Image by tychay via Flickr
In the past few years there's been a lot of conversation about how social media is affecting business. For the freelancer, social media presents some unique opportunities for networking, although, as Katherine Lewis pointed out earlier this year, there are limits to this networking ability just as there are in real life (or IRL in the online lingo). For smaller businesses, social media can be a good way to build name recognition or a cheap way to get advertising.
While all of that is true and interesting--to a point--that's not what has caught my attention. It's how businesses are creating policies about what is acceptable social media use for employees, as well as making hiring and firing decisions based on how people conduct themselves on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Recently CNN fired a senior editor for expressing her personal opinion about the Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. A few weeks before CNN's action, an EMS lieutenant with the FDNY faced disciplinary action for posting a 911 call he found humorous without removing the patient's personal information. In the same month, a half dozen employees at a hospital in California were fired for posting patient information on Facebook. In fact leaks, work complaints and other work-related information are so often revealed online that a number of highly visible companies have put social media policies in place. In the wake the CNN firing, Lydia Dishman wrote an article for Fast Company outlining a number of these policies. It's a fascinating read.
I have to wonder though. Why do these companies need to create policies to tell employees to use common sense? Before I began writing as a full-time occupation, I worked in a number of different roles in education and social services. I led and went to a number of meetings in rooms plastered with signs saying "What you hear here, what you see here, let it stay here when you leave here." Aside from the grating repetition of phrase, it just made sense. You don't talk about what goes on behind closed doors. Privacy is sacrosanct.
Like many of us my path has crossed with clients or parents when I'm shopping with my kids in tow. I've perfected the acknowledgement nod, the slight bob that says "I know who you are and I know you know who I am," but sometimes a verbal greeting is unavoidable. (Of course, sometimes, a redirection asking someone to call me at the office is unavoidable, too.) Inevitably, one of my children will ask me how I know that person and my answer is always "from work." My kids know not to ask further because they know they won't get a more detailed answer.
Also, like many of us, I've been in the position of seeing co-workers in less than ideal circumstances. Some have had too much to drink, some are socializing with people who are on the periphery of our client base and some have just been obnoxious, prejudiced or showing inappropriate judgment.
Sure, it colors my opinion of that person and made me think twice about his competence on the job, but unless my co-worker has put someone in jeopardy, I've never thought to bring it to the attention of the whole office or talk about it enough that it hurts the chance of that person getting a new job. However, that's exactly what is happening with Facebook and other social media outlets. Whether you post information or not, it's out there. Your friends are tweeting and posting and, be it pictures or words, employers and potential employers get an unflattering view.
It seems to me that these updates show a lack of basic common sense. Work is work and outside of work is outside of work. We've always grumbled about our bosses, the people we work with or whatever it is about work that bugs us, but most of us have not done it in graphic terms, not by naming names and certainly not by blaring it to the whole world. There have always been people who have done that, too, and, frankly, it has always made me uncomfortable. It's TMI, if you will, and I don't know that a social media policy will stop a certain type of person from sharing with the whole wide world, uh, web.
But I know that's just my opinion. What do you think of social media policies? Does your company have one? Is it working?