things, things they might never have done otherwise. Or it was very less likely that someone would find out.

Coaching employees, educating them on the pitfalls of social media can go a long way, maybe even all the way.

Be aware

For users of social platforms it becomes more and more important to keep your professional life in mind. Employers will google you, they will check your LinkedIn and anything else they can dig up.., why wouldn’t they. They might even use your Klout score to assess potential value.

Yes, I know, it’s all algorithms and air, but is it really? As soon as something can be used against you.., it’s no longer “virtual”, is it? When what you do, or what you say on-line affects you in the real world.., well, then even your Klout score becomes a real value.

And (real) private stuff? Keep it safe, keep it hidden.

Have encountered any privacy violations at work? Leave a cautionary tale in the comments.

Connection Ownership and how to settle this?

It’s nothing new that employers and employees or business partners face each other in court to battle over who gets what. When ‘divorce lawyer’ can be a career choice, you can assume there is plenty of business in settling break-up disputes. Now, with social media and on-line connections, the break-up process has become even more complicated.

The wonderful Jillian Jackson wrote a post about this subject, and it should keep every business and every professional busy.

Who owns the professional connection?

This is a very fair question to ask. And I’m not sure I can answer it to full satisfaction.., but I’ll try. The way I see it, there has to be a clear mutual agreement and a clear guidelines.

battle connections

With the ever more increasing on-line connectivity of employees in a modern social business it gets very difficult to differentiate between personal connections and professional connections. It seems a good place to start.

Personal Connections

This can be defined as a connect with no ties to the company one is working for. But, what if you work for, let’s say, Nike. Every body has a pair of Nike’s in the closet. By that rational, a good friend who runs a lot and connected with you via LinkedIn can be a potential asset to Nike.

You can post something, a latest blog post, on LinkedIn and he can be influenced by that. Despite the fact he knows you work for Nike and has been running on them from even before you met. Still, because of his demographic, Nike could claim the connect.., especially if the connect was made during your employment with Nike.

Tough, huh?

Professional Connection

When you have an on-line presence, you create connections. Further more, your company should want you to connect. It needs brand ambassadors and employees can be the best. Providing preciously useful content for its customers. And we use our own accounts for this.., because we want to be ‘genuine’ and ‘keep it real’.., and extend our personal brand while we’re at it.

Sure, for official communiques there are the corporate Twitter and Facebook accounts.., of course. But, the 150 or so employees who are active on blogs, in forums, on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and all the other available communities are impossible to regulate. And you can’t create a ‘corporate’ account for every eventuality. Well, you can, but it kinda defeats the purpose of having your employees willingly contribute to your social business.

Legal Battles

In 2011 Noah Kravitz was sued by his former employer over his Twitter followers. He created a, to me, impressive following of 17.000. But, did this with the handle @PhoneDog-Noah. Although Kravitz claims the separation was amicable, PhoneDog came down on Kravitz like a ton of bricks. The Social Sphere was keeping an eye on the precedent that would be set via the ruling on this case.

Well, I don’t how it ends. I don’t want to know. I dug a little deeper and find [they] were suing, counter suing, trying to get stuff dismissed, which then didn’t get dismissed.., it’s a farce and a waste of our time.

One word.., SOCIAL. Why do we need a court ruling on every single fart we inadvertently let escape. I mean, really, do we need to set a legal precedence here.., I say we can settle this like grown ups.

Between Partners

Jillian’s question was more between business partners than between employee/employer. But, I think there can be an equally satisfying solution.

Imagine there is a breakup between partners.

If you take ownership of ‘friendship A’, what does your partner do? Un-friend that person? That’s just silly.

I think “owning” the real account to the client can be detrimental to deciding ownership. Or, the one retaining the rights to the brand or ownership of the company should have first dibs on ‘connections’

And, I do believe that this is only a matter when earnings are involved. A ‘connect’ on Twitter holds little weight. A signed contract for a service a lot more.

The Twitter account connected to the contract is a free for all, nobody can deny you the right to connect. How you communicate is a different matter.


But, here we assume nothing is set up front. That no contract was signed or agreement was met.

It should be settled up front (i.e. prenup). In any case, whether it’s a two person partnership or a larger company. In order to avoid problems, you should settle it up front.

Still, the exact content of such a contract be another legal tar pit.., and even then, you cannot anticipate every conceivable break-up scenario.., always leaving some room for a law suit.

Personal Accounts are Personal

It’s a merry-go-round. But, in the end a personal account should stay personal, at all cost. Any connection made on that personal account belongs to the owner of that account.., period.

I know, what about connections made during working hours? Yes, them too belong to the employee (or partner), not to the company, even if the account is a customer or a partner.

The point here is.., does the employee does her? If ‘yes’, than the connections are hers. If ‘no’, then not.

Get Your Stuff Under Control

Employers should get their lines straight. If they supports an environment where employees can be free to develop, to innovate, to communicate and be proper brand ambassadors.., then there is no need for legal battles.Even if an employee should leave, she’d leave on good terms. Then, there is no problem, her name is still under a lot of blog posts (or not), but she’ll still be a brand enthusiast.

Bottom Line

I do not have a solution, and I do not believe there is a ‘ready made’ one available. Even when a legal precedence is set.., companies or disgruntled employees will always find a reason or a way to sue each other, regardless.

The only way I see to settle this is to create an environment where this situation does not apply. An environment where trust and respect are the main motivators, not greed or retaliation.

I know, Utopia.

But, we’re not that far away from such working conditions. Social business is able to reduce intrigue and office politics, leaving openness and honesty as default behaviour.

Join Mark Harai and me for a discussion on this topic.., it show the solution is not as forthcoming as you might think:

Do your business goals and social goals align?

We know by know Social Media/Business is something you can’t “just do”. Or, you can, but that’s missing the point and wasting time, effort and money.

In “The Seven Success Factors of Social Business Strategy“, the latest publication from the Altimeter Group, written by Charlene Li and Brian Solis, the alignment between business objectives and social strategy is put front and centre.
alignementNow we can say, with authority, that Social has come of age. That we no longer can treat it as something we “just have to do”. Time to grow up.

It makes sense when you think about it. Anything a company does, any effort it makes should align with the company’s goals. Even charity or pro-bono work should, in one form or another, fit into “the greater plan”. It’s the only way to make sure that everything you do, as a business, is worth the effort.

Have a Coke

Coca-Cola has created a strategy to rival most out there. Basically it states that any expression should fit into the overall story being told by the company. Creating a fluidity where anybody can add or use content, as long as it abides to a few rules.
And the overall story is aligned with the company’s goals.

Coca-Cola is one of the most recognized brands in the world and a huge enterprise. Their resources seem infinite and implementing a plan like this seems easy enough. But, Coke is a world-wide brand with almost 150 thousand employees, and despite its resources, aligning anything is not an easy task.., at all.

The message is; If Coke can do it on such a huge scale.., surely we can do this in a smaller (and more controllable) environment.

The Seven

This list is simply fantastic.

It’s one of those pieces of information that makes you go.., hmmmmm…. Silly really, because each point on that list is common sense for most major projects and changes. Yet, with social media we tend to ignore proper business altogether.

The Seven Success Factors of Social Business StrategyHere’s the list:

  1. Define the overall business goals
  2. Establish the long-term vision
  3. Ensure executive support
  4. Define the strategy roadmap
  5. Establish governance and guidelines
  6. Secure staff, resources, and funding
  7. Invest in technology platforms that evolve

You need to read the book for all the details of course, but coming from Altimeter you can rely on  a proper foundation of the information.

As said, it makes sense. For instance, executive support (3) is paramount to success. Especially if you want to secure staff and resources (6). To invest in technology (7) you need funding (6). And in order to define the roadmap (4) you need to know the goals (1) and you have to establish the long-term vision (2).

See? It makes total sense…

Align your Efforts

The point of matter is that when (not if) you decide to start the social business journey you (really) should make the effort to do it right. I know, this is easier said than done. The Why? is pretty clear by now, it’s the How? we get stuck on. The “The Seven Success Factors of Social Business Strategy” can help you create the vision you need to support the necessary passion.

So, just do it, but do it right. There is enough information out there to support you, and more and more professionals to guide you. No more excuses.

Do you have a Social Business Strategy?